Wednesday, July 28, 2010


When I was a child, my mother would tell me the stories of who my ancestors were, which countries they came from and how they got to America. We talked often about my grandmother, her mother, who immigrated to America as a Japanese war bride following WWII. I was entranced with the adventure and how bravely my grandmother said goodbye to her family and all she knew to follow her husband home. Their love was strong despite the difficulties that come with not sharing a native tongue. Soon my mother bought me a place mat that had a map of the world and I spent mealtimes staring at all the different countries and wishing I could visit them all. I would plan out trips, tracing sea adventures in the Pacific Islands and land adventures through Europe and Asia.

When I was in college, I began to fulfill some of these dreams. I have backpacked through Europe, lived in Japan and visited Mexico and the Caribbean. But there is still so much left to see and experience!

A like-minded friend recently lent me Rita Golden Gelman's Tales of a Female Nomad. Ms. Gelman is absolutely fearless! As her marriage disintegrates, Gelman begins to test her new wings and travels alone to all the places her husband has refused to go throughout their long marriage. Eventually they divorce and she gives him nearly all their worldly possessions and becomes a nomad. She is an author and can write wherever she is, and her royalties are enough to sustain her living expenses, so she is able to devote herself to this lifestyle.

In each country that she chooses to live in, Gelman studies the language, the cooking, and the culture. She tries to make friends with the people of the area, and while many are initially wary of her, she is eventually fully embraced and made a part of their lives. She shares her children books that she wrote with the children of the area, and often teaches informal English to her friends and their children. Her two grown children also often visit her as she goes around the world. She spends as long as she likes in each place, moving only when fancy takes her. I was so impressed with her utter fearlessness (I have only once traveled alone, and found myself in several somewhat dangerous situations.), her networking skills, and the way she becomes a part of the local community in each place she visits. Gelman writes in a clear, engaging style as she explores her rebirth in a new way of life, her experiences and interactions with new cultures and her struggles with loneliness and the loss of her marriage. Ultimately, Gelman triumphs in redefining herself, her life's path and finding meaning in making connections with people.

I didn't want this book to end! I recommend it highly to anyone who loves traveling and reading about different cultures. It revived my dream of working as a travel writer, and I am now planning a trip to Europe with my sister.

One of my favorites

I've been continuing to explore and create the recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking and wanted to share these fabulous koftas. Koftas are meatballs, heavily spiced and these ones are just incredible! Every bite explodes with flavor and I was truly sorry that I hadn't made a double batch.

Kashmir Koftas, page 60 from Indian Cooking. These are excellent with plain basmati rice and a side of veggies. Serves 6.

Ingredients List:
2 lbs. ground lamb (I used grass-fed beef)
1 and 1/2 in long piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
5 T. plain yogurt (I used Greek style since it is closer to Indian yogurt)
7-8 T. vegetable oil
2 inch stick cinnamon
5-6 cardamon pods
2 bay leaves
5-6 whole cloves
1 cup warm water

Combine the meat with the first eleven ingredients, and add in 3 T. of the yogurt. Mix well. Wet hands and form the meat mixture into 24 sausage shaped koftas, about an inch thick and 2.5-3 inches long.
Heat oil in a large nonstick pan. When hot, put in the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, whole cloves and cardamon pods. Stir for a few seconds. Quickly put in all the koftas in a single layer and fry until they are brown on all sides. Beat the remaining yogurt into the water. Pour over the koftas and simmer for 30 minutes. Gently turn the koftas every 7-8 minutes. When all the liquid has been absorbed, carefully lift the koftas out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. You don't have to eat the whole spices, I did, but she recommends that you discard them.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks

I love cooking. I love learning new cooking techniques. And I love Indian food. The intense, complex flavors make me just want to eat forever. My favorite two dishes at my local Indian restaurant, Raja Mahal on E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, are Chicken Tikka and Lamb Sagwala. Every bite bursts with rich flavor and a delicious spiciness that I just had never created on my own before.

