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An Invitation to Indian Cooking: Madhur Jaffrey

“I was so grateful that Americans were showing such an interest in authentic Indian food and that it wasn’t I who was doing the shopping, paying the bills, cooking, and washing up.”

Of all the things I read in this cookbook, this was something that resonated with me (possibly something Ms. Jaffrey had no intension of doing). I’ve been having conversations with so many of my friends who are cooks and bakers and they keep saying that they miss feeding people during this quarantine. My culinary journey started alone and for myself. When I was going through CKD, I wasn’t allowed to eat food from outside, other people’s households and other such things for a year. So I resorted to cooking for myself, and I never bothered to make extra for my classmates or people I was interning with. When people came home, I was never a fan of feeding them for the exact same reason that Ms. Jaffrey mentions. It’s too much work for one person and honestly washing the dishes and paying the bills was too much. With this one selfish but honest sentence I was hooked with the world that Ms. Jaffrey wanted to share with me.

“To me the word “curry” is as degrading to India’s great cuisine as the term “chop suey” was to China’s. But just as Americans have learned, in the last few years, to distinguish between the different styles of Chinese cooking and between the different dishes, I fervently hope that they will soon do the same with Indian food instead of lumping it all under the dubious catchall title of “curry.” ”

This book was written in 1973 for an American audience who didn’t know what Indian cooking was. I think it does an amazing job – she follows recipes that I have also grown up eating (Delhi based, North Indian food) and from what I can make out they seem very similar to things I make at home every day. I grew up in different parts of the world and I deeply resonate with a lot of the advice she gives. Our family struggled in the beginning to find good mutton abroad, much like her we realised that what we call mutton is actually goat meat. The English have meat translated as mutton but it’s not the aged sheep meat that is available abroad. ‘Mutton’ in India is actually really fresh goat meat, it’s on the tough side and is very lean.

“Perhaps the English in India didn’t know what else to call it—or perhaps they found a dish called “mutton chops” more palatable than if it was called plain old ‘goat chops.’ Who knows!”

This lockdown, I thought I’d write my own cookbook, I had started and almost finished with an entire section of it as well. Now that I look back at it, it feels like a child who had been writing fluff, wanting to sound serious. I need to read, understand, experience a lot more before I can write anything, or so I feel now. After reading this classic, I realised that having a voice in your cookbook is perhaps the most important thing  you can do for your writing. There is so much wit and enthusiasm in her writing that sometimes I can hear her scoff and see her eye-rolls at historical discrepancies that have shaped our food or just American cooking in general. She even explores different mediums, sometimes, by adding a small a small play of how she thinks the British came up with curry powder. In an interview with epicurious , she said that this cookbook (which is also her first), is about the food she knew from her childhood, “as I look back on it, was a smart decision, because it was a good way for me to start—to start with what I knew, and then go on to write about other parts of India, which I had to learn, because I didn’t know all of it. Nobody really knows all of India.”

“I feel America has still to discover the versatility of plain yogurt. At the moment, yogurt seems to provide nothing more than a quick lunch for the girl on a diet.”

I love the way she writes, I think I’d re-read the book again just for the prose.  It has always been hard finding Indian spices and pantry-staples abroad yet she never fails to mention multiple substitutes. I remember my family always used to fill up at least 20 cartons of just Indian food before shifting to different places. Though, Indian shops are available they are always rather expensive and the produce is sometimes out-dated. It is clear that this book has been penned after meticulous research and testing. She didn’t assume knowledge just because she had made the dish probably a thousand times at home. I love how she has a lot of sample menus for people who want to throw their own Indian food themed parties. In complete hypocrisy, and to say the exact opposite of what I had mentioned in the beginning, this makes me want to throw a Madhur Jaffrey themed dinner for my friends just because I loved this book (and her) so much.

Also, here is a link to one of my favourite podcasts with David Chang and Madhur Jaffrey that I had heard a couple of months ago. I’d also give this talk by her on MAD here a listen.

Onions Pickled in Vinegar:


WhatsApp Image 2020-06-06 at 17.28.53

A simple recipe by her I made the other day from the excess home grown onions in the the house:

This relish is served in Delhi’s famous Moti Mahal restaurant. It is extremely simple to make. The onions need to marinate in the vinegar for at least 24 hours, so allow yourself sufficient time. In this recipe, I have made enough pickle to fill a quart jar. It should keep a month. 1 pound white boiling onions (pick small, clean, even-sized onions) 2 cups red wine vinegar 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced 2 whole dried red peppers 1 tablespoon salt Peel onions. Slicing only three-quarters of the way down, quarter them lengthwise. Each onion should stay whole, with the four sections attached at the bottom. Place the onions in a clean, wide-mouthed quart jar. You may have a few left over. In a nonmetallic bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, red peppers, and salt. Mix well. Pour this mixture over the onions to cover them. Put on a tight lid and set the jar aside for 24 hours. The pickle is now ready. Refrigerate the jar. The onions can be taken out and eaten as and when desired. To serve: Take as many of the onions out of the vinegar as you need and place them in a glass or other nonmetallic bowl. They go well with Tandoori Chicken and Whole Unhulled Urad and Rajma Dal.

#Cookbooks #MadhurJaffery

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