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by Neelam Batra
Hungry Minds, 1994
Review by Marysusan Noll and Christian Perring on Aug 6th 2002

The Indian Vegetarian

It’s well known that vegetarian food tends to be healthy and that a healthy diet can promote emotional well-being.  What’s more, spicy food stimulates the body’s immune system, making one more resistant to illness.  Those would be reasons enough to review a book on Indian vegetarian cooking, but the clincher is that this is some of the best tasting food around, and it’s hard to imagine a happy life without taking pleasure in good food.  These days, most large towns in the US have an Asian or Oriental food store, and health food stores and supermarkets are stocking a wider range of international products. 

            Neelam Batra’s cookbook The Indian Vegetarian has many recipes, including beverages, snacks and appetizers, chutneys, sauces, salads, cheeses, legumes, rices, breads and sweets.  It has a wonderful section describing the essential flavors and spices of Indian cuisine, which explains when and why certain spice combinations are used. 

            This cookbook is relatively sophisticated in its recipes, and so it would be best suited to people who have already tried to cook some Indian food and are starting to become more ambitious.  The recipes are easy to follow and are well planned.  Don’t be intimidated by the long lists of ingredients for each recipe, since most of them are spices, and once one has a well-stocked kitchen, adding these spices makes no significant addition to the preparation time.  The vegetables called for are mostly easy to buy in one’s local market, but the spices may require a special trip to a specialty store. Each dish is relatively straightforward to cook, although since when one cooks an Indian meal, one is often tempted to cook several dishes at the same time, a whole meal may require quite a lot of preparation time.  There are no pictures of the dishes or the ingredients, and this might be a problem for those who are new to Indian food, but it should create no difficulties for cooks who have some experience eating and cooking similar recipes to these. 

            One of the greatest strengths of The Indian Vegetarian is that it takes the mystery out of South Asian cuisine.  Its explanations, written in uncomplicated language, are easy to understand.  What’s more, the recipes themselves are extremely appetizing.  The index makes recipes simple to find.  It is in many ways a better, more user-friendly book that that other classic of Asian vegetarian cooking, Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East, which aims at a broader range of international food, including Thai, Indonesian, and even Japanese. 

            To give just two examples, the Tamarind and Ginger Chutney Sauce is simply the best we have sampled, bearing no resemblance to the overly sweet anemic red sauce accompanying appetizers in most Indian restaurants.  The Okra Stuffed with Spices was also excellent, keeping the vegetable spicy and firm.  All in all, Batra’s excellent book deserves high praise and a strong recommendation. 

 

© 2002 Marysusan Noll and Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Marysusan Noll and Christian Perring live on Long Island, NY, and enjoy international vegetarian food whenever they can find it.




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