Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
Review and Giveaway

I have been a Vegan Richa fan for many years, and Richa Hingle's beautiful new book, Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, fulfills every vegan foodie's fantasy for all the sensuously spicy stimulation great Indian food delivers. With a range of spices and seasonings as vast as the subcontinent itself, it's no easy task to combine them in the perfect balance needed to create the complex flavors and textures that are the hallmarks of Indian cuisine. An entire book filled with delectable vegan recipes that are not only exotically rich and flavorful, but also simple to prepare, is truly a gastronomic achievement.

Did I mention the photos? Not only is Richa a culinary force to be reckoned with, she's become quite the talented food stylist and photographer, as well. If the gorgeous full-color photos in this book don't make you want to just head for the kitchen and start cooking, I don't know what will. The biggest dilemma for me was that I wanted to make ALL the dishes all at once! (I still can't look at any of the photos in this book without starting to feel hungry.)

With no fewer than fourteen tantalizing cauliflower recipes in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, this cauliflower-loving girl was hard-pressed to choose just one for this review. Generally, I simply dry roast cauliflower and sprinkle it with a little nooch, and I'n good to go. But I'm as much a sucker for the popular Indian restaurant dish, Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) as the next person. And there is a recipe for Richa's dad's favorite—albeit it's called Gobi Aloo—in the book. But the enticingly named Sweet and Spicy Baked Cauliflower dish (Gobi Manchurian)—a surprise discovery in an Indian recipe book—sounded too amazing not to try. Little did I know that such a thing as "Indian Chinese cuisine" existed. This tasty fusion of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques adapted to Indian tastes is said to have been developed by the small Chinese community residing in Kolkata for over a century. The marriage of Chinese and Indian cuisines seemed like it had the potential for an explosion of mouthwatering flavors, so it was with the greatest of gusto that I set about preparing this fiery recipe, which excited my taste buds with its rich and spicy ginger-chile sauce. If you think it looks incredible in the photo, let me just say that it tastes about 1,000 times better than it looks!

Did you know that there are between 400 and as many as 1,000 mango varieties in the world? (It depends on which website you believe.) All I know for sure is that the mangoes that grow on my dear friend Parandeh's trees in Miami are the sweetest, juiciest mangoes I've ever eaten. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I think it would be Parandeh's mangoes. Mangoes are plentiful in India, but I had never tasted Mango curry. (When I was in Rajasthan, I did eat watermelon curry, and it was delightful!)  Richa's Mango Curry Tofu recipe made with mango pulp and coconut milk creates the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. My husband, who is most definitely not a fan of curry, enjoyed it so much, it inspired me to share the recipe with you at the end of this post. 

But hang on, don't scroll down to the end of the post just yet! This review would not be complete without telling you about the two Indian dishes I have missed most since becoming vegan more than twenty-five years ago: Navratan Korma, an entrĂ©e first created for kings and queens, and Rasmalai, a sensationally sweet dessert made with spongy balls of cheese soaked in saffron cream. Finding recipes for both in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen was a dream come true for me.

Let me just mention here that when it comes to making flat bread, be it pita, pizza dough, chapati, or anything else, although I'm otherwise no slouch in the kitchen, I suddenly become all thumbs. Still, I had to roll up my sleeves and at least make a go of trying Richa's recipe for Naan. After all, what good is all that creamy-rich korma sauce without some freshly baked bread to soak it up with? While my result didn't look exactly authentic, it tasted amazing. And if I could do that, well, then anyone can. (My husband was still enjoying the Naan, long after the korma was gone!) As for Restaurant-style Navratan Korma recipe—a medley of fresh vegetables, cashews, and raisins all simmering together in a lusciously creamy sauce—it was even more delicious than the dairy-based dish I remember fondly from so long ago. 

As for the Rasmalai, there are two different options for making the "cheese" balls, and I tried both. The first, simpler recipe is made with tofu, and the second "more challenging" variation is made from scratch with soy milk. I heartily endorse going with the soy milk-from-scratch recipe, as I found that the resulting pillows soaked up the sweet saffron cream more readily, and it was well worth the extra bit of effort. As for the saffron cream, scented with just a splash of rosewater, it tasted exactly like the heavenly dessert I'd been missing so intensely. Way to go, Richa!

As promised earlier, following is the recipe for Mango Curry Tofu from Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen Copyright ©2015 by Richa Hingle. Reprinted with the kind permission of Vegan Heritage Press, LLC.

Mango Curry Tofu
Prep: 20 minutes | Active: 25 minutes | Inactive: 20 minutes | Serves 4

Mangoes are abundant in India, where they are always juicy and sweet. In the United States, mangoes can be a bit tart. For desserts or curries like this one, I prefer mango pulp or puree in canned or bottled form. You can use a ripe mango, if you prefer, but be sure to puree it well before using. This is a simple recipe but the resulting dish is very alluring with its sweet and spicy sauce. It can easily be made soy-free with 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 1/2 to 3 cups chopped vegetables. 

14 ounces firm tofu
2 teaspoons safflower or other neutral oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon Garam Masala
¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup chopped red onion
1 (1-inch) knob of ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon safflower or other neutral oil
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
1¼ cups canned or culinary coconut milk
¾ cup ripe mango pulp or puree (unsweetened or lightly sweetened canned)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Generous dash of black pepper
¼ teaspoon Garam Masala, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. Tofu: Cut the tofu slab into 1/2-inch slices. Place them on a clean kitchen towel. Cover with another kitchen towel. Place a 10-pound (approximate) weight on top and let sit for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can use pressed tofu. Cut the tofu slices into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, tilt the skillet so the oil coats it evenly. Add the tofu and cook until lightly brown on some sides, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes. Add the cayenne, cinnamon, garam masala, and salt and mix well to coat. Cook for another 2 minutes and set aside.

3. Curry: In a blender, combine the onion, ginger, and garlic and blend into a smooth puree with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, and cloves. Cook for 1 minute. Add the pureed onion and cook until the onion mixture is dry and does not smell raw. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking, 13 to 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk, mango pulp, salt, and vinegar and mix well. Add the tofu and all the spices from the tofu skillet to the sauce skillet. Add a dash of black pepper.

4. Mix, cover and cook until the sauce comes to a boil, 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered until the sauce thickens and desired consistency is achieved, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and tang. Add 1/2 teaspoon or more sugar if the mango pulp was not sweet. Garnish with cilantro and a dash of garam masala and serve hot.

A few other notes about Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, in addition to all the lovely recipes for breakfast, small snacks, side dishes, dals, one-pot meals, mains dishes, desserts, and flat breads, you'll find recipes for making your own chutneys and spice blends, as well as resources for buying ingredients online and in brick-and-mortar stores. There's also an exploration into the many cuisines of India, and as an added bonus, recipes are indexed by region. (Just in case you want to create an authentic Punjabi or Kashmiri meal!) Quite simply, if you love Indian food and have been yearning for scrumptious vegan versions of classical Indian dishes (all made without a hint of ghee, heavy cream, or paneer), you are going to love this book! And if you've been wondering whether or not you can recreate authentic vegan Indian dishes, you'll joyfully discover that with the no-fail recipes in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, you'll soon be swooning over the dishes you make in your own vegan Indian kitchen.

But don't leave just yet! I'm giving away a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen to one lucky reader, and it could be YOU! For a chance to win this fantabulous book, simply tell me what your favorite Indian dish is (or what dish you'd most love to try) in a comment below, and then follow the Rafflecopter prompt to complete your entry.* Earn additional entries by following any or all of the other prompts in the Rafflecopter box. I'll be picking one winner at random. Good luck!  

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*Sorry international friends, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.