Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn, written by Chitra Agrawal, features the light and fresh, bold and complex flavors of South Indian home cooking. In addition to being vegetarian, a large portion of the recipes are also vegan and gluten-free or can be easily adapted for restrictions and personal tastes. Highlights include Mosaranna (Yogurt Rice with Pomegranate and Mint), Hesaru Bele Thovvay (Creamy Yellow Lentils with Tomato and Ginger), Avial (Kerala Coconut Vegetable Curry), Kadale Usali (Chickpea Salad with Summer Vegetables and Avocado); and Kadabu (Apple, Ginger, and Coconut Hand Pies).
Chitra Agrawal is the chef and owner of Brooklyn Delhi, an award-winning small-batch Indian achaar line. She is the blogger behind The ABCDs (American Born Confused Desi) of Cooking (I actually featured her recipe for masala pumpkin seeds in one of my very first blog posts in 2012) and teaches vegetarian Indian cooking classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Brainery, and Whole Foods. She also hosts Indian-inspired pop-up dinners in New York City. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Saveur, Zagat, and more.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Chapters are divided based on course: Breakfast and Light Meals; Salads and Yogurts; Stir-Fries and Curries; Rice and Bread; Soups, Stews, and Lentils; Festive Bites and Snacks; Sweets and Drinks; Chutneys and Pickles; and From Scratch.
Chitra begins with a little background on Bangalore (Bengaluru), one of the largest cities in India and capital of the state of Karnataka, and her family with photos and the path that led her to cooking today. She has been a lifelong vegetarian and her ancestors on her mother’s side followed the Brahmin diet with an emphasis on health and balance.
There are sections on cooking techniques and tips, lesser known ingredients, and kitchen tools for those who are new to South Indian cooking. Chitra also includes additional notes on how to eat using your hands, menu planning guides, grocery lists, and resources on where to find specialty equipment.
Every recipe has a headnote with background information, tips, substitutions, symbols to note whether the dish is vegan or gluten-free, serving size, and specified season. The titles are listed in English and often Kannada. Measurements are provided in US Customary. The beautiful photography is by Erin Scott with illustrations by Karen Vasudev. Many of the recipes include a full page photo, generally of the finished product.
This book is a great pick for those looking for healthy and flavorful meals using South Indian flavors. All of the recipes are vegetarian and often vegan and/or gluten-free. You will find an assortment of traditional Bangalore recipes along with a few Chitra has adapted based on her experiences in the United States with a highlight on seasonal ingredients. The dishes have been developed with the home cook in mind. Those who enjoy rice and lentils will find plenty to choose from. There is also a nice collection of beverages, sides, and accompaniments. Many of the ingredients can be found in larger American grocery stores, but having a market featuring South Asian items nearby will be helpful. Some ingredients that may be more difficult to find include asafetida (hing), curry leaves, urad dal, black mustard seeds, tamarind paste, jaggery, chana dal, fine Indian semolina, and golden raisins.
For the first corn dish of the season, I made this Jolada Palya (Stir-Fried Corn with Basil and Leeks). Fresh kernels of corn are stir-fried with finely chopped leeks. The mixture is seasoned with toasted cumin, lemon juice, and basil. It came together quickly and makes a perfect accompaniment to summer picnics and barbecues.
A couple of years ago, I came across a neat trick to remove the corn kernels from the cob. Remove all the husk and silk, then hold the cob with the tip downwards into the center of a bundt pan. As you slice down the cob, the kernels collect into the pan.
I also made Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Raita; Khara Buns (Spicy Sweet Potato Buns); Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies with Dark Chocolate and Golden Raisins; and Badami Haalu (Turmeric Almond Milk).
The Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Yogurt Raita is a light and refreshing accompaniment to your meal. I loved the combination of the crunchy vegetables and creamy yogurt. It is lightly spiced with black mustard seeds, curry leaves, cilantro, and chile powder. Chitra also includes recipes for Beet Yogurt Raita, Radish Yogurt Raita, and Kale Yogurt Raita.
Khara Buns are small spicy yeast buns from Bangalore. Chitra’s version includes mashed sweet potato and scallions. They pair well with eggs, cheese, slaw, and tomato achaar.
There is so much flavor in these Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies with Dark Chocolate and Golden Raisins. The traditional oatmeal raisin cookies are adapted to include golden raisins, hints of cardamom and cinnamon, walnuts, jaggery, and dark chocolate chunks.
Badami Haalu, Turmeric Almond Milk, can be served hot or cold. Blanched almonds are blended into a paste, then whisked into milk with turmeric, saffron, cardamom, and a little sugar. Crushed pistachios are added to the top for garnish.
Jolada Palya (Stir-Fried Corn with Basil and Leeks)
Adapted from Vibrant India
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small leek, white and light green part, finely chopped
Kernels cut from 4 ears of corn, 3-4 cups
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, more as needed
2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
In a large wok or frying pan, melt the ghee over medium heat. Add one cumin seed. When it starts to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin and cook a few seconds, until they start to brown. Stir in the leek and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
Add the corn kernels, black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until corn is heated through to desired preference, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and basil. Season with additional salt if needed. Serve immediately.