"This is indeed India...the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition...Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only." Mark Twain
"Spices and Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors" by Rinku Bhattacharya (The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles) introduces readers to the cooking of today's India - a cuisine that is innovative, inspired, and full of possibilities. Many of us are only familiar with the heavy, cream-laced dishes in Indian restaurants, but Rinku's goal is to show that Indian cooking is more about flavors, freshness and love. Her emphasis on fresh, local ingredients (preferably from your own backyard, farmer's market, or CSA) and sustainability pair beautifully with Indian spices and simple, nourishing preparations that will delight family and friends.
Beautifully photographed and printed in the USA, the book begins with several short primers to sustainability in the Indian kitchen and learning the essentials (spices, oils, tools). Unlike some Indian cookbooks, "Spices and Seasons" does not require a long list of exotic imported cookware, and many of the ingredients should be readily available at larger grocery stores. Each recipe has a vibrant, full-color photo illustrating it.
Beginning with appetizers, you will find many great ideas that come together quickly. Some standouts include the mango and goat cheese mini crisps, shortcut vegetable samosas, chicken tikka and almond and saffron salmon kabobs. The remainder of the recipes are grouped by season; not surprisingly, there is a whole chapter of lentil and bean-based recipes, several of which are prepared in the slow cooker. I loved the comforting slow-cooked chickpeas with tomatoes and ginger (I used chipotles in adobo since that was what I had on hand) and the egg curries as I am always looking for new ideas to incorporate hard-boiled eggs.
Each recipe is prefaced with a brief introduction to its region, family history, and handy tips that will ensure a great result every time. Simple, flavorful preparations make the most of seasonal ingredients. I loved the tandoori spice roasted baby potatoes with mint, broccoli with toasted cashew nuts, the autumn dishes for shrimp in a mango basil sauce and salmon with a blood orange and tamarind glaze, and rich coconut curries. Other meats are featured, but the seafood section really shines. One of my favorite discoveries was the Japanese-inspired wasabi ginger fish with fresh blackberries; the sweetness of the maple syrup and blackberries offsets the umami of the soy sauce and the pungency of the ginger.
Chapter nine features pilafs and grains, which oftentimes are a main meal for me. There is also a chapter featuring traditional breads and crepes like naan, puri, dosas, and oothapams that take the mystery out of homemade breads to accompany your Indian feasts. Desserts are on the lighter side, and many feature fruit or fruit ices.
Several basic wet and dry spice blends are also included (chaat masala, tandoori masala, garam masala, curry powder) that give a much different, more vibrant flavor to your finished dish than using bland premixed blends from a grocery store and it is well worth investing the extra time to make up these mixes in advance.
In addition to being very suitable for vegetarians and pescetarians (there are many meat-free options and appealing seafood recipes), there is a gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian index and all recipes are also marked as vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free.
This is one of those rare cookbooks that I am compelled to cook my way through cover to cover; I have not had the pleasure of reading / cooking from Rinku's first book "The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles," but based on my experience with "Spices and Seasons," it will be next on my list!
Verdict: "Spices and Seasons" is an absolute must-own for anyone who enjoys Indian food or is simply looking for simple, healthful ways to make the most of an abundance of garden vegetables or a CSA box.
Thank you to Rinku for the review copy!