Me in Pune, with a giant platter of S.Indian Thali, my camera for documentation,
a giant smile of anticipation, and a big appetite. What a perfect moment.
Let's talk about Indian food. I love Indian food so much. Lucky me, I've been to India three times, and each time for 5-6 weeks. During my travels I've been pretty far north and also way down south and also in the middle. It's kinda silly to even say "Indian food" because there is such a vast array of regional cuisines and dishes across India. Every time I've been to India, I have been delighted to eat Indian food for breakfast-lunch-dinner day after day and week after week, so I know I really do love Indian food. On my first trip to India, I went with Mr VE&T. At some point on the trip he got so tired of Indian food that he just ate packaged potato chips and cookies for a few days until he was ready to try again. On our last night we were in Delhi and he even ordered a pizza. Ha ha. Let's just say, I don't have this problem. As far as 5-6 weeks of non-stop Indian food goes, I am ALL IN.
Taking selfies at the Taj Mahal with my new BFF, Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
So, a little while back, when my prolific internet pal Richa Hingle of the blog Vegan Richa wrote a cookbook called Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, I ordered a copy right away! But, for whatever reason/s, I didn't dive into it right away. But then Richa asked me about doing a review and a giveaway on my blog and that was just the kick start I needed. Now I've already made so many recipes from this book and I have about 1 million more recipes bookmarked. Just try and stop me!
Cauliflower and Peas with Cilantro Onion Sauce
The first recipe I made was this Cauliflower and Peas with Cilantro Onion Sauce. This whole dinner came together really quickly and easily. It's got great flavors and is chock full of pungent spices but isn't super spicy-hot. It's also loaded with veggies (I love dinners that are almost all veggies!), and with all the peas and cauliflower, it's also pretty high protein (did you know that peas and cauliflower both have lots of protein?).
The cilantro-onion sauce was really delicious, and was prepared differently than other sauces I've made: everything was pureed in the blender and then cooked down. It was an easy method with super-tasty results. This dinner was quick, super satisfying and tasty. It's definitely a meal I'd make again. Richa suggests a few ways of serving the curry - Mr Vegan Eats & Treats had his with a giant serving of white rice (his favorite!), and I opted to have mine as a filling in lettuce leaves which I loved! I actually had some ice berg lettuce left in my fridge and this was a yummy and fun use for it.
Butternut Coconut Red Lentil Curry
Masoor Aur Kaddo Ki Dal
Oh wow, soooo good. Next time I'll have to make a double batch, because we polished this batch off in a jiffy. One thing that happened when I traveled to India was that I particularly fell in love with the flavor of curry leaves. I wish I could find fresh curry leaves around here, but I can't. I only have some dried ones, which I store in the freezer. That said, even my little ol' dried curry leaves imparted their wonderful flavor to this dish. The creamy lentils and coconut milk, the chewy dried coconut, and the perfectly cooked squash gave the whole dish a really excellent texture. I made this on a stormy night with a big pot of rice and it was gloriously perfect! Warm and warming. Ahhhh.
On my last trip to India, my friend and I bought several bunches of fresh curry leaves and hung them to try in our apartment. By the end of our stay, we both had a nice baggie of dried curry leaves to bring home. Ahhh. Curry leaves are so magical.
So much Yum.
Rainbow Chard and Peas in Creamy Sauce (Chard Malai Mutter) sounded like something special and different from other Indian dishes I'd made, so it piqued my curiosity. I'm so glad I made it! We both totally loved this dish - it's so interesting when familiar ingredients are combined to create a new flavor sensation, and that's what happened here. This recipe makes a lovely combination of chard and peas covered in a creamy and delicately spiced sauce. I used half frozen peas and half frozen edamame since that's what I had in my freezer (gotta use what's there!), and I also reduced the cashews from 1/2 cup to a 1/3 cup and it was still super creamy and delicious! What a special and lovely dinner.
top: Creamy Black Gram and Kidney Bean Curry
left: Chickpea Tofu in Spicy Madras Sauce
lower right: Cauliflower & Yellow Lentils in Mint Cilantro Sauce
One day I went all out and made three things - a culinary feat which ended up lasting us for two dinners and a few lunches for me too. Ahhh! I love that! It's so fun to make a proper effort in the kitchen and then reap the rewards for so many meals after that. The best thing was that none of these dishes were complicated or hard to make and the whole project didn't take more than about 2 hours... which is pretty good actually, because I'm pretty slow in the kitchen.
Creamy Black Gram and Kidney Bean Curry
I was excited to make this recipe because in restaurants Dal Makhani always has butter or ghee in it, so I don't think I'd ever had it before. When I went to India the first time, my wonderful Indian friend Geraldine told me which dishes I could safely order as a vegan, and which ones would always have dairy, and which ones I would have to ask about. It was very helpful! I also loved making this because I got to use up my special black gram lentils which I had purchased at an Indian Grocery store a while back - an impulse purchase based entirely on how cool I thought they looked. (though she does give variations/substitutes if you don't just happen to have some black urad dal sitting around in your cupboard) This was a wonderful, creamy dal that was a nice hearty balance to the other two dishes I made.
