Holiday Cookbook Roundup
American Masala: 125 New Classics from my Home Kitchenby Suvir Saran
Clarkson Potter, 264 pp., $35
Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts: Recipes and Remembrances of a Vegetarian LegacyBy Ammini Ramachandran
iUniverse, 364 pp., $23.95
There are myriad useful ways to approach a cuisine; while the authors of these two new books on Indian food are colleagues (Saran wrote the introduction to Ramachandran's book), the books themselves could hardly be more different in their focus on foods and flavors from India.
A native of Delhi, Suvir Saran is an NYC restaurateur whose specialty is marrying Indian flavors to the American dishes he's grown to love during his 15 years in the U.S. (and by American, he means everything from fried chicken to French toast to guacamole to lasagna). Masala means spice in Hindi, and Saran unabashedly applies Indian flavors to whatever piques his interest. Based on the dishes I made, the results are deliciously successful and simply prepared. Coconut rice with mustard and cumin seeds, cardamom-roasted cauliflower, shrimp masala, Grandma Hayes' corn bread – all are festive ways to become acquainted with some basic Indian flavor profiles while transforming some American standards. It's fusion cooking that works.
On the other hand, via the vehicle of Hindu vegetarian traditions, Ramachandran has written a personal food memoir and expert guide to South Indian history, culture, and cuisine. A financial analyst living in Plano, Texas, Ramachandran is a native of Kerala and daughter of the royal family of Kochi; she grew up in a 21-member matrilineal household where traditional foods celebrated daily meals, life passages, religious holidays, and seasonal festivals. Along with many recipes with rich contextual descriptions, the book includes a culinary history of Kerala, an important stop in early spice trade between Europe and the Far East, which had tremendous influence on the foods and flavors there. Deeply flavored curries, chutneys and pickles, puddings and pancakes, savory snacks, and sweet treats are all included – this book is not only vegetarian bliss, it's an important resource documenting the foodways of a heretofore too-little-known region.