ArchiveApril 1, 2006

India’s Vegetarian Cooking by Monisha Bharadwaj

Every now and then I come across a food writer who really excites me. I have just discovered an Indian cook called Monisha Bharadwaj. I should have known about her earlier, because she has already written several award-winning, books ‘Indian in 6’, ‘Stylish Indian in Minutes’, ‘The Indian Kitchen’. By sheer coincidence there was a review copy of her new book ‘India’s Vegetarian Cooking’ on my desk on my return from India. I quickly flicked through the pages and was immediately gripped – its my kind of food. The majority of people in India are vegetarians and so India is blessed with the most imaginative and tasty vegetarian cuisines in the world, infinitely varied from region to region. Travelling around India as a child, Monisha was introduced to the staggering variety of Indian cuisine: aged six, she had sampled Gujarai thali in Rajkot, by eight she was familiar with the tandoori dishes of Amritsar and by twelve the family had covered most of South India with its hot Kanjeevaram idlis and chutneys. Growing up in cosmopolitan Mumbai, she had the opportunity to sample (and cook) food from all over India.

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Monisha lovingly guides us through the subleties of regional Indian cuisine using simple, delectable vegetarian recipes. She illustrates the regional differences between the diverse corners of India and links the cultural, religious and horticultural detail to the recipes. There are notes on choosing chillies for heat and for flavour, on different varieties of rice or lentils, and on the spices used in quintessential Indian vegetarian cooking. 

Indian cuisine is one of the most popular forms of cooking in the world today but, as Monisha shows, the myriad regional varieties of healthy and exotic recipes have yet to be discovered by many Western kitchens. The history, tradition and ritual associated with food – all so essential a part of Indian life – come alive in the comprehensive celebration of India’s vegetarian fare. 

From the finest Gujarati thalis to the choicest tandoori-cooked foods in the north and the steaming hot idlis and chutneys of the south. From the west comes a stunning array of fresh vegetables and from the east delicious sweets good enough to tempt even the most ardent calorie counter.

Encompassing the entire range of Indian cooking, from Dal Bukhura (Black Beans Cooked in Butter and Cream) in the North, to Kirla Ghassi (Bamboo Shoots in Coconut Milk) in the South, via everything from chapattis to chutneys, this is an inexhaustible guide. Whether you want a snack, a quick lunch or a lavish meal this book will bring a sense of adventure to your kitchen.

Here are some recipes from India’s Vegetarian Cooking by Monisha Bharadwaj
Published by Kyle Cathie

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Green Peas with Cumin and Ginger

- Vatana Bhaaji
This a fresh looking and great tasting stir-fry. You could fill into wraps, add a few sliced tomatoes and eat for lunch. Or sprinkle a bit of coconut on top for variety and also stir in a few spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt for an instant summer salad.
Serves 4

2 tablesp sunflower oil
½ teasp cumin seeds
300g (11oz) green peas
½ teasp. turmeric powder
2 fresh green chillies, slit down the middle but kept whole with the stalk
Pinch of sugar
2cm (¾ inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled

Heat the oil in a kadhai or saucepan and add the cumin seeds.
As they sizzle, add the green peas and stir. Sprinkle in the turmeric and add the green 
chillies. Stir for 1 minute.
Pour in a couple of tablespoons of water, add the sugar and salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook without a lid until the peas are soft and done.
Remove from the heat, grate the ginger on top and gently fold it in with a wooden spoon.
Serve warm.

Sweet Star Fruit Preserve – karambal ka murabba

Preserve and pickle-making are traditional skills passed down from mother to daughter. Monisha remembers her grandmother making a variety of mango preserves every summer – hot, sweet and salty. This star fruit preserve can be stored for about a month in the fridge.
Serves 4

2 large juicy star fruits (carambola), sliced
100g (3½ oz) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of saffron strands

Put the star fruit with half the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan. Pour in 150ml (5fl.oz) water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until the fruit is tender but holds its shape. Strain the fruit out of the syrup and reserve.

Add in the remaining sugar to the cooking liquor in the pan and cook until it becomes a syrup of single thread consistency. Test this by putting a drop of syrup on a plate and dabbing it with your finger – it should feel sticky and thick.

Add the lemon juice, saffron and cooked fruit to the syrup and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cool completely and store in a clean, airtight glass in the fridge.

French Beans with Mustard – farasbeechi bhaji
This stir-fry is from Maharashtra. The beans must be chopped quite finely to get the best flavour – you could use runner beans equally well. Cooking without a lid on the pan keeps the beans green and fresh looking.
Serves 4

2 tablesp. sunflower oil
1 teasp black mustard seeds
½ teasp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
300g (11oz) French beans, finely chopped
1 tablesp lemon juice
3 tablesp desiccated coconut

Heat the oil and add in the mustard seeds. As they pop, add the cumin and onion. Stir and fry until the onion is soft. 
Add the French beans and salt. Pour in a few tablespoons of water and cook uncovered until the beans are tender.
Take off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and serve hot, sprinkled with the coconut.

Salted lassi with ginger – adrak ki lassi

This is a wonderful drink in the summer. Ayurveda, the Indian system of holistic health, suggests that ginger is good for stimulating the appetite. It is also called ‘maha aushadhi’ or great medicine because it has so many health properties. It is best to peel ginger lightly: the essential oil to which it owes its efficacy lies just beneath the skin.
Serves 4

1 teasp cumin seeds, dry toasted and crushed in a mortar
300ml (10 fl.oz) cold water
200g (7oz) natural yoghurt
1 teasp finely grated fresh ginger

Combine all the ingredients, whisk well and serve chilled.

