Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Outcome: Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking

So, I've now tried five new recipes from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. I tried to cook them as close to possible to the recipes, so here's the outcome.

The Verdict is:

A keeper! This is a pretty awesome cookbook - while some of the recipes have been adjusted slightly for a North American kitchen, it's full of authentic Indian dishes and flavours, including ones that don't normally get served as "Indian food" in Canada. I'm definitely going to keep this one - I particularly want to explore more of the Indian breakfasts and desserts.

I tried to go for a big spread of recipes - the sabzi korma was the closest to what we'd call a "curry", though the spicing was a bit new and different to me. Despite this cookbook being from the 80s and written for North American, they hadn't toned down the heat levels - the mint and onion relish was gloriously, brutally spicy. The dalia and papaya lassi turned out well and the biggest surprise was how successful the corn starch and radish roti was - it just didn't sound like it was going to work, but it did.

The only issue I really had with this cookbook was that at times the instructions are a bit vague, especially when you're trying to follow the recipe exactly. There were a few points where seasoning or garnishes are mentioned in the ingredient list but not in the instructions, but nothing was so awry that it messed up a recipe. There were times where the instructions looked like they would be wrong, such as with the roti, but I'm glad I stuck with it exactly because it did work in the end.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Corn Bread with Radish (Makkai ki Roti) [Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking]

This cornstarch roti from the Indian Vegetarian cookbook is one of those recipes where I kept on saying "that can't be right, that's not going to work, this is clearly the wrong texture", and yet, I'm glad I stuck with it exactly, because it turned out actually pretty well!

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1 cup packed grated daikon radish (don't press the water out of it)
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 cup "fine ground corn flour" (this is the British term for cornstarch)
  • 5 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

Is it supposed to be this soupy? It still works, though.
1. In a bowl, mix the radish and salt. Add the cornstarch and mix well with your fingers, pressing the water out of the radish. Add the water 1 tbsp at a time, mixing well. The "dough" turns pretty soupy at this point, and it's kind of hard to "divide it into 8" when it's mostly liquid.

2. Cut 9x9 inch pieces of wax paper and have a bowl of water handy to wet fingers. Spread an eight of the dough into a thin 5 inch round circle on the wax paper.

Again, it shouldn't work, but it does.

3. Heat a frying pan over medium for 3 minutes. Carefully flip the round onto the griddle with the paper still attached and peel the wax paper off. Cook on one side for 3 minutes, the other side for 2.

4. Add 1 1/2 tsp butter and fry the bread for 1 minute on each side. Repeat for the rest of the batch.

The Outcome:

This actually works! I was expecting it to be a runny mess, but as soon as it hit the heat, it came together into a solid roti. It fried up nicely, and I really liked the slightly glutenous texture from the cornstarch. My only problem is that most of the water evaporates in the first few minutes, so one side stays a bit harder and paste-white. Frying it in the butter helps brown it a bit.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Low-Calorie Papaya Drink (Papeeta Lassi) [Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking]

Papaya isn't a flavour of lassi that I've come across too often (mango or yogurt seem to be the standard), so this looks interesting - especially with nutmeg added to the mix. This recipe does make me think - if this is "low calorie" for a lassi, how many calories are in a regular one?

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1/2 "overflowing" cup of papaya flesh, in 1/2 inch to 3/4 piece pieces (pretty much exactly half of a small papaya)
  • 3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp honey or sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 "standard size" ice cubes

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. In a blender, mix the papaya, buttermilk, honey, salt, and nutmeg. The cookbook calls for you to blend it for 1 1/2 minutes or until thoroughly blended, this cookbook is 30 years old, a modern blender will have that done in a few seconds.

2. Add water and ice and blend until frothy. The cookbook warns the ice cubes won't disintegrate fully, but they did in my blender.

The Outcome:

This is a really good lassi - papaya isn't a flavour that gets used too often, but it's nice and subtle. The nutmeg really makes this recipe - it goes well with the papaya and keeps the lassi from being too cloying. While I'm sure this is healthier than a normal lassi, I still wouldn't count it as health food. It definitely doesn't taste watered down!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Cracked Wheat Porridge with Almonds and Apricots (Dalia) [Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking]

The vegetarian Indian cookbook seems to lean heavily towards northern Indian dishes, including this bulgur breakfast porridge from along the Pakistani border. This recipe is definitely a lesson in making sure things don't burn - get ready for a lot of stirring!

