Although I love eating at Indian restaurants, cooking Indian food at home has never been my thing. I saw the cuisine, with its requisite chopping, grinding of spices and simmering of sauce, to be a many-hour commitment to the stove. Not so with Raghavan Iyer’s new cookbook, Indian Cooking Unfolded.
Iyer has created a cookbook that has me turning out traditional Indian omelets called Pora in a matter of minutes, along with my own naan, popadums and the Indian restaurant staple, aloo ghobi. The book is meant for people who have never cooked any Indian food before, but the experienced cook who lives without an Indian grocery nearby will appreciate the book for its use of ingredients that can be found in a local supermarket. Indeed, Iyer, who has lived in the Midwest for many years, has embraced American cuisine—you see it in his Indian spiced macaroni and cheese, or a recommendation to ladle leftover chicken curry over a warm breakfast biscuit.
Iyer, the winner of the IACP Teacher of the Year award, presents his system for learning to cook Indian food. Each chapter begins with a fold-out page that introduces a technique and offers step-by-step photographs along with the recipe. The technique-by-chapter idea is helpful, but I found the “unfold” format more gimmick than practical. It makes idly flipping through the cookbook, searching for inspiration—as is often my wont—difficult. Never mind. A plate of his tandoori chicken in front of me (whipped up in 8 minutes!) makes me forget my quibble.
For a summer dinner party, I tested two recipes from the book. Creamy Chicken Kebabs (Malai Murghi Kebab), and Chilled Cucumber Avocado Potage with Mustard (Kakadi Ka Shorba).
The chicken was delicious, if a tad on the dry side, but that was the fault of the grill-mistress, who got a bit distracted by her gin and tonic. The soup was exceptional: refreshing, tangy and with enough heat from the Serrano pepper to cool us down on a 95-degree evening. The soup defined easy summer cooking as well, with only 30 seconds spent over a hot stove to pop some mustard seeds, and five minutes zuzzing everything up in the blender. The refrigerator did the rest.
His simple, yet thorough recipes have turned me on to cooking Indian at home, for which I (and my family) are glad. I am also grateful for his signature spice blend recipe, and his insistence he won’t judge me if I use a store-bought curry blend instead.
Marissa Rothkopf Bates hosts the blog, www.sugarandspouse.com.
Chilled Cucumber Avocado Potage with Mustard
Kakadi Ka Shorba
Makes about 6 cups
1 large cucumber
4 cups buttermilk
1 large ripe Hass avocado, pulp scooped
1 to 2 fresh green Serrano chiles, stems discarded
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1 tablepsoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop the cucumber. Measure out about ¼ cup of the cucumber pieces and finely chop them. Set the finely chopped cucumber aside.
2. Pour the buttermilk into a blender and add the coarsely chopped cucumber, avocado, chiles, and salt (you may have to do this in batches). Puree the mélange to a smooth blend and pour it into a medium-size bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and wait until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Immediately pour this sizzling oil over the soup and stir it in well so it’s completely blended.
4. Chill the soup for at least 1 hour. Ladle it into individual bowls and divvy up the finely chopped cucumber among the bowls. Serve the soup sprinkled with the cilantro.