In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review - Vibrant India

Written by Chef Donna Desfor | May 1, 2017 9:00 AM

Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: Erin Scott © 2017.

Our Summary:

Light, fresh and satisfying vegetarian meals - many vegan and gluten-free - await anyone curious enough to indulge in the exercise of scouting some hard to find ingredients in Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to BrooklynAdapting family South Indian recipes for the home kitchen, chef, blogger and owner of Brooklyn Delhi (an award-winning Indian condiments line) Chitra Agrawal shifts our conventional thinking of Americanized-Indian cuisine toward seasonal vegetables and fruits and unprocessed whole grains, nuts, seeds, oils, and dairy products.  The food is vibrant in color and flavor and diverse.  Patience and perseverance helps you get started.  Once you have, your sensed will be delighted and your appetite satisfied.

Read (and hear!) more about this cookbook and some of the recipes within on WITF's podcast Now That's a Mouthful.

What you need to know:

Get It:  Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal.  Photography credit: Erin Scott.  Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC March 21, 2017.  Hardcover $24.99 (Amazon $16.50; Kindle $13.99)

See It:  224 pages with color photos of most recipes, either the finished product or the ingredients.  Plus, a variety of family photos, and cultural illustrations leading each chapter.  An easy to navigate Table of Contents and a thorough Index cross referencing recipes by both name and ingredients are included.  A thorough chapter identifying and explaining The South Indian Pantry helps to understand and locate new or hard to find ingredients.

Make it: 78 recipes spread out through 9 chapters including everything from Breakfast and Light Meals, Salads and Yogurts, curries, rice, Soups, Stews, and Lentils, Sweets and Drinks and pantry staples. 

Our Review:

If you've never cooked Indian cuisine, the best way to approach Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn is from a curious, eager-to-learn point of view.  Even if you are a veteran of vegetarian cooking, Vibrant India will challenge your thinking and your pantry.  That's not to suggest passing this book by.  You would miss out on a flavorful discovery - one that will excite all of your senses. 

The most important chapters in Chitra Agrawal's debut cookbook are How to Use This Book, which is one of the first pages you open to, and her references for buying ingredients and the Starter Grocery List, which sadly doesn't appear until the end of the book.  From these few pages, Agrawal introduces South Indian cooking into your kitchen with the absolute minimum ingredients you need to make a wide range of recipes.  To your surprise, half of those ingredients you will find in your grocery store, and then to your surprise again, the other half will have to be sourced from an Indian grocery store or online. 

With a bit of patience and perseverance, however, you are up and running and expanding your cultural cooking repertoire to include the chili and cinnamon spiced "Vangi Baath" Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower, Stir-fried Corn with Basil and Leeks, Stuffed Shishito Pepper Fritters, and Karnataka Coconut Vegetable Curry - Karnataka referencing Agrawal's family's home state in India.  Perhaps as exciting, many of these vegetarian recipes are also vegan, and gluten-free.  For those eating within these parameters, if you've longed for intensity of taste and flavor, you will find it here.

And if you are patient, and persevere in your quest for stocking your pantry with these long-shelf-life staples, you will enjoy the diversity and range offered in Vibrant India.  You will re-learn how to cook vegetables and stir-fries; you will learn how to cook and blend your own seasonings.  Agrawal even includes refreshing drinks like Chile Watermelon Juice with Lime and Mint Leaves, and a Mango and Coconut Milkshake.  And while most of the methods employed in cooking these recipes are familiar, and many quite fast, the bulk of time invested will be in tracking down ethnic ingredients, or waiting for them to arrive in the mail.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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