I had a gift card to Barnes and Noble, so I decided to use it on an Indian cookbook. Every time I went I would flip through the options, but I just couldn't decide. I knew I definitely wanted authentic recipes. I knew I wanted it to be filled with newsy details and descriptions, the recipes to be clear and easy to follow, and gorgeous photos to garner my interest and let me know what the finished dish is supposed to look like. I like to read the cookbooks just as much as I enjoy actually creating the dishes, and the little stories about each dish get me excited to make them.

I decided that the best way to choose would be to try them out for a while. I went to my local library and found Madhur Jafffrey's memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees, but no Indian cookbooks. (It is a rather small branch.) I took home the memoir and Ms. Jaffrey's descriptions of her childhood foods made my mouth water. When I discovered that she was a cookbook author, I knew I wanted to check out her books. I loved the fact that she learned how to cook through the letters she and her mother wrote back and forth while she was studying in England. It gave me confidence that her instructions would be clear and that she would understand the difficulty of procuring certain ingredients outside of India. I put five of her books on hold and was able to pick them up within a week. I checked out Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, From Curries to Kebabs, Flavors of India, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, and An Invitation to Indian Cooking.

I spent one day just reading the cookbooks and marking all the recipes in each book that I wanted to try. I noticed that a lot of the recipes were featured in several of the books, which made it easier to eliminate. I decided against Quick and Easy Indian Cooking because it didn't have many recipes. Alternately, although it contained a ton of recipes and had lots of fun descriptions and little stories, my copy of An Invitation to Indian Cooking didn't have any pictures. It was also the oldest of the bunch. From Curries to Kabobs turned out to be recipes from all over the world, anywhere that used the spices from India. While fascinating, this was not what I was looking for. So that took it down to Indian Cooking (henceforth referred to as IC) and Flavors of India (FOI). I began cooking.

I joined a CSA this year, so I had a ton of greens. The first day I made Saag (Kale). The second dish was Sookhe aloo (Potatoes with ginger and garlic). Both from IC. They were fabulous and fairly simple to make. My sister and I gobbled them up.

I then invited a friend to dinner for the next Friday. I knew it would take a while to make all the dishes I wanted to try, so I started making the samosas on Thursday. They took forever! But they were well worth it. Anytime I make a filled pastry it takes me at least one entire day, and it certainly was slow going.  But that is really more my lack of experience with rolling out dough.

On Friday I made Hare dhaniye ki chutney (Fresh Coriander Chutney) to go with the samosas, Mughlai saag (Spinach cooked with onions), Xacuti (Chicken with a roasted coconut sauce), and Peelay chaaval (Aromatic yellow rice). All the recipes were from IC except the Xacuti, which was from FOI. I later discovered a version of it in IC too. The dinner went really well. Everything turned out delicious, and I was absolutely in love with the coconut chicken.

The next week, I made Whole Green Lentils with Spinach and Ginger, which was a bit plain, but probably would have been better if I had the right amount of spinach. I also made Kashmiri koftas (Kashmiri style meatballs) which were delightful. Every bite was just so incredibly flavorful. I loved all the whole spices and the yogurt sauce made it truly decadent. I made Baigan ka raita (yogurt with eggplant) for a sauce. All recipes were from IC.

IC is a great cookbook because it has a lot of different recipes, the layout is easy to understand and use. I like that it is divided up in to separate chapters for each type of food (meat, poultry, vegetables, etc.) It has pictures, nice descriptions and suggested pairings. I really liked FOI because it is divided up by region. Each section gives a history of the region, the foods, and Jaffrey's wonderful descriptions of the time she spent there. I loved reading these sections. Many of the recipes were in both books, though they were usually slightly different in portion sizes.

Through this experience I realized that Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking was the right cookbook for me! I ordered it online and it will be arriving later this week. If I get a second book, it would probably be FOI, because I love knowing where each dish is from, and there were a lot of regional dishes that aren't in the IC. But I realized that I simply find IC easier to use, so it is best one to get first.