“An Invitation to Indian Cooking“ by Madhur Jaffrey
A classic cookbook filled with timeless recipes.
My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe (https://newclassicrecipe.com) came up with the wonderful idea to have an on-line cookbook club with some of her blog buddies. What a fun, and great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review them. Then, you decide if the book is worth your shelf space! Please go to her site for other reviews of this book! ~ Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen
While I enjoy Indian food, I’ve always felt a little out of my league when attempting to cook it in my own kitchen. So many regions, filled with their own specialties and techniques, exotic spices. It can be quite intimidating, and confusing.
Madhur Jeffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking” has been around since 1973, the little book familiar at least visually to most of us. I dusted off my mother-in-law’s copy, still in pretty good shape after a half century, and browsed through the treasury of dishes that all seemed to call my name. I knew this one was going to be fun.
The book has indeed stood the test of time, and this month a 50th anniversary edition will be released. That’s quite a recommendation on its own. I understand it has been revised, the introduction brought up to date, and includes a forward by Yotam Ottolenghi.
I would definitely recommend this book for the cookbook shelf. Jaffrey’s story of coming to America from Delhi, via London, and finding the Indian food available here at the time quite sketchy, she cooked for family and friends and then wrote her recipes down.
In fact, she said her introduction that “The cookbook was written as a gradual maneuver in self-defense.” At first, people who were curious about her cuisine were invited to dinner since Jaffrey couldn’t find a restaurant to recommend. But soon, feeding so many people, became a large undertaking, so she started writing down her most popular recipes, and they were handed around eagerly. Inevitably, the cookbook took shape, and has been instructing us ever since.
It’s an old-school book in many ways. There are no glossy illustrations or graphic sidebars, but what it might lack in illustration, the clear and detailed instructions are all that are needed. The food is primarily from the Delhi region, with few of her favorite extras from other regions as well.
The chapters include: soups and appetizers, meat, chicken and eggs, fish and shellfish, summer cooking and barbecued foods, vegetables, rice, dals, chutneys and pickles, breads, and desserts. There are also sample menus both with and without meat, notes on flavorings and spices, am kitchen utensils and equipment. One can feel fully armed to tackle a flavorful Indian meal.
v Cabbage Stuffed with Potatoes
v Green Beans with Ginger
v Saffron Basmati Rice
v Cucumber Raita
v Fried Potato Skins
For our feast, I chose to center the meal on her recipe for Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes. I had just picked up a big head of cabbage from our CSA, and was planning on making my mom’s stuffed cabbage recipe, so I just made a little switch. Now, making any stuffed cabbage dish is time consuming and a bit fussy. But this was going to be Sunday dinner after all, and a little fussing is always part of the deal.
The cabbage was a hit. Beautifully spiced, with just a bit of warmth from the cayenne. If I make this again, I’ll add just a bit more than the ¼ teaspoon. It made a lot of stuffing, and I put more in each leaf than she called for. I rolled up 13 ample stuffed leaves, and had enough left over to stuff five peppers for another night’s supper! And, I didn’t use all that head of cabbage, so there will be a slaw later in the week.
Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes
· 5 medium-sized potatoes
· 7 medium-sized onions
· 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
· 2 tsp. whole fennel seeds
· 1 tsp. garam masala
· 3 ½ tsp. salt (I used less)
· ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, I used it)
· 1 tbsp. lemon juice
· 1 medium-sized head of cabbage
Boil the potatoes, then peel and dice them up.
Peel the onions, cut in half lengthwise, then slice into thin half circles.
In a large skillet, heart 6 tbsp. of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, frying, stirring, and separating the rings until they are brownish but not crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the fennel and cumin seeds and cook another 7 to 8 minutes over lower heat. The onions should look reddish brown now, almost caramelized.
Add the potatoes and mash everything up with a masher or back of a slotted spoon. To this mixture, add the garam masala, 2 ½ tsp. salt (I used about a teaspoon), cayenne, and lemon juice. Mix it all up and let it cool.
Cut off the tough stem end, remove any dried outer leaves, and place in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Let it boil for five minutes, remove the cabbage from the pot, and carefully remove the leaves. You might need to put the cabbage back in the water. I used about 13 leaves for the recipe.
Be careful with the leaves, and pat them dry. Cut the tough stem end out, a little triangle of the toughest part. Place a tablespoon of filling (I used a heaping soup spoon in each as my leaves were quite large). Fold up the bottom, then fold in all the edges. Gently give the packet a squeeze to remove any excess moisture.