I'm happy to report that even though poor Mr. VE&T got tired of Indian food on our trip to India,
he didn't get tired of any of these dishes at all!
Chickpea Tofu in Spicy Madras Sauce
(Tofu Madras Chile Masala)
For this recipe, I had to make chickpea tofu first, and let it chill for a little while. It was my first time making Burmese Tofu, but it was so quick and easy and delicious!! We both loved loved loved this dish, and it was the first one to be fully polished off. Lots of spices and totally excellent flavors together. Most of the dishes I've made from this book call for pretty standard and easy-to-find spices. The only exceptions would be fenugreek leaves and curry leaves -- but you could just omit them or order some online if you wanted too. This recipe definitely had some heat, but I'm not a heat machista and I did just fine. All the spices come together into a thick, rich and robustly flavored sauce. We both really love peas, so I added extra. Peas, please!
Cauliflower and Yellow Lentils in Mint Cilantro Sauce
We couldn't decide if this was our favorite, or the Chickpea Tofu, but man-o-man was this good. I loved the creaminess of this sauce, and it was different from any other Indian dish I've made before, which was really fun. The creaminess comes from cashews, sesame seeds, coconut, and coconut milk -- what a combo!! I had some mint that one of my farmers market friends had given me and I was determined to put it to use. This recipe has really lovely spices, more on the delicate side than the heavy-handed side of things. It's got some spicy heat from the green chiles, but the heat wasn't at all overbearing, and all the other spices still came through the heat. What a lovely dish!
cashew trees and cashew fruits in South India
By the way, do you know about cashews?? Cashews always remind me of India. When we went to South India, we were so delighted and amazed to see how cashews grow. They grow on huge bushy trees, and each and every cashew nut is suspended from a piece of cashew fruit. As you can see, the fruits are pretty sizeable, but they are also extremely delicate. The skin is thin like a nectarine, but the flavor is more delicate than a nectarine. I feel so lucky that I got to try cashew fruits when I was in India! I often remember this horticultural moment of surprise and delight when I am eating cashews.
one of the best tofu scrams ever
OMG!! SO good! This recipe for Spicy South Indian Tofu Scramble has all the flavors I love from my beloved S. Indian cuisine, thrown into one of the world's quickest and most satisfying creations: tofu scramble. I added a zucchini that one of my students brought me from his garden, which was actually a very nice addition. We ate the whole thing in one fell swoop, no leftovers! I guess this recipe was technically in the breakfast section of the cookbook, but we had it for dinner. It would definitely also make a great breakfast! This recipe has excellent spices, it's quick to come together, and was a totally new-to-me treatment of a tofu scram. I loved the curry leaves in the scramble and the lime juice and shredded coconut on top!! I am already in anticipation of making this again, soon.
Chewie (Richa's dog) and Snoopy
~ Overall thoughts on this cookbook ~
Well, first and foremost, I loved every single recipe I made, which is really the most important thing! But beyond that, the recipes were very well-written with clear and easy-to-follow instructions. I never came across any typos or confusing wording or recipes that behaved differently from how the instructions indicated. That's the kind of thing that really builds trust for me with a cookbook. I also appreciate that the recipes are not gratuitously heavy on salt or oil, but leave it up to you if you want to omit those ingredients entirely.
Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen also has a really good index, which I always appreciate. There are nice color pics for many of the recipes (but not for all of them), but there are also nice write-ups for each recipe, which helps you get a sense for the recipe, how to serve it, and what to serve it with. Substitutions are given for harder-to-find ingredients (for most recipes this is not an issue), as well as all sorts of variations -- for using a pressure cooker, adding different ingredients, making a recipe lower-calorie, making it soy-free, making it nut-free, etc. SO many variations are offered! I love it! This book also includes a real diversity of recipes from many of the different types of cuisines in India. So, no matter what, you are likely to find some that appeal to you.
I already have many, many more recipes bookmarked to try:
Sweet and Spicy Baked Cauliflower
Mango Curry Tofu
South Indian Chickpea Eggplant Stew
Potato Veggie Balls with Garlic Fenugreek Sauce
and on and on and on...
walkin' our dogs together
~ Giveaway! ~
Thanks to Richa and her publisher Vegan Heritage Press, I am happy to offer a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen to a lucky reader (US only). To enter, just leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite recipe you've ever made from Richa's blog, or your favorite Indian dish, or anything else you feel like saying. Make sure I can track you down via your blogger profile or your email address, or else I will skip right over you and select another winner! Good luck!
ps. Even if you don't win this giveaway, I really recommend this book and Richa's blog which is positively jam-packed with countless recipes (both Indian and otherwise). Such an amazing resource!