by Meera Sodha
My bookshelves are light on Indian food books. I love Indian food and relish it when someone who really knows what they are doing cooks it for me. However, I've always been unconvinced that I can get the spicing right. I think I do a reasonable Lamb Rogan Josh. This, I feel sure, would qualify as one of those dishes "swimming in brown sauce" which is far removed from the "fresh, vibrant and seasonal" Gujarati ones in this book. I have a more than acceptable Chicken Biryani in my repertoire, thanks to the cook and food writer Sri Owen (yes, I know Sri Owen is Indonesian but she knows her way around a number of cuisines). It comes with a long list of spices and yogurt for saucing and made me appreciate how subtle Indian spicing can be. But it's the incredible range of vegetarian dishes which have come out of India that I most enjoy, and most want to be able to cook. My copy of Madhur Jaffrey's, admittedly weighty, World Vegetarian can only give me a glimpse of India.
Finally, I've found a book that is giving me the confidence to cook Indian vegetarian food myself. Fresh India by Meera Sodha is a follow-up to her well received first book Made in India. It is informed by her family's Gujarati background, which is still a strong influence even though she grew up in a farming village in Lincolnshire. Ready access to fresh, locally-grown seasonal vegetables and the Gujarati way of "creative, fresh and always vegetables first" when cooking chimes with my own way of thinking and cooking - goodness knows I have access to enough vegetables. In line with the Gujarati cuisine ethos, born out of necessity, of using what is fresh and grows nearby meant a life in rural England offered up potatoes, leeks, corn, chard, cauliflower and more greens. These ingredients are what Meera Sodha's mother turned to for her "vegetable-first" way of cooking and many take a starring role in Fresh India.
I'm not a vegetarian, but like so many others now, meat plays a small roll in my, and my family's, diet. There's an emphasis on seasonality, a desire to "honour the seasons" which I am personally committed to - irritatingly so to some, I suspect. I am lucky enough to be able to grow vegetables on my allotment and, when you grow, you can never have enough recipes for vegetables. There's even a roundup of recipes here "for allotment gluts". The recipes are also presented as "quick" and "easy". So, on flipping through the pages in the bookshop, Fresh India appealed to me on so many levels.
There are 'Starters + Snacks' based around irresistible Indian street food dishes expertly prepared by the 'one-man' stallholder - like New Potato and Chickpea Chaat, and Beetroot Pachadi. There are really simple dishes: Smashed Jerusalem Artichokes with butter, pepper and garlic, perfumed with cumin, ginger and coriander stems and Gujarati Corn on the Cob Curry with peanuts for taste and texture. I subscribe entirely to the writer's view that when you want to eat simply, "not much beats a tangle of soft buttery cabbage with sweet caramelised onions and crisp potatoes ..". Savoy Cabbage, Black Kale + Potato Subji with a suggestion to serve with a fiery pickle and hot chapattis, dal or rice in the chapter 'Gloriously Green' is right up my street. There's a chapter on Salads, despite the fact 'Kachumbar' (generally chopped cucumber, tomatoes, green chilli and lime) until recently was almost the only Indian idea of salad. Here the writer uses her imagination for what Indian salads could be with appetising ideas like Fennel + Apple Chaat with caramelised almonds or a Hot Green Bean, Cashew + Coconut Salad.
cooked from Fresh India by Meerha Sodha
There are recipes for all those moreish Indian breads - Roti, Paratha, Naan, and Dosa - and guidance for what each is best with; and a lovely sounding recipe for breakfast Banana and Cardamom Buns. In a section on Pickles, Chutneys + Raitas, Mysore Lemon Pickle sits happily with Rhubarb + Ginger Chutney. Puddings that particularly appeal are Pan-fried Pineapple with Cardamom Ice Cream and Salted Jaggery Kulfi with Bananas.
At the moment, I'm working through the book one dish at a time, excited at the prospect that one day soon I will manage to produce the bread, pickles, chutneys and raitas that I'd like to accompany them.
I love that Fresh India carries none of the usual blurb from others. For me, this is a confidently written book that stands on its own merit.
Fresh India by Meerha Sodha
Publisher: Fig Tree London