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter (this isn't clearly explained in the cookbook, but it's meant to be normal butter, as opposed to salted butter or ghee)
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat 
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut small
  • 3 tbsp jaggery or honey
  • 1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted (dry toast them in a pan)
  • scalded milk and jaggery/honey on the side

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the bulgur and fry in the butter over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until browned. The recipe says "stir often", and they do mean often, since after the 5 minute mark there's a good chance the wheat will burn if you let it sit too long.

2. Add the water, 2 cups of the milk, and the apricots - bring to a boil. Lower head and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered, stirring often. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 10 minutes.

3. Add in the rest of the milk, the honey/jaggery, and mix well over low heat to warm it back up. Top with the nuts and serve with extra milk and sweetener on the side.

The Outcome:

This is a mildly sweet, milky porridge. It's pretty good - toasting both the almonds and browning the bulgur means that it has a nice nutty taste. You lose a lot of the apricot flavour from the boiling, however - if I made this again, I'd probably add in the apricots later. I'm not entirely sure about the texture, adding in the extra milk makes it very soupy and since this dish is new to me, I'm not sure if it's meant to be like this - it really didn't need any extra milk added to it. I do want to rustle up some jaggery and see if that changes the flavour compared to honey. Maple syrup would also work really well as a topping for this.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Fiery Mint, Green Chili, and Onion Relish (Podina Piaz) [Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking]

The author of Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking warns that this relish is going to be spicy, and I'm pretty pleased to have found a cookbook where they actually mean it. It's basically ground chilies with a bit of extra ingredients for flavour and body and it packs a wallop.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion (preferably red)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and quartered
  • 12 (yes, twelve!) hot green chilies (I went for my old favourite - serrano peppers)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 3/4 tsp coarse salt to taste

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Put the sliced onions in a bowl, then put half the tomatoes in the blender and add "all the other ingredients" except the salt. The cookbook seems to imply that you don't blend the onions, but isn't completely clear on the point. Blend until pureed.

When just opening the lid makes your eyes water, you're in for a good time.

2. Add the rest tomatoes and chop for a few seconds, just to chop the tomatoes roughly.

3. The recipe ends here, but presumably you then mix the puree with the onion and add the salt.

The Outcome:

Welcome to Fire Town, population: me.

I put this on top of some plain rice and peas, just to make sure I got the full flavour. This is wonderfully, gloriously, brutally spicy. Once again, the recipe's steps weren't completely clear, but the result was really good. I'm a big spice head and this had me sweating. The mint and cilantro add a bit of extra flavour, but mainly the combination of raw onion and hot chilies takes you by the throat. This relish also seems really versatile, you could top pretty much anything - rice, fish, chicken, pakoras, samosas, etc - with it and it would work. The book's explanatory notes explain that "hot green chilies" can cover pretty much anything from serrano and jalapeno peppers to milder anaheims, so there's wiggle room here for non-spice heads.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cauliflower, Eggplant, and Potato in Herb Sauce (Sabzi Korma) [Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking]

First up from the Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking is sabzi korma, a northern Indian dish with the cumbersome English name "Cauliflower, Eggplant, and Potato in Herb Sauce". I like the big spread of spices involved - that's a good sign in my books. The use of almonds is new to me, but I like where this idea is going.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 6 tbsp light vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups minced onion (pretty much one medium-large onion exactly)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 1 or 2 cloves)
  • 2 tbsp grated or crushed fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground fennel (I could only find whole fennel, so I ground my own)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup canned tomato paste
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cauliflower, about 2 lbs, cut into 1.5 inch florets
  • 1 small eggplant, about 1/2 lb, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
  • 2 medium potatoes, about 1/2 lb, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds or garam masala
  • 2 tsp coarse salt or to taste (oddly, the salt doesn't come up in the recipe)
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (toast sesame seeds in a dry pan until brown)

Following the cookbook exactly:

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the onion and fry, stirring, until browned (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cilantro and almonds, and cook for 2 more minutes.

