It has been quite a rich publishing season for cookbooks that appeal to border-busting food-lovers, and when a review copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking landed in my mailbox, I could hardly wait to get cooking. Jaffrey has legions of fans and admirers – seven of her books have won James Beard Awards. As soon as I started cooking from this one, I remembered why I'm such a fan: Her recipes are simple, they're delicious and they work. There wasn't a single problem in the three recipes I tested. The only tweaks I've made is calling for a medium-sized roasting pan or baking dish for the cauliflower, which would have gotten lost in the larger pan the book called for, and adding a note to adjust the seasoning in the recipe for spinach with dill, which wanted a little more salt.
If you buy Vegetarian India, take the time to read Jaffrey's introduction, which takes you on a mini-tour of vegetarian India: She traveled all around the vast country collecting recipes – from Uttar Pradesh and Benghal to Bombay and Hyderabad and back – for vegetarian dishes "that are both delicious and easy to make." So many things to discover here: dishes, regions, styles, ingredients. I'm particularly curious about poha, flattened and dried rice that's pre-cooked. Jaffrey raves about it, providing a number of recipes for it, including one with ginger-flavored green beans that sounds wonderful.
I love the way she wraps things up: "In India's ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine," she writes, "it is believed that the simple acts of cutting and chopping and stirring are graces that can bring you peace and calm. That is what I wish for you."
For me, Jaffrey's wish came true: I spent a glorious afternoon toasting and grinding and grating spices, which filled my kitchen with wonderful exotic aromas – ginger and coriander and cumin. "Whatever you're doing," said my husband, led by his nose to the kitchen, "it's going to be delicious." Thanks to Jaffrey, he was right.
Flipping through the book, which includes more than 200 recipes and beautiful photos by Jonathan Gregson, it wasn't hard to find three dishes I wanted to jump into: Everything looked and sounded so delicious. I chose Roasted Cauliflower with Punjabi Seasonings (Oven Ki Gobi), Peas and Potatoes Cooked in a Bihari Style (Matar Ki Ghugni) and Spinach with Dill (Dakhini Saag). All were terrific, definitely going into my repertoire.
Next time I cook from it, I'll heed Jaffrey's advice about menu planning: "Indian meals are always put together so they are nutritionally balanced: a grain is always served with a vegetable and a dairy product, not only because they taste good together but also because together they are nutritionally complete." This time around I hadn't chosen anything involving dairy. The ingredients were easy to find in my regular supermarket, the instructions were clear and the amounts and times were spot-on.
Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, Alfred A. Knopf, 416 pages, $35.