Mridula Baljekar presents us with another superb example of her skill as a food writer. Vegetarian Cooking of India is the latest in a string of books which exemplify the reasons why she is held in such high regard by home cooks, those with a passion for Indian food, and collectors of beautiful recipe books.
Vegetarian Cooking of India is a large format volume from Aquamarine. This publisher offers some of the most thoughtful and practical cookbooks around. They have found a path that strikes a balance between a food manual and a food annual. Mridula puts recipes in cultural and geographic context and there is a very appealing element of food travelogue. This is not only a vegetarian cookbook but also a culinary reflection of regional diversity.
One can always expect something striking from Mridula, and this latest work will not disappoint those who have enjoyed her previous recipe collections. She does not assume that her reader has any particular kitchen prowess. She starts with an overview of ingredients, equipment and techniques. Each recipe includes a few words to give confidence to the novice and to inspire the more practised.
There are 80 classic recipes here, but classic does not mean that they are facsimiles of those already contained within the covers of your other favourite Indian cookbooks. The dishes here are authentic and there is something for every taste: Sweet Pineapple Salad flecked with black mustard seeds from South India to Potatoes in Chilli-Tamarind Sauce from West India.
Vegetarian Cooking of India represents the style of food that is eaten in homes all over the Subcontinent and indeed in expatriate homes worldwide. The dishes are lighter and fresher-tasting than those you find in all but the best Indian restaurants. The recipes here contain more aromatic spices than searingly hot ones. It’s about flavour rather than fire.
Channa Madra – chickpeas in a spice-laced yogurt sauce – is North Indian. This is a substantial dish which will be appreciated even by those who would normally crave meat at every meal. The use of lentils and beans in these recipes might persuade many carnivores down the semi-vegetarian route.
Sanar Kofta – cheese balls from North East India – are made with Paneer which can be found in most large supermarkets. It’s a mild cheese which absorbs flavours and is used extensively in Indian kitchens. These balls are covered in a piquant sauce and served with rice for a main meal. I would think that they could equally work as a vegetarian and more tempting version of the ubiquitous cocktail sausage, which was passé by the end of the 60s yet endures in some quarters.
Dimer Dalna – egg, potato and green pea curry from East India – is economic and a must-try dish. It is delicately infused with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Mridula serves this with Indian bread for which she includes several recipes. Comfort food at its warming finest.
Good Indian desserts are more often found in Indian homes than Indian restaurants. Mridula has some tempting traditional suggestions, and Shrikand – saffron-scented strained yogurt – is one of my favourites. It has to be made at least 2 hours in advance so it’s ideal for the end of an exotic meal or to finish a light summer lunch.
It’s no surprise to find a chutney recipe in a Mridula Baljekar cookbook: she produces her own brand of seasonal chutneys that are delightfully flavourful and different. If you can’t find her jars in your supermarket then you can at least enjoy her Tomato Achar – roasted tomato chutney – made by your own fair hands.
Vegetarian Cooking of India is a book that will encourage you into the kitchen. The recipes are simple to execute but are exciting enough to be appreciated by those who already have lots of Indian dishes in their repertoire. Nothing to drive a debutant into panic but plenty to inspire.
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Vegetarian Cooking of India
Author: Mridula Baljekar
Published by: Aquamarine
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018