The Cafe Spice Cookbook: 84 Quick and Easy Indian Recipes for Everyday Meals, written by Hari Nayak, features a variety of all-natural and flavorful recipes inspired by the line of Café Spice “grab n’ go” Indian meals. Highlights include Alsande Batate Poriyal (Spicy Long Beans and Potato Stir-Fry), Parsi Machhi (Bombay Green Fish), Murg Tikka Makhni (Chicken Tikka Masala), Pau Bhaji (Veggie Sloppy Joe), and Aloo Aur Matar Samosae (Potato and Pea Samosas).
Hari Nayak grew up in Udupi, India and developed his love of food by watching his grandmother in the kitchen. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of American and his career in the food industry has spanned over 18 years. Hari is now the culinary director for Café Spice and has a restaurant consultancy firm called Gourmet Gurus. He is also the author of Modern Indian Cooking, My Indian Kitchen, and Easy Indian Cooking.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Chapters are divided based on course: The Basics; Chutneys and Accompaniments; Starters and Salads; Soups and Dals; Vegetables and Cheese; Fish and Seafood; Poultry and Meat; Breads, Rice and Grains; and Desserts and Drinks.
Hari begins with the history behind the founder of Café Spice, Sushil Malhotra, and the development of the company into the current line “grab n’ go” Indian meals which can now be found in Whole Foods, Costco, college campuses throughout the United States, and other locations.
For those new to Indian cooking, he provides a description of basic techniques such as deep-frying (talna), sautéing (bhunao), steaming (dum), and roasting and grinding spices. There are also sections for helpful tools and tips along with basic Indian ingredients with photos, descriptions, storage, and uses. I particularly appreciated the variety of spice blends, chutneys, and raitas included to accompany the recipes.
Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, helpful tips, serving ideas, and substitutions/variations when available. The name of the dish is listed in English and often Hindi. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. The 144 color photos were taken by Jack Turkel. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a quarter to full page photo, generally of the finished dish. A couple also include step-by-step photos to help demonstrate a particular technique such as rolling out Chapati (Whole Wheat Griddle Bread) or filling the Aloo Aur Matar Samosae (Potato and Pea Samosas).
This book is a great pick for those interested in quick and easy Indian cuisine. The recipes have been adapted with the home cook in mind and most can be made in 30 minutes or less. There is a nice range of appetizers, light meals, meats, fish, vegetables, desserts, and beverages. Many of the ingredients can be found in the average American grocery store, but a few may require the help of a market featuring South Asian ingredients such as tamarind paste, curry leaves, dried fenugreek leaves, chickpea flour (besan), fenugreek seeds, green and black cardamom pods, chana dal (split yellow peas), black mustard seeds, golden raisins, and more. Hari also includes a shopping guide with addresses in a few cities and websites to locate Indian ingredients, clothes, cookware, music, and movies.
In my area, many of the larger grocery stores now carry paneer, but there isn’t much better than fresh cheese made at home. As far as cheese-making goes, this one is a great start. With only 2 ingredients, it is made easily with just a few simple steps and a short amount of time. I actually had a bit of a kitchen emergency in the middle of preparing this batch of paneer (a hose under the sink suddenly disconnected and started a flood of hot water in the seconds before I could turn off the main water line), so I didn’t give the cheese my full attention at times. It still turned out perfectly. The kitchen floor and a couple of minor burns were less than perfect.
Paneer is a fresh non-melting cheese made by curdling hot milk with lemon juice or vinegar. The curds are collected in muslin or cheesecloth and drained before forming into a brick. It is ready to consume shortly after its preparation and only requires short wait times for draining and formation. The cheese can be stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or in the freezer for 4 months. This particular recipe makes about 8 ounces of cheese, but the recipe can be doubled to make a pound if you have a large enough pot.
Hari also provides variations to add a little flavor to your paneer such as mixing in fresh herbs or toasted cumin or fennel seeds.
I also made Shakkar Kandi aur Nariyal ki Subzi (Pan-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Coconut), Palak Paneer (Paneer with Creamed Spinach), Kofta Murg Masala (Curried Chicken Meatball), and The Perfect Chai.
Shakkar Kandi aur Nariyal ki Subzi (Pan-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Coconut) is a wonderful way of making sweet potatoes with cumin, fennel, red chili peppers, curry leaves, coriander, brown sugar, and coconut. Hari recommends serving it with dal and chapati.
Palak Paneer was Chad’s favorite. He especially loved that there were leftovers for work the next day. Cubes of paneer are coated in a spiced spinach sauce with cream. It comes together easily and is packed with vegetables. The photo in the book shows pan-fried pieces of paneer, but pan-frying is not listed as a step in the actual recipe.
Kofta Murg Masala is a dish made of spiced chicken meatballs simmered in a tomato sauce. This one was Claire’s favorite. It also holds especially well for leftovers the next day.
The Perfect Chai is a recipe for traditional chai with black tea, fennel, ginger, cardamom, and milk. It comes together quickly and is a wonderful way to start the day (especially for those like me who don’t drink coffee).
Adapted from The Cafe Spice Cookbook
1/2 pound (250 grams)
1 gallon (3.75 liters) whole or low-fat milk
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (3 foot/1 meter) piece of fine muslin or four layers of cheesecloth
In a large pot, bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once boiling, stir in the lemon juice and reduce heat to medium. Stir for 1-2 minutes, until the milk curdles and separates, then remove from heat. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Place the muslin or cheesecloth over a large bowl or pot. Pour the curdled milk into it and tie the ends of the cloth together to gather the curds. Hang the cloth over a sink to drain the whey for 3-5 minutes.
Twist and press the cloth to form the drained curds into a square and place on a plate. Top with another plate and a pan of water as a weight to press the cheese and drain further for 10-20 minutes.
Remove the heavy pan and top plate to reveal a pressed together cheese. Cut into desired shapes or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, 4-5 days.