Wrapped in layers of history and mystery, the travelogue will make you fall in and out of love with Delhi
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I’ve always been wary of what I call the ‘NRI cookbook’, reeking of nostalgia for the mother country, happy to perpetuate the myth of the exotic Orient, overly reliant on the restaurant-style dishes that have unfortunately become the face of Indian food around the world, and a veritable minefield of factual inaccuracies and cultural boo-boos. Yup, I don’t like them. Thankfully, Roopa Gulati’s latest book—sensible, practical and rooted in reality— is quite a far cry from all of that.
Older readers may remember Roopa Gulati as the once-upon-a-time bubbly anchor of the cookery segment on NDTV’s Good Morning India show. She grew up in Cumbria, honed her culinary skills at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London, then spent some years in India where she worked as a consultant for Taj Hotels and did the TV show, eventually moving back to the UK. Gulati has developed a lot of culinary shows since, including Rick Stein’s India.
Part of a series on national vegetarian cuisines around the globe, India: The World Vegetarian has eye-catching photographs that look good enough to eat. They are by David Loftus, who is something of a legend in the world of food photography. Even Jamie Oliver swears by him.
The recipes themselves are sane and clutter-free, pared down to the essentials. And they’ve clearly been tested. Innovative and often personal, they’ve been gathered from trusted sources over the years. But Gulati makes them her own with little twists and touches, and her wealth of culinary experience. We call it andaz, an amorphous measure of measure, which will be familiar to Indian cooks but is almost impossible to translate.
The dishes featured range from heart-warming home standards like dal makhani and palak paneer to the more cheffy spinach and fig tikkis (this one is courtesy Karunesh Khanna, head chef at Tamarind in London) or the red chilli-stuffed mushrooms. Even loftier are the bulgur wheat and cardamom tikkis with their creamy saffron filling, straight out of the decadence of a Mughal palace kitchen.
When you least expect it, you run into Punjabi anda bhurji or that classic— chilli cheese toast—so emblematic of how India deftly absorbs eclectic influences into its (in this case, quite literally) melting pot. It’s this high and low approach that lends the book a sing- song quality, a cadence of its own. We could call it Raga Roopa, I suppose.
Full marks for a fair, pan-Indian distribution to the selection. This must have been a challenge, given that Indian cuisine, even just its vegetarian aspect, is quite impossible to encompass in a single volume of any size. Additionally, there are bunches of useful tips, like how to go about making your own Indian spice mixes (always better than store bought, and fresher) and even on making the perfect portion of basmati rice or your own homemade paneer.
I’m so, so glad this did not turn out to be the NRI cookbook of my nightmares. And I intend to make good use of it in my kitchen. Fellow diners, beware.
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