Years ago, when I was young and idealistic, I was a vegetarian.  I purchased an Indian vegetarian cookbook (by Julie Sahni, if I recall correctly).  Indian cooking is very well-suited to vegetarianism, and I eagerly anticipated turning out my own complex, boldly flavored dishes.  I was dismayed to find out that Indian cooking is often very complicated and time consuming.  I was even more dismayed to find that the recipes required incredibly exotic spices: fenugreek stands out in my memory as an example.

Now that the internet has forever changed commerce, formerly exotic spices are now as close as Penzeys.com.  (In fact, I plan to tell the above story to my children to impress them with how ancient I am, along with stories of phones that were tethered to walls and had no way to record a message.)   My family recently moved into the wilds of Northern New Mexico, far from civilization, by which of course I mean good Indian restaurants; I find myself again interested in Indian cooking, though I am now a confirmed omnivore.  Now that I have kitchen “help” in the form of a three-year-old and a one-year-old, however, I certainly don’t have time for the day-long endeavors that I remember from the cookbook of my youth.  I was therefore delighted to find Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and gleefully brought it home the first time I saw it.  I’ve since made a number of recipes from the book.

Ms. Jaffrey’s recipes are clearly written and easy to follow.  They do not require years of kitchen experience to prepare: she provides precise times and/or descriptions for adding different ingredients, or for when dishes are done.  It’s not the cookbook for the can’t-boil-water set, but it’s not experts-only, either.  The recipes cover all the categories you’d expect: appetizers/small dishes, meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, desserts, and a few drinks.  Enough of the book is dedicated to meat that a vegetarian would not find it worth the purchase price.  Ms. Jaffrey has a couple of vegetarian books that are supposed to be excellent, though.

I’ve made a few main dish recipes and found them to be very, very good.  One recipe, a braised chicken dish, was a bit greasy; I think the issue was that one must skin chicken thighs whether the recipe says so or not.  Otherwise, everything I’ve made has turned out as well as food I’ve eaten in local Indian restaurants.  The author keeps the capsaicin-sensitive palate in mind and usually allows the cook to choose the level of heat in a dish; I love spicy food, but I’ve found this useful for company.   The recipes tend to be a bit fussy, especially the first time you make them: I’d have called this book Quick & Easy Cooking (for Indian Food).  There’s a good bit of prep for every dish, and most I’ve made have taken me just under an hour to get on the table.  Also, a pressure cooker is essential to turn out the book’s dishes even that quickly.  There are alternate times given for saucepan cooking, but they’re significantly longer than the original preparation times even before one allows for altitude.

Finally, I must state the obvious: this is not the most kid-friendly cookbook unless your child is a very adventurous eater (or actually Indian).  It helps that one can adjust the level of spicy heat, but still, these are highly spiced dishes that a mac-and-cheese addicted child is not going to be into.  If your kids are at an age, like mine, where they only occasionally eat what you serve the grown-ups, or if they’re old enough that you want to push them a bit toward adventurous eating, this book will serve your whole family.  Otherwise, keep it in mind for later years.

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