In a 10-inch skillet, heat the rest of the oil over medium. Squeeze each stuffed leaf again in toweling to remove moisture, then place seam-side down in the hot pan. You will do this in batches. Brown on all sides, setting aside as they brown.
When all the pieces are done, lower the heat, arrange the stuffed leaves in tightly packed layers. Add two tablespoons of water, cover, and cook over a low flame for 10 to 15 minutes.
Carefully remove to a warm platter.
I was intrigued by the green bean cooking methods. They were all fried then simmered very low in a relatively small amount of oil, not quite a confit, for 40 minutes! That seemed like such a long time to me, so I had to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised that the beans were well cooked, but were not mushy at all like canned beans (which was where I thought they would end up) they still had texture, and the flavor was really delicious, just a bit of heat from the chili.
Green Beans with Ginger
I was definitely skeptical about this one, cook the beans for 40 minutes! But, the beans were delightfully delicious, just tender, and filled with flavor. I halved the recipe, and it came out fine.
· 1 ½ lb. fresh green beans
· Piece of ginger 2” X 1”, peeled and coarsely chopped
· 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
· ¼ tsp. turmeric
· ½ fresh green chili (optional) sliced fine
· 2 tbsp. fresh Chinese parsley, coriander, or cilantro
· 1 tsp. ground cumin
· 2 tsp. ground coriander
· 1 ¼ tsp. garam masala
· 2 tsp. lemon juice
· 1 tsp. salt or to taste
Wash the green beans and trim the ends. Slice into fine rounds, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. When all the beans are chopped, set aside in a bowl. (I chopped roughly into ¼ or slightly larger pieces).
Put the ginger in the blender with 3 tablespoons of water and blend at high speed until it is a smooth paste.
Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Pour in the ginger paste and turmeric. Fry, stirring constantly for two minutes, then add the chili and parsley. After a minute, put in the beans and cook for another minute. Add the cumin, coriander, 1 tsp. of the garam masala, lemon juice, salt, and 3 tbsp. warm water. Cover the skillet, turn flame to lowest and let beans simmer slowly for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Serve them in a warm dish with the last quarter teaspoon garam masala sprinkled on top. It can be made ahead and reheated.
They go well with nearly all chicken and meat dishes. They can be eaten with plain boiled rice and Moong Dal, or served with hot pooris or parathas or chapatis.
Saffron Basmati Rice
I followed her instructions on making rice, adding the saffron.
First, I rinsed the rice many times until the water was almost clear, added fresh water, and soaked for a half hour. Follow your rice instructions on whatever proportion of water to rice. Bring to a boil, cover it tightly, then either reduce the heat to a low simmer, or pop in a 325-degree F. oven for a half hour.
In the meantime, dissolve a pinch of saffron in a couple tablespoons of warm milk and let sit. When the rice is nearly done, drizzle the saffron milk over it in streaks.
When ready to serve, gently fluff the rice, taking care to break up any clumps with a careful hand.
To round things out, while the cabbage and beans were simmering, I mixed up a batch of cucumber raita, one of my personal favorite additions to the plate. I also saved my potato peelings, fried them up, drained them on paper towel, sprinkled with salt and cumin, and served as a little crispy garnish.
To round the meal out, Jaffrey said raita goes with just about any Indian dish, and this was really fast to make.
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 grated cucumber (squeeze excess water out) 2 cups plain yoghurt, 1 tsp. salt (or to taste) 1/8 tsp. freshly grated black pepper, ½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin, and 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper. Pop into a bowl, sprinkle with a little more toasted cumin and some paprika, and chill until ready to serve.
We definitely felt like we feasted on flavor from afar!
I’m a writer, cook, gardener, photographer, poet, quilter, and accomplished daydreamer. I’m also a wife, mother, grandmother, and sister. cousin, aunt, and friend, in no particular order on any given day.
I’ve been a writer all my life, newspaper reporter and columnist, radio news writer, magazine contributor, and poet and short-story writer as the spirit moves. Now, I turn my attention to my cookbook, the blog, and a cooking column “Memorable Meals,” which runs in our county newspaper. Besides my family, I love dogs, cats, good coffee, and my never-dwindling pile of books I intend to read.
Our family ran a small Vermont Inn for 18 years, with our focus on local, organic ingredients. After many years of daily serving up our local delicacies, cooking classes, and catering, we are now only open for special events, and the odd cooking class as the spirit moves me. We also host musicians and artists, having helped produce a musical festival and other musical events for nearly 20 years. Many incredible artists have found a place at our table. Wonderful experiences, we will treasure always.