The recipe for Tomato and Ginger Chutney in Madhur Jaffrey’s new book Vegetarian India comes not from Kolkata but from a South Indian Muslim cook in Albany, New York.
There are recipes from Jaffrey's physical therapists, from store clerks, and from notes she made while trying to put lunch together. There are recipes from ashrams, from jewelry stores, from restaurants, and from the kitchens of Jaffrey's friends in Bangalore and Bombay. There are recipes from Hyderabad, from Varanasi, from Karnataka, Mysore, and Rajasthan.
Jaffrey's book does a great service by showcasing the diversity of vegetable-based cuisine in India and is guaranteed to introduce even the most well-versed non-Indian (or Indian!) cook to new techniques, ingredients, or regional variations. The downside to all this information, however, is that it can be overwhelming to navigate.
With classics and modern takes, simple riffs and complex procedures, everyday recipes and special ocassion feasts, it's hard to know where to get started. If you're new to cooking Indian food and only familiar the one type of dal your local restaurant prepares, how should you pick which of the twenty-five dal recipes to begin with?
To make it a little easier for you to decide what to make first, we've picked out some of the recipes in the book (for dal, poriyal, bhartha, upma, rice, chutney, and yogurt sauces) that best illustrate Jaffrey's style and breadth. Pick and choose based on whether you want to make a dish that's super-traditional or highly-improvised, afternoon-consuming or whippet-fast, super-simple or a little more involved.
Dal: Jaffrey explains that in India, the word "dal" applies to the whole family of dried beans, pulses, and legumes (and this includes various versions of the same dal—whole, whole without skin, split with skin, split without skin—along with dal flours, too). Each dal has a distinct taste and texture and there are countless regional variations. Jaffrey writes, "Eating dal every day is never boring for an Indian, any more than eating meat every day is boring for meat eaters."
Poriyal: Technically from Tamil Nadu but found all over South India, these vegetable stir-fries are made in a karhai. There are hundreds of variations, all of which have a simple method: Stir-fry mustard seeds and dals (which, here, act as spices!) in a tiny bit of oil, throw in red chilies and curry leaves, then add cooked or raw vegetables and stir-fry.
Upma: "The Western world has no real equivalent for upma," Jaffrey writes. She describes these savory pilaf-like dishes as less dense, less heavy, less wet versions of risotto. The basic ingredient is a grain, most commonly poha (flattened rice) and/or sooji (Indian semolina), bolstered with vegetables and spices.
And, for making right now, recipes for autumn (and your Thanksgiving table):
What's your favorite Madhur Jaffrey recipe? Leave us tips in the comments below!
Photos by Bobbi Lin and James Ransom.