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.

Book Review - Drawn in Bible Study: Esther by Eugene H. Peterson

Book Synopsis
An unlikely queen. A murderous enemy. A miraculous turnaround. The story of Esther is breathtaking. Through study, coloring, and conversation, discover how to find your voice and grow your faith during times of trouble.

Deepen your friendships as you gather around Scripture for coloring and conversation. Drawn In offers simple four-week Bible studies—perfect for groups or personal devotions. Coloring quiets your heart and mind so you can enter fully into Scripture’s stories. The Bible’s passion and personality come through in The Message, surprising new and old Bible readers alike. Discover the delight of being Drawn In.

My Review
Drawn in Bible Story:  Esther tells the Bible story of Esther, the brave queen who became a hero to the Jewish people by stopping a massacre.  Her story is the basis of Purim. 

This is a unique format book.  It is in four parts, designed to be studied on four different occasions.  It works just as well as a personal Bible study as it does for a group study. 

Each section includes the Bible story, questions for journaling or discussion, and some lovely pages to color.  For instance, section one includes four full pages to color related to the story.  The coloring pages are detailed, and will allow time for contemplation as you color.

The writing in this book is wonderful, and the author engages readers with thought provoking questions.

The coloring pages have text on the back, so coloring will need to be done with pencils, not markers.  The book does not lay open readily for coloring.  

I think it would be a wonderful experience to go through this book in four weekly sessions with a group.  The questions and coloring activities would be perfect learning activities to share in a Sunday School class or women's fellowship group.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale.

Book Review - The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

Book Synopsis
World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.

Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancĂ© she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town.  But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.

Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Review
The Dress in the Window tells the story of two sisters living in a mill town post World War II.  They are both alone (Peggy is a widow with a young child, and Jeanne lost her fiance), so they live with Jeanne's mother-in-law.  Although they are very poor, they both are talented and go into business together designing dresses.  Even when they have success, they have conflict with each other and struggle to find happiness.

The writing in this book is beautiful.  The descriptions are vivid and lyrical.  The book begains with a visit to Brunskill, Pennsylvania in the Winter of 1945.  It is told in second person, and "you" are visiting an old abandoned woolen mill where a couple has a late night tryst.

The book then shifts to telling the story from different viewpoints:  sisters Jeanne and Peggy, mother-in-law Thelma, and later, Peggy's daughter Tommie.  The storyline moves from 1948 to 1953.

I loved the dressmaking details in the book.  Each long section was titled after a fabric, and the narrative in that section fits intriguingly in with the fabric.   For instance, the first section is Taffeta, and it tells how making a taffeta dress changes the sisters' lives.

I found a lot of the storyline sad:  the bleak mill town, the sisters' struggles with money and later with each other.  However, it was beautifully written, and the historical details were interesting and well realized.

The Dress in the Window will be of interest to fans of historical fiction, and especially to anyone interested in fashion and dressmaking.  

Author Bio
Sofia Grant has the heart of a homemaker, the curiosity of a cat, and the keen eye of a scout. She works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.

Find out more about Sofia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.