Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Indian Food

Here's an obvious criticism of Mark Bittman to balance out my rapturous review of this book: He's a know-it-all and -- surprise! -- doesn't actually know it all. 

The more specialized cookbooks you own, the less useful you'll find his work. 

For instance, if you want to make some snappy little crackers, Bittman supplies a serviceable recipe -- but you'll have better results with a dedicated baking book. Ditto for bread. And if you're planning an Indian banquet, he can help -- but his recipes won't be as delicious or varied as what you'll get from a volume with the words Bombay or Calcutta or Krishna in the title.  


On Oscar night, I served this passable Indian dinner from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

-Fresh cheese, spinach and yogurt (saag paneer). The homemade cheese was too dense and chewy. I've cross-referenced with Julie Sahni and hold theories as to why. Anyone truly interested can email me and I will reply at technical, didactic length. Also, the flavors in the spinach were off and Bittman has you create what amounts to a roux, which left a grainy brown film on the greens. Did I do something wrong? Maybe, but I was just following directions.

-Flaky Indian bread (paratha). I don't know where in his concise instructions Bittman errs, but I've made better flatbreads. Perhaps it's the concision that is the problem? These quasi tortillas were popular, but only because people love a homemade bread, however tough and drab and unflaky.

-Pineapple chutney. Juicy, hot, delelctable, tangy. Get your mind out of the gutter, people, I'm talking about a relish. Sheesh. Actually, I don't have any complaints about this. A yummy condiment I'd make again, unlike the rest of the meal.

Conclusion: Everything would have been better if I'd turned to Julie Sahni or Madhur Jaffrey or Niloufer Ichaporia King. I know this because it has been better.

BUT. . . I have rarely made anything quite so strange and magical as Bittman's honey sorbet, which we ate for dessert. More on this mysterious dish to follow.

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