Cookbook Review: Made in India has plenty to offer vegans

One of my favorite library-related pastimes is browsing the cookbook section. In the past, I limited myself to checking out vegan cookbooks only —- but then I realized that I was doing myself a disservice. Now I’m happy to grab any cookbook that appeals to me, and Meera Sodha’s Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen appeals on many levels.

First, it’s beautiful. The cloth-covered hard-bound cover bursts with color, including a sweet elephant illustration. Inside the book, the photos themselves are lovely and generous. Second, it was the runner-up in this year’s Food52 Piglet cookbook tournament, a wholly enjoyable competition wherein food writers, cookbook authors, and others review two cookbooks and select a winner, with that book advancing to the next round. Given how highly Made in India placed (and the words of enthusiasm bestowed upon it by its reviewers), I knew it merited at least a check-out from the library.

made in india -- cookbook review

Made in India stands out in my stack of library books.

What I found when I cracked open this book is an homage to home cooking, Indian-style. Sodha manages to make dishes you might’ve only ever eaten in restaurants seem utterly doable at home. I’ve renewed this book three times (the limit, alas), and I don’t want to give it back. It’s going on my Christmas list for sure.

Yes, there are recipes for meat in here. But there are also veg-friendly recipes a-plenty, and the techniques Sodha shares can easily be applied to meat-free cooking. I do have a few vegan Indian food cookbooks already, but I think this one outshines them. I loved everything I made from this book.

What I cooked

  • Badshah kitchari (p. 159). If you’re looking for a way to dress up your rice, this might just be the answer. Tender basmati and a few tablespoons of whatever dried lentils you have on hand meet cinnamon, garlic, onion, and a handful of other spices, and the result is a nuanced rice dish that just about stands on its own as a main.
  • Bateta nu shaak (p.63). A testament to the transformative power of spices on relatively humble ingredients, this Gujarati potato and tomato curry is dead simple and tastes like much more than the sum of its parts.
  • Chana dal with golden garlic tarka (p. 162). “I think I could eat dal for every meal,” said Steven, as we sat down to a bowl of this gorgeously golden dal for a late Sunday lunch. As if this dal isn’t luscious enough on its own, Sodha’s garlic tarka adds another dimension of flavor to bring this seemingly simple dish over the top. (Check out the photo below.)
  • Green beans with mustard seeds and ginger (p. 181). I didn’t think this recipe would work. But when Sodha asks you to mix tomato paste into your green beans, just do it. Yes, it will look a little strange and you won’t be sure if it’s supposed to clump up like that. But the end result is a super-tasty spin on green beans and a great way to make them a much more filling side dish.
  • Hot flaky paratha (p. 198). Truth be told, I’ve always been a little intimidated by Indian breads. But I decided to try making parathas because there’s no rise time and they seemed pretty straightforward. A soft dough is rolled out, dotted with canola oil and flour, folded, sprinkled with more oil and flour, folded again, then finally rolled into a long, irregular triangle before being cooked briefly on a hot skillet. The result is a rich, flaky bread you’ll want to use to scoop up all your curries. It took me a few tries to get the skillet heat and cooking time right, but once I did, these came together beautifully.
  • Jyoti’s peanut soup (p. 169). If you’re thinking, “Hmm, isn’t peanut soup typically an African recipe?” then you’re right on the money. This recipe comes from a woman who was raised in Uganda, before Idi Amin banished that country’s Asians. Instead of using pre-made peanut butter, you’ll need to roughly grind roasted peanuts yourself, resulting in a thick, creamy, yet textured soup.

What I loved, beyond the food itself

  • Sodha’s voice. It’s friendly and welcoming, yet confident; it’s personal, yet not self-centered. She’s sharing her family recipes from a place of love and respect without straying into sappy sentiment, and it works so well.
  • Her method for perfect basmati rice. Although I’ve never been one to bemoan rice cookery, my technique was not exactly failproof. Sodha introduced me to a no-fail method for basmati rice that I’ll use for years to come.
  • The design. I already mentioned the beautiful cover, but the rest of the book is also infused with this colorful, charming aesthetic. From the bold illustrations that introduce each chapter to the just-styled-enough photos, this book pleases the eye in every way.

What I didn’t quite love

  • The index. It’s not comprehensive. Sodha includes multiple recipes for eggplant, but check E in the index and “eggplant” isn’t even listed. Personally, I like to use an index to find inspiration when I have a particular ingredient on hand, but that’s not possible with this book.
    Ed. note: The indexer of this book reached out to me, and it sounds like there was something ‘lost in translation,’ as it were. The index published in the U.S. version of the book is the same version originally published in the U.K. version—meaning I should have looked for “aubergine” instead of “eggplant.” Typically books are re-indexed for a new country of publication, but it sounds like it didn’t happen in this case. So if you’re in the U.S., be sure to search using U.K.-friendly terms!
  • The directions, on occasion. Some recipes could’ve used a little clarification. For example, I’d never made parathas before I attempted Sodha’s recipe and technique. And while I found it mostly easy to follow with solid results, the last paragraph included this line: “Check for any uncooked [dark] spots of dough, then take off the heat…” Okay, but what do I do if I find those dark spots? Cook the whole thing for longer, or maybe press down on the dark spot so it gets more targeted heat? Some expert advice would’ve been much appreciated. I had a similar issue with the green beans — I wasn’t sure what to do when I added the tomato paste; it didn’t blend into the beans easily and seemed a little out of place (though, as previously mentioned, it tasted great). More direct instruction would not have gone amiss.

