From India: Food, Family & Tradition, written by husband and wife Kumar and Suba Mahadevan, is filled with over 100 modern and authentic recipes highlighting Indian regional cuisine. This book is absolutely gorgeous, from the canvas hardcover to the striking and colorful photographs of intricately plated dishes. I love that Kumar and Suba added their stories and family photographs to bring a personal connection to their recipes. You can tell they poured their heart and soul into the pages and food.
Kumar Mahadevan grew up near the southern tip of India in the town of Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu in a strict Brahmin household. His biggest influence in cooking came from his grandmother, Patti Meenakshi. She taught him how to balance flavors and often played taste testing games. Instead of studying, he would sneak into the kitchen for cooking lessons with her. He followed his passion for food and went against his family’s wishes by attending the Madras Catering College. He graduated at the age of 19 and has had quite the career since, from five star restaurants in India to cooking in war-torn Iraq and finally owning two restaurants named after his sons (Abhi’s and Aki’s) in Australia.
Suba was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and traveled throughout India during her childhood due to her father’s job. With these travels, she became fluent in Hindi, Marwadi, Tamil, Marathi, and English. She was matched to Kumar with the help of an astrologer, moved to Australia, and they have now been married 25 years with two sons. While Kumar started eating meat while in school, Suba is still a vegetarian.
Chapters are divided based on taste: Salt, Bitter, Sour, Spice, and Sweet. During Kumar’s introduction, he tells his journey and makes links from the flavors to different points in his life: his grandmother was the foundation for his childhood- salt, when he turned to a culinary career that went against his family’s expectations- bitter, the sour refers to a boost in his career he received that awakened his drive, his wife is the spice, and sweet is the success he has attained in balancing his career and family. The book ends with a chapter on condiments and sides. Here you will find various chutneys, raita, sauces, rice, and breads to serve with your meal.
After the final chapter, there is a glossary highlighting the lesser known spices and produce needed to complete the recipes in the book. This includes a description of the ingredient, use and storage, and where to find it.
Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. A note about the tablespoon measurement- the tablespoon listed in the ingredient list means 4 teaspoons as opposed to the 3 teaspoon measurement used in American cooking. Most of the recipes include a headnote, generally tying in a family story, its place in Indian cuisine, or cooking tips. There is a nice assortment of recipes, though no beverages, ranging from appetizers and breakfasts to meats, vegetarian sides, and desserts. Seafood lovers in particular will enjoy the thirteen shellfish and fish recipes.
The amazing photography is by Mark Roper. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a full page photograph of the finished product, often beautifully plated and full of color. There are also a few family photos included.
This book is best for those who love Indian food or want to explore the cuisine further. Kumar and Suba have done a wonderful job of adapting the recipes and making them accessible to the home cook. Most of the dishes serve 4 to 6 and are not overly complicated. Some of the ingredients require access to an International Food Market specializing in Indian products or the purchase of spices online. Keep in mind that many, but not all, of the dishes have meat, seafood, or dairy.
Mishti Dohi (Mishti Doi) is a sweet yogurt cream from Bengal. Traditionally, it is made in earthenware that is broken after eating to prevent reuse. The earthenware soaks up the excess water to leave behind a creamy custard. Kumar adapted this dessert for the average cook by using ramekins to hold the cream while baking in a water bath.
Overall, this is a fairly simple breakfast/dessert to prepare. Just be careful to not allow any water to get into the ramekins while pouring it into the pan and transferring the pan to the oven.
I used greek yogurt, but you can also use plain yogurt that has been drained overnight in a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
I tried the Mishti Dohi at both room temperature and chilled and personally preferred chilled. I loved the pistachio and pomegranate seed topping.
I also made Akoori (Curried Scrambled Eggs), Kesar Badami Khurma (Saffron Chicken Curry), Veal Pasanda (Rolled Veal in Almond and Saffron Sauce), and Shahi Tukda (Mughal Bread and Butter Pudding).
Akoori are spiced scrambled eggs with shallots, green chilies, tomato, and cilantro. Butter and half-and-half add a creaminess to these soft and fluffy eggs. The addition of cumin, ginger, garlic, and turmeric lifted them to another level. They were perfect with toast and made a quick and delicious breakfast.
Kesar Badami Khurma is a chicken curry with a nutty yogurt base. Chicken pieces are simmered in a sauce seasoned with cardamom, cinnamon, red chili powder, coriander, saffron, ginger, garlic, and onion and thickened with an almond cashew paste. As far as curries go, it was fairly simple, but quite flavorful.
Veal Pasanda was the meal served in Kumar’s restaurant, Abhi’s, that earned him recognition from the food critic, Les Luxford (who also wrote the foreword), in 1994. Thin veal slices are filled with a spiced nut raisin paste, rolled up tightly, and simmered in a seasoned saffron almond yogurt sauce. Of the recipes I tried from this book, Chad said this one was his favorite. I loved the complexity of the flavors.
Shahi Tukda (Mughal Bread and Butter Pudding) originated in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. The name directly translates to “Royal Bits”. This bread pudding was created by transforming the leftover bread from the main meals into quite the indulgent dessert. In Kumar’s version, slices of bread are toasted, brushed with ghee, and toasted again. They are then soaked in a saffron rosewater syrup, topped with rabri (thickened milk), honey, saffron rosewater, and chandi warq (edible silver leaf) for garnish. I thought it was delicious paired with vanilla ice cream. As a note, my rabri was on the thin side and soaked into the bread by the time I photographed. I also did not have chandi warq available for garnish. This was definitely luscious and memorable, though one that is best enjoyed in moderation.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Thunder Bay Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Mishti Dohi (Baked Sweet Yogurt Cream)
Adapted from From India: Food, Family & Tradition
1/2 cup (100 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (130 grams) sweetened condensed milk
6 1/2 tablespoons (100 grams) plain, thick yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pistachios for garnish
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set aside a large baking pan with at least 2 inch sides and add four (1/3 cup/80 ml) ramekins.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cream, condensed milk, yogurt, and cardamom until well combined. Place a fine mesh sieve over another bowl and strain the mixture. Divide among the four ramekins.
Carefully add hot water to the baking dish, making sure not to splash into the cream, until it is halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake until set and barely jiggly in center, 15-20 minutes. Use tongs to remove the ramekins to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
Serve in the ramekins at room temperature or refrigerate and serve chilled topped with the chopped pistachios and pomegranate seeds.