I’ve been flipping through The Foods of India in the last week or so. It’s been sitting unused for a long time.
I have a pile of Indian cookbooks; this is the only one that isn’t vegetarian. I’ve never bothered to buy non-veg Indian cookbooks as a matter of course. It was a gift, though, and I love the look of the book. However, it’s rather amazing that a book could be written about the food of India and end up predominantly devoted to meat dishes. But it’s absolutely beautiful; a coffee-table book, for sure.
Though large, (too tall for my cookbook shelves in its coffee-table sized format) this book isn’t comprehensive, of course, no volume on the food of India could be. It’s mostly focused on Northern Indian dishes, and actually, it’s a pretty good guide to the foods of India that you would usually see in an Indian restaurant in the U.S.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if you want to learn how to make Butter Chicken, or just look at a phenomenally beautiful photograph of it, why not?
But I’ve always felt bad about not making better use of it, since Indian food is by far my favorite thing to cook, and I always need new ideas to try out. It appeals to the part of me that likes complex problems and well-developed concepts. I find it more rewarding to make an Indian dish than something in which the method is easily revealed, as all the component parts are readily identifiable. Making vegetables on top of pasta just doesn’t light my fire.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Indian meat dishes. There’s never been any reason for me to learn them. The fortunate thing about them, though, is that unlike dishes in Continental cuisines, which tend to focus strongly on particular cuts of meat that must stand on their own, many Indian meat dishes are sauce-based. This is a boon for vegetarians, as it’s far easier to replace cubed pieces of meat than a rack of lamb. (Replacing the rack of lamb is where we get into the Compensating Vegetarian territory, already discussed.)
The Rogan Josh recipe I ran across in this book was one such. The sauce sounded great. I knew that Rogan Josh was lamb, but I really didn’t know any more about it than that. Reading around, I figured out that it’s a Kashmiri dish. Chunks of boneless lamb, onions, garlic, ginger and yogurt are common to all the recipes. Beyond that, the spices vary, but the closer-to-the-source recipes seem to include cardamom, cinnamon, bay, cloves and paprika. (The original in the book bears a very striking resemblance to Madhur Jaffrey’s Rogan Josh.)
Chunks of boneless lamb could just as well be chunks of boneless tofu, I thought. (Some omnivores may guffaw here, but the herbivores might nod along.)
So I made it, with tofu and cauliflower instead of the lamb. As always, this is an adaptation with significant changes from the original recipe. Chimp thinks this is great – I think it still needs a little work. If I do this again, I’ll probably deep-fry the tofu first instead of roasting it near the end – that would help the texture be more meatlike.
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