Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Gujarati Kitchen

When I first received Bhanu Hajratwala's "Gujarati Kitchen", I was expecting a Vegetarian Recipe book. I  had, had a recent twitter exchange with a friend who wanted to know where she could find a Gujarati Restaurant in Mumbai, but it had to only serve Vegetarian food. I jokingly asked if there was any other kind. The only response that came up on twitter to this exchange was "perhaps Bohri Muslim Food" "Does Gujarati Parsi Cuisine count?"

So it was a wonderfully pleasant suprise to find that Bhanu Hajratwala's cookbook, covered Non Vegetarian food too. Reading the book, revealed that this was Gujarati Kshatriya cuisine. This is not to say that the book only covers non-vegetarian food. There are plenty of recipes for Gujarati staples like dhokla, rotli, daal dhokali, khandvi and theplas. The non-vegetarian dishes are made from goat, lamb, chicken and seafood.

Bhanu Hajratwala is a Gujarati who was born and brought up in the Fiji Islands (The first wave of Gujaratis migrated to the British Colony of Fiji Islands in the early 1900's) As often happens with early immigrants, the families held on to the sanctity of their original Gujarati recipes with minimal adaptation, other than forgetting recipes for which ingredients weren't available.

Ms. Hajratwala moved to the US when she got married and moved with her husband across New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Through all these moves, she enjoyed cooking for and feeding her family and friends while pursuing her own career as a physical therapist. Her friends soon started asking her to teach them how to cook Gujarati food and she readily agreed. This later expanded to conducting cooking classes and demonstrations and contributing recipes for community cook books.

The book begins with a list of ingredients commonly used in Gujarati cooking and other than ganthoda kokum, batrissu (a Gujarati spice mix), charoli and vaal they are easily available across India and in Indian stores abroad. A list of measurements follows which clearly gives liquid and weight substitutes for terms like 1 cup, 1tsp etc. Since the book uses US/Imperial measures throughout, Metric conversions are also provided in this section.

Gujarati cooking has a few spice blends specific to their cuisine like fresh masala & seafood masala and some commonly used ones like chai masala and garam masala. Understanding that many of the readers of this book may not be Gujarati or cook Gujarati food daily, Banu has also given exact directions to make smaller quantities (3 tbsp) of the fresh masalas that have shelf lives of 6-8 weeks in the fridge and this kind of thoughtfullness carries on through the book.

The recipes that follow are categorised in the standard format: starters, mains, breads, rice, kadhis & dals, sweets, chutneys & relishes, pickles, snacks for teatime, drinks and a special section for mukhwaas.

The recipes are very clear and easy to follow. Substitutes are detailed. For eg: in the preface, Banu explains that fresh or whole turmeric is much better and healthier than turmeric powder and then in all the recipes she gives quantities for both whole turmeric and powder for the convenience of those who have no access to, or the time to powder and grind whole turmeric. The recipe for Khandvi includes both the stove top cooking method and a microwave oven method.

Her husband, Bhupendra's support extends beyond the standard spousal variety. He has provided line drawings for this book.While in some cases they are purely decorative, in a lot of places they are illustrative. Like how to roll patra, fold a samosa and crimp a ghughara (gujiya).

Given that this was my first insight into non-vegetarian Gujarati cuisine, the first dish I decided to try from this book was the "Chaap ne Bataka Roast - Roasted Lamb Chops with Potatoes" Its difficult for me to follow recipes from a book to the letter, since I love to improvise, but since I was reviewing the book, I tried to stay true to the recipe. So I only substituted the oil with olive oil and lemon juice with apple cider vinegar, since I did not have enough limes/lemons on hand. The chops turned out very well, even though I served them with rotlis/phulkas rather than the recommended garlic bread and the recipe was very easy to follow.

Banu's instructions are precise and detailed, substitutes are very clear, notes on which food can be stored for how long and the ideal way to store them are also included. Her thoughtfullness towards the home cook  show through every recipe. Banu says she originally started measuring quantities and writing recipes to share them with her children who were leaving home for further education. This concern and detailed attention shows in every instruction.

The only thing you need to watch out for, when cooking from this book is that the cooking time specified, is purely cooking time. It does not include pre-prep time or marinating time. It assumes that you have the spice powders & blends ready and soaking and sprouting time isn't included either.

"Gujarati Kitchen - Family Recipes for the Global Palate" is thus an excellent pick for anyone who is a new cook or a comfortable cook, someone who wants to learn Gujarati cooking or even someone looking for a simple introduction to Indian cooking.

Rating: 4.5/5

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