This month Good Egg’s Mika Bareket picks Madhur Jaffrey’s most recent book on Vegetarian Indian cooking.
Good Food Revolution: This month you have chosen Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India. What makes this book so special in your mind?
Mika Bareket: It’s one-stop shopping: nutritious, easy, budget friendly, bold-flavoured recipes. And I find the structure of the book convenient and flexible. To build a buffet, I’d pick a recipe from each section (appetizers, vegetables, grains, dals, breads, chutneys, etc.), and the bases are covered. Weeknights, I’ll pick a recipe each from two or three sections, four if I’m trying to impress someone.
GFR: What is it about Jaffrey’s writing style that you enjoy?
MB: A) She contextualizes recipes in terms of how they’ve developed in her own kitchens. I love hearing how experts tweak and refine.
B) The friendly banter. Judith Jones was her editor. I think she fostered a welcoming and warm writing style that’s also authoritative. Her roster is pretty much the gold standard: Julia Child, Claudia Roden, Jacques Pepin.
C) Accuracy might not be considered a style point, but it’s kind of a trump card, no?
GFR: She’s seen as being the grandmother of Indian cuisine in the UK, bringing Indian cooking to many for the very first time in the early 70s. Is she as well known over here in Canada?
MB: She grew up in India, schooled in the UK, has lived in NYC for many years now. She’s a global treasure, no less. Her books sell very well in the UK because of a 200 year tradition for curries. We’re catching up a bit in North America. But I’m happy to say this book is selling very well at Good Egg, and the UK import edition too – it’s a beauty.
GFR: Were you aware of the fact that she is also a very well established actress?
MB: Yes! I love this fun fact: she introduced director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant over a meal. We have her cooking to (indirectly) thank for A Room With a View and Remains of the Day. What great movies. What a woman.
GFR: When was your first experience of Indian food? I think mine was with this hideous thing called a Vesta Curry when I was about ten… all dried ingredients that you added boiling water too… very much astronaut food… it was seen as being extremely exotic in my household.
MB: Boil in a bag Indian science food was my go-to lunch when we opened up the shop. In the depths of winter when I was unable to step out for lunch… it was a life saver. My first experience of Indian food was at Annapurna, a Toronto restaurant that’s almost as old as I am. My best friend’s family were regulars, and I was frequently included by their gracious dad. My own dad discovered Indian buffet on Gerrard Street in the late-80s, and together we explored chaffing dishes and their treasures.
GFR: Where do you go to get your Indian on in Toronto? Any delivery recommendations?
MB: I’m horribly out of touch on this topic. But thanks to Chris Nutall-Smith, I can be counted on for ONE great suggestion: King Palace, a brightly-coloured cafeteria with incredible Indian and Pakistani food. My dad took me after reading the Globe and Mail review a few years ago. We were both really impressed.
GFR: How often do you cook Indian at home? And what do you usually make?
MB: I’m on a dal kick this winter. I’ve been borrowing concepts from recipes and making them my own, so my current concoctions are not so much Indian, but, Indian-flecked. I can’t get enough coriander and mustard seed at the moment. I wish fresh turmeric didn’t turn everything yellow – it’s so tasty. I seem to be making green chutneys a lot too – dal needs something bright swirled into to it.
GFR: In my personal experience I find a lot of successful Indian cooking comes down to the quality of the spices. Where do you usually pick up spices for your home kitchen?
MB: 4Life Natural Foods on Augusta Ave has started packaging whole spices that they source themselves. I trust the owner implicitly – he grew up on a farm in Sri Lanka, and is the best cook I know. His shop is so clean and they listen to incredible music.
GFR: Are there any particular recipes in this book that you would give top marks to? and why?
MB: Her Tomato Rice is wonderful. I served it with her simplest dal and a raita that she describes as being salad-like. My guests were impressed, and it took such little effort. The ingredients cost under $20, and served four gluttonous people with leftovers.
GFR: How does she address regionality? Do you have a personal preference region-wise yourself?
MB: Her notes on regional influences are scattered throughout, but not consistently, and most appear to have been adapted to personal taste. As far as my taste goes, I am a mere student, but partial to Punjab-inspired spicing and tandoor cooking.
GFR: Are you familiar with the now out-of-print Indian Vegetarian Cookery by Jack Santamaria? With an author’s surname like that for an Indian cookbook it doesn’t sound very promising, but it is truly exceptional. Worth tracking down. A staple around my home.
MB: Hot tip! Thanks, I will be on the look out. Unlikely to forget a name like that. Any relation to Columbus’s ship?
GFR: Grab a copy if you see one… Quite hard to find these days. Mika, thanks for this month’s recommendation!
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Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he is going to get back into cooking a bit of Indian.