Indian Rice Pudding – chaaval ki kheer

Kheer is a generic term given to puddings that resemble creams. They can be made with nuts or fruit and always have a milk component. They are considered food for the gods. Rice kheer is made all over India and this is the northern version. In the south, cooks add slivers of coconut. Broken basmati rice is available commercially.
Serves 4

150g (5oz) broken basmati rice (this gives a better, sticky texture to the pudding)
600ml (1 pint) full fat milk
4 tablesp ground almonds
150ml (5fl.oz) evaporated milk
Sugar to taste
2 tablesp chopped pistachio nuts
½ teasp powdered cardamom

Bring the rice to the boil with the milk in a heavy pan, then allow to simmer for 1 hour or until mushy. Mash the rice roughly with a whisk while still on the heat.
Blend the ground almonds into the evaporated milk and add to the rice. Stir until thick and creamy.
Add the sugar and pistachios. Sprinkle over the cardamom powder and stir well. Serve chilled or warm, depending on the weather; delicious warm on a winter’s evening.

Spiced Turnips – shalgam masala

Turnips are commonly used in the north, either in stir-fries or pickles.
Serves 4

2 tablesp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teasp ginger-garlic paste, see below
2 fresh green chillies, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 teasp cumin powder
1 teasp coriander powder
½ teasp turmeric powder
300g (11oz) turnips, peeled and diced
1 teasp jaggery or brown sugar

Finely chopped coriander leaves to garnish

Heat the oil in a kadhai or heavy-bottomed pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the ginger-garlic paste and the chillies.
Add the tomatoes, the spice powders and salt. Stir until well blended.
Mix in the turnips. Add about 150ml (5fl.oz) hot water and stir well.
Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for about 20 minutes until the turnips are cooked.
Stir in the jaggery or sugar, lightly mashing the turnips as you go.
Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve the turnips piping hot.

Ginger-garlic paste
These are almost always used together in Indian cooking. 
Take equal quantities of each and whiz in a blender until smooth. 
You could make a big batch and freeze in thin sheets between layers of plastic, but make sure to put in containers away from other food in your freezer. Then break off a piece when you need it and add straight to the pan.

Cauliflower and Potatoes in spices – aloo gobi

This combination of cauliflower and potato is common all over India but in the Punjab, it is quite a speciality, served with a roti and a lentil dish.
Serves 4

3 tablesp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, sliced
½ teasp ginger-garlic paste (see Spiced Turnip recipe)
2 fresh green chillies, chopped
150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and cubed
100g (3½ oz) fresh tomatoes, chopped
150g (5oz) cauliflower, washed and cut into florettes
½ teasp turmeric powder
1 teasp garam masala powder

Heat the oil in a kadhai or heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a few seconds.

Add the chillies and the potatoes. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the mixture from sticking. Add the tomatoes and allow them to soften.
Tip in the cauliflower, turmeric, garam masala powder and salt. Mix well. Reduce the heat and cook, adding a few spoonfuls of water if it begins to stick to the pan. When the vegetables are completely done, in about 20 minutes, remove from the heat and serve.

Note: You could cook the vegetables for a little less time and have them hold their shape if you prefer

Foolproof Food

Cucumber and Yogurt Raita

This cooling relish is good served with spicy food.
¼ medium sized cucumber
½ tablesp. onion, finely chopped 
½ rounded teasp. salt
½-1 ripe tomato, diced
1 tablesp. chopped coriander leaves, or ½ tablesp. parsley and ½ tablesp. mint 
¼ pint (150ml) plain yogurt
½ teasp. ground cumin seed

Peel the cucumber if you prefer, cut in half and remove the seeds then cut into ¼ inch (5mm) dice. Put this into a bowl with the onion, sprinkle with salt and allow to degorge for 5-10 minutes. Drain, add the diced tomato the chopped coriander or parsley and mint to the yogurt. Heat the cumin seeds, crush lightly and add to the raita, taste and correct seasoning. Chill before serving.

Hot Tips 

Ballincollig Farmers Market – every Wednesday in the Village Shopping Centre Ballincollig from 10-2.30

Euro-Toques Small Food Initiative-
Over the past two years Euro-Toques Ireland have coordinated the Small Food Initiative; a project which aimed to bring small food producers and chefs from the border and cross border region together in the hope that they would establish contact and potentially supply links. The project is funded by the Irish Cross Border Area Interreg through the Interreg 111A Programme Ireland/Northern Ireland -  

Café Now open at Stephen Pearce Gallery, Shanagarry, Co Cork
10-5 Monday to Saturday and 11-5 on Sunday – serving morning coffee, lunches, afternoon tea– delicious home baking. 021-4646807

Inn by the Harbour, Ballycotton, Co Cork – chef Eugene Bellard is doing Pub food with a twist – all home cooked using local produce including fresh fish from the harbour – daily specials – lunch 12.30-3.30 Monday – Saturday, Dinner 6.30-9.00 Thursday, Friday and Saturday – open Sunday 12.30-6.30 - booking advisable. Tel 021-4646768
Bed and breakfast also available.

Ryans on the Mall, Riverside Way, Midleton– open 8.30-6 Monday to 
Saturday – breakfast, lunch, snacks…Tel 021-4639960


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