Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cookbook Review: Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking

I'd dabbled in Indian cooking for several years, borrowing recipes from Indian friends and so forth. But my repertoire has been greatly expanded by a cookbook I picked up last year, Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking. Madhur Jaffrey is an Indian-American cookbook author and actress, and she is widely viewed as a premier popularizer of Indian cooking in the US, in the same sense as Marcella Hazan is of Italian food and Julia Child was of French food. I've used some of Jaffrey's vegetarian cookbooks in the past, but this newish book is my favorite of hers.

There's a fine line many cookbooks seem to miss between being too basic and being completely ridiculously complex. A too-basic Indian cookbook would call for "curry powder", which is not a real Indian ingredient. Buying whole spices is cheap, and grinding them in a spice grinder is worth the trouble for the additional flavor you get. A too-complex cookbook would be something along the lines of China Moon, a California-Chinese cookbook written by a restaurant owner, where every dish requires three secret spice mixtures, 12 hours of marinating, and separate deep-frying, roasting, and stir-frying of various ingredients. Not practical. (Although the results can be fantastic.) Jaffrey's book seems to hit the sweet spot. There's a mix of simpler side dishes, more complicated main dishes, and everyday curries and daals. She assumes you have a spice grinder, but makes no other dramatic requirements on the home cook. And almost everything I've made out of the book has been fantastic.

Some favorites include Beef Baked with Yogurt and Black Pepper, which is a dry stew baked in a sealed pot in the oven, Lemony Chicken with Fresh Coriander, Eggs Vindaloo, which is a spicy, garlicy, and fantastically vinegary dish, a dead simple and fantastic Cabbage with Peas side dish, Whole Green Lentils with Spinach and Ginger, and a Coriander Chutney that is unbelievable with the little frozen samosas I can get at a neighborhood Bangladeshi deli.

Here's the recipe for an Egg and Potato Curry I made recently. The photo is cheating -- it's a photo of the photo in the book, not of my actual preparation, which was not so beautifully plated and lit... I served this with basmati rice made the way an Indian friend taught me. Add a bay leaf, a few whole cloves, a few cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick to the rice and steam it normally. Makes your house smell fantastic...

Unday Aur Aloo

2 cloves garlic, minced
1" cube ginger, minced or grated
1 lb potatoes, peeled
6 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/8 t ground cayenne pepper
1 T ground coriander
1 t flour
4 T yogurt
5 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t garam masala (best if you make your own!)
1T minced cilantro
4 eggs

1. Hard boil the eggs. (14 minutes in simmering water.) Prep the other ingredients. Cut the potatoes into 1/2" french fry sized sticks.
2. Heat oil in a large non-stick or cast iron fry pan. Lightly fry potatoes until golden brown but not cooked through. Remove to a plate.
3. Add onions, cook until medium brown. Lower heat to medium. Add garlic and ginger and fry 30 seconds. Add cayenne, coriander, and flour and cook for a minute. Add yogurt a tablespoon at a time, stirring to incorporate. Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes. Add 10 oz water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on low 10 minutes.
4. Add potatoes, bring back to a boil, re-cover, and simmer on low 10 minutes. Stir in garam masala and cilantro.
5. Peel and halve eggs and add, cut sides up. Spoon sauce over the eggs and simmer, covered, on low for 5 minutes.

Serves 3-4.



At 10:48 PM, Blogger Mona said...

Harlan, I love your picture confession. Ha, I rarely have my own pictures on my site. I seem to lack all photographic skills...except I can say the pix of the gorillas at the zoo were all mine:) But in all seriousness, that book sounds fabulous, and so does the egg and potato dish. Oh my god, I love that combo. I will have to try that very soon. My bf is Korean and one of my favorite dishes is bibimbap. At first I was grossed out with the egg just sitting on top of the veggies but once I mixed it in I was hooked by the flavor. I'm sure I'd feel this way about the eggs and potatoes.

At 11:10 PM, Blogger Harlan said...

Mona, thanks for the comment! I'm now tempted to write about (and cook) New Mexico Enchiladas, which are flat instead of rolled, and traditionally have a fried egg on top. And with a spicy red sauce a little like the sauce in bibimbap... Very tasty...

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Tanya Lee said...

Mmm. Enchiladas. When we lived in NM, we used to go to "The Hat" in Socorro--real name: El Sombrero--and get enchiladas with the fried egg on top. State question: red or green? (Correct answer: green.)

Madhur Jaffrey's books have been on my must-have list since college, when my Indian roommate relied on one--at that time her books weren't readily available here. But no one seems to take the hint at Xmas time. She is definitely the best out there, for exactly the reasons you give.

And China Moon--I have that one. Really great recipes. I use it about once a year, when I have a weekend to devote to making the orange chili oil to make the spiced pecans. Very well received holiday gifts. But completely impractical otherwise. I keep meaning to try it anyway and just slash and burn through all her anal retentiveness and keep the heart of the recipe. But I never get around to it because I have this other great Chinese cookbook I use instead: From the Earth, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.

P.S.--the red sauce. On NM enchiladas, it's just red chili sauce, probably with some chicken broth & other stuff. On bibimbap, however, it's a bean paste flavored with chili, sugar, salt, and maybe some oil--called kochujang (="chili sauce"--but the base really is bean). Quite different. Gotta stick up for my people on that one.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Harlan said...


And there's always "Christmas", but I always found that weird...

From the Earth is a fantastic cookbook. Quite strange that it's out of print...

I made some weird Polish-Chinese dumplings for the cooking club last year that were based on recipes from both From the Earth and China Moon. Recipe here.

You're quite right about the red sauces, of course...

Incidentally, Orangette has a post today about putting eggs on top of food as a parlor trick. Worth reading...

At 1:40 AM, Blogger Nabeela said...

Madhur jaffrey has westernized most, if not all, of the recipes in her book. Indian cooking is not what she says it is...if you want an authentic Indian cookbook, try Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Or Savoring India by Julie Sahni. These books show the true cuisine of India.
P.S: I'm an Indian, so I can talk about authenticity with some authority :)

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Melissa said...

I've been following your blog for quite a while and enjoying your wealth of good recipes. When Foodista announced that they are going to publish the best food blogs in a full color book that will be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing Fall 2010, I naturally thought of you. This recipe would be a good submission! You can enter here:

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