A week cooking with India's Vegetarian Cooking
Indian food. It's like culinary kryptonite - I love it, but I really struggle to make it well at home.
Time to rectify that, I thought - so I decided to turn to my copy of India's Vegetarian Cooking, for a week of cooking foods from the subcontinent of vegetarian and vegan wonders.
Here's the first couple of things I made, served together: bhunia lobhia (stir-fried black eyed beans) and ghee bhaat (rice with ghee and spices).
(Side note: while a lot of ghee isn't vegan, you can actually get a vegan version if you look. That said, I subbed it for plain old vegetable oil here.)
I enjoyed both of these bad boys, but wasn't blown away by the flavour - both were tasty but a little weedy. I was a bit disappointed - I associate Indian food with all sorts of riotously deep flavours, and they were a little bit absent here. Maybe that's my bad - if you went into this expecting a more muted taste, you wouldn't be disappointed.
Again, I was a bit surprised by the gentleness of the flavour - just chilli powder, turmeric and cumin as the spices, and then a whack of dill in the background. The dill goes in while the veggies are cooking, so it's not a strong presence by the time the dish has finished simmering.
But third meal lucky. This is the spiced potato and aubergine dish known as bhaingan bharta:
I've tried something similar when I was doing a week cooking from Asian Vegan Kitchen, where the aubergine was cooked over a naked flame to give it that smoky flavour. Indian Vegetarian Kitchen notes that's the traditionnal way to do it, but offers an alternative cooking method - boiling the the aubergine instead.
It might be a slightly easier method, but I kind of feared that all the flavour would be lost. Happily, it wasn't the case - the aubergine broke down into the silky sauce the recipe promised, and with the turmeric levels amped up, it was a surprise winner.
But what's Indian food without a sweet chick pea dish? Here's the one I made from Indian Vegetarian Kitchen, called chole, with rajma pulao rice on the side.
Chole was fun - I didn't have the required pomegranate seeds, but I did enjoy the chance to bust out the mango powder once again after MoFo. It was a simple dish, but hearty, especially when you get some kidney beans and rice on the side.
I love kidney beans and rice. If we were kicking it ancient Egyptian style and you were putting food in my sarcophagus to keep me fed in my journey to the next world, I'd want some kidney beans and rice in there. The pulao was subtle and wonderful - cardamom and peppercorns made this one a keeper.
Last up on my week with Indian Vegetarian Kitchen was a trio of dishes: tumater pulao (tomato rice), bengali dal (sweet and sour lentils) and shalgam masala (spiced turnips).
I was a bit dubious about the turnips. I mean, who's ever had a memorable turnip anything, let alone a turnip curry? I liked the flavours in here, but the turnip was kind of the stumbling block, give it has no flavour of its own to speak of, making everything kind of bland. The sweet and sour lentils did pretty much what they said on the tin, and the tomato pulao was another new thing for me and rice.
Not everything I cooked from India's Vegetarian Cooking was absolutely golden, but by the end of my cooking from it, I felt I could turn out a far better Indian meal than I could have before. Now pass the vegan na'an, I've got some learning to do. Tasty, tasty learning.