Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review - Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal

Book Synopsis
From the acclaimed chef and owner of Brooklyn Delhi, a debut cookbook focused on the celebrated vegetarian fare of South India.

Lifelong vegetarian and chef Chitra Agrawal takes you on an epicurean journey to her mother’s hometown of Bangalore and back to Brooklyn, where she adapts her family’s South Indian recipes for home cooks. This particular style of Indian home cooking, often called the “yoga diet,” is light and fresh, yet satisfying and rich in bold and complex flavors. Grains, legumes, fresh produce, coconut, and yogurt—along with herbs, citrus, chiles, and spices—form the cornerstone of this delectable cuisine, rooted in vegetarian customs and honed over centuries for optimum taste and nutrition. 

From the classic savory crepe dosa, filled with lemony turmeric potatoes and cilantro coconut chutney, to new creations like coconut polenta topped with spring vegetables ‘upma” and homemade yogurt, the recipes in Vibrant India are simple to prepare and a true celebration of color and flavor on a plate. Chitra weaves together the historical context behind the region’s cuisine and how she brought some of these age-old traditions to life thousands of miles away in Brooklyn during the city’s exciting food renaissance.

Relying on her experience as a culinary instructor, Chitra introduces the essential Indian cooking techniques, tips, and ingredients you’ll need to prepare a full range of recipes from quick vegetable stir frys (corn, basil, and leeks flavored with butter, cumin, and black pepper), salads (citrus red cabbage and fennel slaw with black mustard seeds, curry leaves, and chile), yogurt raitas (shredded beets and coconut in yogurt), and chutneys and pickles (preserved Meyer lemon in chile brine) to hearty stews (aromatic black eyed peas, lentils, and greens), coconut curries (summer squash in an herby coconut yogurt sauce), and fragrant rice dishes (lime dill rice with pistachios). Rounding out the book is an array of addictive snacks (popcorn topped with curry leaf butter), creative desserts (banana, coconut, and cardamom ice cream), and refreshing drinks (chile watermelon juice with mint). Chitra provides numerous substitutions to accommodate produce seasonality, ingredient availability, and personal tastes. The majority of recipes are gluten-free and vegan or can be easily modified to adhere to those dietary restrictions.

Whether you are a vegetarian or just looking for ways to incorporate more vegetarian recipes into your repertoire, Vibrant India is a practical guide for bringing delicious Indian home cooking to your table on a regular basis.

My Review
I am a longtime vegetarian and love South Indian food, so was drawn to Vibrant India immediately.

This is a beautifully designed book.  The colorful cover with embossed title gives an indication of the unique recipes and attention to detail that you will find in the book.

The author, Chitra Agrawal, grew up in New Jersey in an Indian (Bangalore) family.  The first section of the book is an engaging look at her life and background, including her first experiences cooking with her family.  She became an accomplished cook who sold prepared food and taught cooking classes.  

There is a very helpful section called "How to Use This Book."  It details Indian Cooking Techniques and Tips, The South Indian Pantry (especially useful), and Kitchen Tools.

Then the recipes begin!  The book has 9 sections:

  1. Breakfast and Light Meals
  2. Salads and Yogurts
  3. Stir-Fries and Curries
  4. Rice and Bread
  5. Soups, Stews, and Lentils
  6. Festive Bites and Snacks
  7. Sweets and Drinks
  8. Chutneys and Pickles
  9. From Scratch
The recipes are Chitra Agrawal's creations, lovely, usually light dishes incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables.  There is a description of each dish followed by ingredients and detailed cooking instructions.  I found the directions clear and easy to follow.   Most of the recipes also include beautiful full page photos.

There is a lot of variety in both the dishes and the food categories included, and it is presented beautifully.

I am most familiar with traditional South Indian food, and was a bit disappointed that there were not recipes included for some of my favorites, like Chana Masala, Vegetable Biryani, Spinach Pakora.

Some of the recipes are more time intensive than others, requiring one or more items to be cooked/prepared for inclusion in the dish.  For instance, Roasted Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew calls for cooked lentils or basic toor dal, huli powder (from recipe) or sambar powder, ghee (from recipe) or butter or canola oil.

Many of the recipes also include spices or ingredients that are not readily accessible at a supermarket.  As a budget conscious cook with limited time, this is something I always look at in cookbooks.

I think Vibrant India will be of interest to anyone who has already mastered traditional South Indian cooking and who wants to expand their cooking repertoire with some new and creative recipes.  It is a truly beautifully designed book, and a pleasure to review and read.

Author Bio
Chitra Agrawal is the author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn and the founder of Brooklyn Delhi, an award-winning Indian condiments line. Since 2009, she has been serving, writing about, and teaching her family’s vegetarian recipes from India with a slant on seasonality and local ingredients. Chitra writes the popular recipe blog The ABCDs of Cooking, teaches vegetarian Indian cooking classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Brainery, and Whole Foods, and hosts pop-up dinners throughout New York City with creative Indian-inspired menus. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Saveur, and Zagat, among others. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books.

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