A few weeks ago, I found myself discussing authenticity in cuisine with a group of restaurant aficionados. We agreed that trying to match your experience of a far away place to its local interpretation is pointless. What matters is how the chef translates that cuisine using the best of what’s available locally.
What doesn’t often get discussed is authenticity in the home kitchen. Many of us associate world cuisine with the dishes we find in our favourite restaurants, rather than the dishes you’d find served around a kitchen table.
And as the title suggests, she doesn’t fall into the trap of the well-travelled restaurant critic, either. These dishes are rooted in India, but they were perfected in her family’s English kitchen, picking up flavours and ingredients from their migration from Gujurat, through Kenya and Uganda, and into Lincolnshire.
So, there are recipes for a kedgeree using British smoked haddock, Ugandan-Gujurati dishes like mashed plantains with Indian spices, and techniques from the vegetarian traditions of Gujarati applied to meat and fish. This book is a product of a living, evolving cuisine.
It’s also a powerful tool for understanding the ingredients and techniques of Indian cooking. The back of the book includes a thorough guide to Indian ingredients with descriptions that are a pleasure to read. There are useful sections for meal-planning, leftovers, and trouble-shooting. Sodha includes a guest essay on wine pairings, too. Throughout the book she provides more detailed instructions, like her guide to making samosas that includes step-by-step photos.
She also does two things I’d like to see in every cookbook. First, there is an alternative contents page that lists recipes best suited to a number of categories, like party food, gluten-free, and foods for freezing. Then, in her weights and measures section, she clearly defines what she means when she calls for quantities like one large onion or the juice of one lemon (it’s 200 grams and 1/4 cup respectively). This last inclusion would solve the headaches of every home cook who has brought home a softball-sized onion or an heirloom tomato.
All of these things are designed to help you get cooking. Made In India is full of delicious recipes, but so are many other cookbooks that only get pulled off the shelf for bedtime reading. Meera Sodha wants you to keep the book in your kitchen, unintimidated by ingredients, techniques, or planning. My copy hasn’t hit the shelf yet.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH CUMIN, TURMERIC, AND LEMON
Masala phool kobi
Cauliflower is a hero of the Indian vegetable world, but its fate doesn’t just lie in an aloo gobi. Roast it with just a few spices and you’ll have a vegetable you hardly recognize. At home, left to my own devices, I would eat it like this all the time. It’s addictive to eat by itself but also goes really well with lamb curries, in salads, and with kebabs.
- 1 large head of cauliflower (around 1 ¼ pounds)
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 5 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two oven trays with foil and bring a deep-sided pan of water to a boil.
Wash the cauliflower, pull off the leaves from around the side, and discard. Break the cauliflower into small, fairly evenly sized florets using your hands and put to one side.
Put the cauliflower into the saucepan of boiling water and blanch for 1 minute, then drain really well. Let it dry for around 5 minutes in its own steam; if it is waterlogged it won’t crisp up nicely in the oven.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the cumin along with the salt, then add the chili powder and turmeric, followed by the oil. Mix it all together really well. Lay the cauliflower out onto the trays in one layer and drizzle the spicy oil over it. Make sure the cauliflower is well coated, then put the trays in the oven for around 30 minutes, shaking them every 10 minutes or so to ensure the florets roast and brown evenly. If they start to burn, loosely cover them with foil.
Put the roasted cauliflower in a dish or bowl, and squeeze the lemon over the top before serving.
This dish disappears very quickly. If you’re cooking for a family, I’d suggest doubling or tripling the recipe, because it will fast become the focus of the meal. My partner is usually very measured in his feedback on dishes I make for the blog. When he tried this one, though, all I heard were variations on, “This is so good. Oh, this is really good.” Once he finished, his only comment was, “Can we have this again tomorrow?”
Luckily, this is a simple dish to put together and one that can happily roast away in the oven while you’re preparing the rest of your meal stovetop. It’s also going to become part of our afternoon snack repertoire. I’d take a bowl of this over popcorn any day. It’s crispy, tender, spicy, and tart all at once.
Sodha suggests pairing it with a lamb dish or kebabs, but there are plenty of possibilities for a vegetarian or vegan meal, too. My preference is to serve it with a curry or rice dish, but you could also serve it as part of a small plates meal, using some of the recipes from the starters or sides chapters – a table laden with Sodha’s spiced potato tikki, papadum chaat, fire-smoked eggplants, spicy chapati wraps, Jaipur slaw, and this cauliflower would make for a great evening with friends.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For flavour hunter, the week night chef, the traveller come home, and the pantry filler.
Come back next week for a review of a book that’s a walk on the wild side.
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Have you checked out the rest of my holiday cookbook review series? There are copies of 5 great cookbooks up for grabs. You can find the links to the giveaways here and enter until December 17th.