2. Add the coriander seed, fennel, cayenne, and turmeric and "let sizzle for a few seconds." Add the tomato and paprika, drop the heat to low, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Add the water, cauliflower, eggplant, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

4. Turn off the heat, stir in the garam masala / cumin (and apparently the salt, since the salt isn't mentioned in this recipe?)  Let stand, covered, for 30 minutes to let the flavours blend. Top with the sesame seeds.

The Outcome:

This is pretty good! It's different from a lot of korma I've had before - it's not as heavily spiced as I was expecting, but the flavours blend really nicely - especially the fennel with the toastiness of the browned onion/sesame seeds/almonds. I'm not sure if the spices have been toned down a bit for the Western market or if it's meant be more delicately flavoured, though it's not bland. There were only two points that weren't entirely clear - what to do with the salt, and what temperature to eat it at - since after 30 minutes of sitting on the stove it's lukewarm at best.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Cookbook Crusher: Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking

This cookbook was given to me by close family friends many years ago, and unfortunately, I've never really taken a good look at it. Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni is an older cookbook, published in 1985, but unlike a lot of "exotic" cookbooks of the time, this one is actually by an Indian chef and is intended to be a thorough look at real Indian cooking.

Flipping through it shows how comprehensive it is (and not just because it's 500 pages long) - the first 120 pages is an in-depth look into various vegetables, lentils, rices, and spices used in the cooking is different regions and castes in India. Just this section alone already puts this cookbook into my good column - there is a lot of useful knowledge and theory in here. There's also the full sweep of recipes in here - appetizers, dals, chutneys, breads, desserts, you name it.

At first glance the recipes look all quite straightforward - the titles of each recipe involve the real name of the dish, plus a longer explanatory name in English. So Urad Dal gets the more descriptive title of "White Gram Beans Laced with Onion Butter". There aren't any pictures of dishes, only a few illustrations, which helps give the cookbook the air that this is meant to be a practical tool, not a vanity cookbook.

As a spice head, I'm glad to see that despite this being a retro cookbook aimed for the Western market, they have not attempted to tone down the spiciness, only put in casual warnings. The recipe for Volcanic Sauce (Molaha Koyamboo) starts with: "Beware of this delicacy, for it can be shockingly hot for the unprepared palate." I'm ready!

The five recipes tested are:

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Outcome: Cooking For One: Now You're Cookin'

So, I've now tried five new recipes from Cooking For One: Now You're Cookin'. I tried to cook them as close to possible to the recipes, so here's the outcome.

The Verdict is:

Where it belongs
Pretty objectively terrible - I don't even want to fob it off on someone else, since it's just straight up a bad cookbook. The "best" recipe was the Tomato and Cucumber Salad, which was tasty but pretty rudimentary. The Cod Curry was fine but nothing special, but then things started to go steeply downhill from there. The Exotic Potato Pudding was edible but utterly bizarre - pineapple and potato are not natural bedfellows and I don't even think this recipe knew if was a dessert or an entree. Things took a turn for the terrible with the Spinach Risotto - microwaving it for half and hour doesn't get you a nice risotto, it gets you burnt rice, a puddle of water in the bottom of the nuker, and the potential for an electrical fire.

The Fillet of Pork with Banana was the culmination of all the worst aspects of this cookbook. It was a weird, slightly-off flavour combination. Banana and peanut butter go together, so do pork and apples, but not all at once, and not like this. Cooking the pork in the microwave was both weird and wrong - the cooking times in the recipe didn't cook it all the way through so I had to actually modify the recipe for my own wellbeing. Plus, cooking meat in the microwave means that it comes out tough and tasteless, even if you don't get trichinosis.

After kitchen testing these recipes, I think I've figured out why I found this cookbook in the $1 bargain bin in the bookstore.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Fillet of Pork with Banana [Cooking For One]

Let's finish off the very weird Cooking For One with a really messed up recipe. This is the first recipe I've had to modify for my own personal safety. This condenses all the weirdness of this cookbook into one recipe: weird flavour combos, excessive microwave use (to cook meat even!), and somehow despite it all tasting bland.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 5 oz (142g) fillet of pork
  • 1/2 small banana
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 apple
  • 2 tsp peanut butter
  • 1-2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 1 tsp flaked almonds

Following the recipe exactly:

Say no more, say no more!