To sum up, I loved this book. It’s a joy to read through slowly and a joy to cook from, a perfect marriage for a cookbook. Made in India is a book that I would happily find space for in my home.

If you’ve used this book, let me know what you think!

Note: This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies to help cover hosting costs.

Chana, Chana, Chana Masala! (+ a recipe, yo)

When I had a small army of visitors last week, we ate out fairly often, and although I didn’t appreciate the strain on my wallet, I did enjoy discovering a few new restaurants. The vegan paella I found hidden at the bottom of the menu at a restaurant that focused on seafood was a surprising treat. When I placed my order, I had no idea that I was about to receive what was probably somewhere around a pound of a deliciously seasoned paella, spiced with saffron and brimming with meaty mushrooms. I barely finished a quarter of it; the bowl looked like I’d barely nibbled on a few grains of rice! I got at least three more meals out of those leftovers. We also ate at a few Asian-inspired restaurants, and I enjoyed one of my favorite dishes ever, pad thai. On girls’ night, my best friend and I had some delicious mooshu and spring rolls. But one thing we didn’t have was Indian food.

So I decided to remedy that a few nights ago. I’ve recently taken over dinner duty for my parents and myself three nights a week, since they’re both educators and are therefore back to work. Since I am mostly unemployed, I figured it was the least I could do to stop feeling like a financial drain. :) I now get to do most of the grocery shopping and can exercise my culinary prowess on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I decided that Indian food had to be on the menu for my first Monday in the kitchen.

Deciding what to make was simple. I’ve been craving chana masala lately, so I whipped up a batch based loosely on this recipe from VegWeb. Since I was cooking for three, I augmented the recipe by adding extra chickpeas, and I added lots of garam masala, curry powder, and crushed red pepper flakes because my family likes it hot. ;) The result was a fragrant, spicy dish that tasted delicious over brown rice.

(My mama was so impressed with my meal that she photographed it! Silly mommy. Doesn’t it look like a funny little open-mouthed face, though?)

For a side dish, I consulted my growing list of “Crap I Want to Make,” a Pages document of recipes I will try at some point in the vague future. I immediately zeroed in on the Potato Vada from The Voracious Vegan. But then I realized that these tasty-looking morsels are deep fried, and I’m not really a fan of frying (read: large amounts of hot oil frighten me) and I’m trying to keep things healthy. So I decided to create my own vada-like dish. Thus, Potato-Corn Vada were born! These are a healthier, baked variation on the potato vada recipe that looked so good. I took a few ideas from a few sources, combined them with the local corn my dad had picked up, and came up with a yummy side dish for any Indian meal.

These are a delicious counterpart to a spicy main dish. The corn provides a burst of fresh sweetness that helped temper the spice of the chana masala. Because they’re baked, you can eat two or three without feeling uncomfortably full.

I will note that this recipe is a work in progress. I’d recommend making the vada thinner than the 3/4 inch patties I created, which is why I say 1/2 inch in the recipe. Also, even after baking for 20 minutes and broiling for ~2, they didn’t quite stay together. I might try using a slightly higher oven temperature. With that said, here’s my recipe!

Baked Potato-Corn Vada
2 large potatoes
1 1/2 ears corn, raw (yields just over a cup)
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 T chickpea powder
1/4 t turmeric
1/4 t salt
1/2 t garam masala

First, you’re going to boil your potatoes. Start the potatoes ahead of time, because the rest of the recipe doesn’t require very much prep time at all. Heat up some water in a medium saucepan, chop your potatoes into medium pieces, and throw ‘em in the boiling water.

While your potatoes are cooking, de-kernelize your corn. Stand it up lengthwise and use a sharp knife to remove all kernels. This can get messy, so keep a towel underneath your cob to catch errant kernels. Once you’ve got your corn removed from the ear, place the kernels in a small food processor and pulse it a few times. It’s okay to have some kernels that are still whole; you just want to get some variety and have some that are in smaller pieces.

Next, chop up your onion and cilantro. You can adjust these measurements to taste or even omit the cilantro if you’re not a fan. Now’s probably a good time to start preheating your oven to 350˚F and to spray a nonstick pan with oil.

By now, hopefully your potatoes are cooked through. Dump ‘em into a strainer, and once they’ve cooled a bit, transfer them to a large bowl and mash those babies! Next, add the corn, onion, and cilantro to your taters. Now comes the fun part – it’s time to get your hands dirty! Mix up the big ol’ mess until it’s well combined. Then add the chickpea flour and spices (again, adjust as necessary) and stir these in with a large spoon.

Now start forming your patties. Take a decent sized ball of the mixture (about 1/3 cup, I’d guess) and form it into a ball. Flatten it a bit (about 1/2 inch thick) and then place it on your pan. Continue until you finish up the mixture. You can lightly brush the tops with a bit of oil if you’d like, but that’s probably not necessary. Now pop the pain in the oven for about 20 minutes until they’re slightly browned on the top.

You could also make thinner patties, bake ‘em for ~15 minutes, and then put them under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp them up. Or you could certainly shallow-fry thinner patties. The possibilities are endless!