To be honest, I don’t know much, if anything, about Indian cuisine. I’ve only eaten it once (in London, as I was told that was one of the best places to have it), I definitely don’t get cravings for it, and it really isn’t a type of food that is even on my radar. When I do think about it, I always think of heavy food and lots of bread.
Obviously, there are different regions in India and cuisine may differ, but I don’t know that many people realize this. I certainly didn’t before reading this cookbook. On the back of the front cover alone, I have learned so much already: this book is about South Indian food, is full of vegetarian recipes only, and the food from this area is referred to as the “yoga diet” because it’s clean, healthy and light. Completely opposite of what I would have thought. I’m intrigued already.
“Vibrant India,” written by Chitra Agrawal, starts off with a lovely and organized Table of Contents. I do enjoy a good-looking Table of Contents. The book is broken down into: Introduction, How to Use This Book, Breakfast & Light Meals, Salads & Yogurts, Stir-Fries & Curries, Rice & Bread, Soups Stews & Lentils, Festive Bites & Snacks, Sweets & Drinks, Chutneys & Pickles, From Scratch, and a few other important sections specific to Indian cuisine like Hands Over Forks & Knives and a Starter Grocery List.
So what makes South Indian food so different from North? Here are a few differences.
- Relies on rice and lentils instead of breads and curry
- Use of fresh coconut and curry leaves
- What you mostly find and eat in U.S. restaurants is NOT South Indian cuisine
- Use different spices/spice mixtures – saarina pedi or rasam powder, tamarind
- Hot drink of choice is coffee made with chicory (not tea or chai)
- Rooted in strict vegetarian customs of Hindu Brahmins and Ayurveda
- Light and fresh
- And much more
Every recipe is vegetarian. Each recipe is specified for seasons and by restrictions like vegan or gluten-free.
In the Indian Cooking Techniques and Tips, Agrawal says that tempering spices is the most important thing she can teach her readers to do. She also includes an extensive list of things included in the South Indian Pantry, such as different spices, chiles, fresh ingredients, sweetening and souring agents, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans, grains, flours, and oils. Finally, there are a few specific kitchen tools she recommends – most are specific to Indian cooking so if you’re serious about getting into South Indian cuisine, you’ll need to invest in a few, if not all, of them.
BREAKFAST AND LIGHT MEALS
These meals are usually savory and spicy.
Recipes include Rice & Lentil Crepe, Steamed Semolina Cake, Steamed Rice and Lentil Cakes, and Spiced Spring Vegetable and Coconut Polenta.
SALADS AND YOGURTS
Consisting of shredded or chopped vegetables, lentils or beans, and fresh ingredients like fresh coconut, lemon, and cilantro, plus spices/seasonings. With yogurt, it is traditional to end a meal with rice and plain yogurt.
Recipes: Root Vegetable and Asian Pear Salad; Cucumber, Sprouted Mung Bean, and Pomegranate Salad; Summer Squash in Herby Coconut Yogurt Curry; and Radish Yogurt Raita.
STIR-FRIES AND CURRIES
These recipes are flexible and you can use what you find at your local markets and what is in season at the time.
Recipes: Cabbage Stir-Fry with Lemon and Curry Leaves; Stir-Fried Corn with Basil and Leeks; and Pineapple and Peppers in Red Coconut Curry.
RICE AND BREAD
A South Indian meal is not a meal without rice. There are many different types of rice to choose from also. Breads are also a big part of South Indian cuisine too.
Recipes: Steamed/Simple Basmati Rice; Lime Dill Rice with Pistachios; Yogurt Rice with Pomegranate and Mint; and Spicy Sweet Potato Buns.
SOUPS, STEWS, AND LENTILS
Lentils are the main protein source for Indian vegetarians. Most of the recipes in this chapter are variations on saaru and huli.
Recipes: Basic Red Lentils; Lemony Lentil Soup; Roasted Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew; and Creamy Yellow Lentils with Tomato and Ginger.
FESTIVE BITES AND SNACKS
This includes special foods made during festivals, as well as snacks, an apparent obsession in Bangalore.
Recipes: Lettuce “Dosa” Wrap with Curried Potato and Chutney; Stuffed Shishito Pepper Fritters; and Festival Trail Mix.
SWEETS AND DRINKS
While many Indian desserts are known for being overly rich and sweet, Agrawal grew up with mostly fruits and toned-down desserts that she still prefers today. South India is also coffee country so it’s no surprise that their traditional hot drink is coffee.
Recipes: Chia Pudding with Roasted Jaggery Blueberries; Summer Peaces in Sweetened Yogurt; Banana, Coconut, and Cardamom Ice Cream; Turmeric Almond Milk; and South Indian Drip Coffee.
CHUTNEYS AND PICKLES
Condiments are important in an Indian meal and both of these things can be used to add flavor to dishes.
Recipes: Cilantro and Coconut Chutney; Meyer Lemon Pickle; Rhubarb Strawberry Pickle; and Spicy Cranberry Relish.
This chapter involves making your own spice blends. These blends include Saaru/Rasam Powder, Huli/Sambar Powder, and Yangi Baath Powder.
There are so many recipes that I WANT to make and I am eager to add South Indian cuisine into my repertoire of recipes and go-to meals. I like that Agrawal has included a section for meal planning and sample menus. She also includes a starter grocery list to get your pantry ready for a few South Indian meals.
I am so happy I’ve found this book because I feel like a whole world of food that I never knew about has finally come into my life and may also be what I’ve been looking for when it comes to fulfilling yet light meals that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.
I strongly encourage you to pick up this book if you love Indian food, love yoga and Ayurveda, love being a vegetarian/vegan, or just want to add some spice to your life and switch up your meals. You won’t be disappointed.
Vibrant India @ Penguin Random House
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.