1. Put the onion and butter in a microwaveable dish and microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes (all microwave settings are on HIGH here). Cut a pocket in the pork and insert the banana (oo er!).

2. Season the pork and place in the microwaveable dish and spoon some of the onion on top. Peel and slice the apple and cover the pork with apple slices. Cover and microwave for five minutes.

3. In a bowl, mix the peanut butter and creme fresh and spread it over the pork. Top with the almonds and microwave uncovered for 3-4 minutes.

Mmmm trichinosis

4.  The recipe ends here, but you will now notice that the pork is still raw inside. I had to nuke the pork for an extra 4 minutes to cook it all the way through. I figure personal safety is work breaking my "no changes" rule.

The Outcome:

Just no.

This is really fucking terrible. I don't even know where to start. First, following the recipe exactly doesn't cook the meat all the way through. Secondly, it's gross - while banana and peanut butter or pork and apples go together, there's too much going on here, so it's a big sloppy grey mess. However, at the same time, it's also bland - the meat is tough and tasteless, as are the onions. The only redeeming quality is that it's now been a few hours and I don't think I have food poisoning.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Spinach Risotto [Cooking For One]

Another weird microwave monstrosity from the Cooking For One cookbook. This "risotto" (aka brown rice with some cheese) is entirely cooked in the microwave for way too long and, well, not to spoil anything, but it tastes like it. I'm just glad this didn't start an electrical fire.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 oz (85g) brown rice
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup vegetable stock, warmed
  • 1/2 oz (14g) walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 oz (57g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, or fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 oz (14g) grated Parmesan
  • fresh ground pepper and sea salt
  • 1 tomato, in quarters, as garnish

Following the recipe exactly:


1. Find the most microwaveable dish you own, because it's going to see a lot of action. All microwaving is done at HIGH. Melt the butter in the dish by microwaving it 1 minute. Stir in the rice and onion until coated, then microwave for 2 minutes.

Have mercy on me

2. Pour in the stock, partially cover and genuinely microwave it for 30-35 minutes. I kept on waiting for my microwave to short out or explode, since water was running down the inside of the door, but everything survived. Unsurprisingly, the rice around the edges is burnt.

Am I surprised?

3. Stir in the walnuts and spinach and microwave for another 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season to taste, garnishing with the tomatoes.

The Outcome:

This sucks. It's half burnt, it made me afraid my kitchen would burn down, and burnt rice bits aside, there's not a lot going on here apart from the Parmesan. I have no idea why they felt the need to use the microwave, this could be cooked in the same time on the stove (and probably would taste better too - you'd get to brown the onion up first). Hell, you cold probably cook an actual risotto in the time it takes to nuke this shitshow.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Exotic Potato Pudding [Cooking For One]

Oh yeah, time to get into the weird stuff. Pineapple + oranges + potato. Yes, potato. I apparently this isn't meant to be a dessert either - it's in the "vegetarian meal" section of the Cooking For One cookbook. It's also partially cooked in the microwave, and oddly for this cookbook, makes more than just one portion.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 9 oz (255g) cooked potatoes
  • Finely grated rind of 1 orange
  • 1/2 orange, peeled
  • 1/2 small pineapple, peeled (I prefer the term "butchered")
  • 3 1/2 oz (99g) canned mandarins
  • 3 tbsp mandarin juice from the can
  • salt
  • 1 tbsp butter

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Cut the potatoes into thin strips, sprinkle with the orange rind, and mix. Slice the orange and pineapple. Layer the potatoes, orange, pineapple, and mandarins in a greased microwaveable dish, top with a layer of potatoes. The potatoes are going to get a bit crumbly because, well, cooked potatoes.

2. Put the mandarin juice, butter, and a dash of salt in a bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Pour over the potatoes.

What am I doing with my life

3. Microwave the dish for 4-5 minutes.

The Outcome:

What the hell am I eating? It doesn't taste bad per se, but it's very, very weird. It's warm citrus and pineapple, but then suddenly there's a piece of potato. The weirdness is compounded since there aren't any spices in here, it's just fruit and potato. The good news is potato is such a neutral flavour, so it's more just weird than bad. I think I'm having some kind of dissonance with this, because I did eat seconds of this, but I still can't really wrap my head around it.