Cookbook Review: Vij's at Home by Meeru Dhalwala & Vikram Vij

The Warmth & Ease of Indian Cooking

Photo © John Sherlock

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Guide to Easier Indian Cooking

In their follow-up to Vij’s: Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine, restauranteurs Vikram Vij and wife Meeru Dhalwala take a more personal approach to Indian cooking.

As in every marriage, Vikram and Meeru have their ups and downs, heightened by jointly running their successful, upscale Vij’s in Vancouver, British Columbia, and they realized they were taking their arguments home.

When television personality Anthony Bourdain asked to film an episode of his show No Reservations at their home, Meeru and Vikram were forced to buy a dining room table for the filming. To their surprise, the new table brought them back to cooking suppers for their children, and this new cookbook is a distillation of the recipes they now cook at home for family and friends.

Whereas their first book seemed geared to experienced cooks, Vij's At Home offers beginner guidelines for easier Indian cooking, providing friendly encouragement about cooking times, ingredients and measurements. In most cases, chutneys and rices start out as an eclectic batch of grains, fruits and spices tossed into a pot and slowly cooked. Simple and delicious. Vikram still insists that home-cooked paneer — Indian cheese — is a necessary staple to Indian cooking, and although the process seems involved, step-by-step photographs helpfully illustrate how it's done.

A Vegetarian's Delight

The first real chapter of the book is chock-full of vegetarian recipes, and Vikram and Meeru acknowledge that vegetarian dishes comprise the majority of Indian cuisine. Prevalent are curries, but the spice level is left up to the cook. The curries are not the cream-heavy stews of some restaurants, but are instead simple sauces that are served with crisp-tender vegetables.

The Coconut Curry and the Fennel Seed Curry are base recipes that can be used with vegetables and meats and poultry, and suggestions are made in the recipe for each. Cauliflower is cut like a steak and simmered in a delicious tomato curry, seasoned with ginger, coriander, cayenne and cinnamon. Brussels sprouts are baked and then draped with a smooth sour cream and buttermilk curry. Tasty sandwiches of spicy peas and mashed potato make a delightful family lunch or snack.

In fact, the vegetable chapter is so stuffed with comforting and homey recipes, one might be tempted to not try the subsequent recipes for seafood, which are not as enticing. (An exception is the first recipe in the seafood chapter for Spicy Roasted Crickets, apparently a member of the shrimp family. Who knew?)

Poultry and Meat

The poultry recipes are easy to prepare, with an emphasis on family-participant meals. Vikram vowed in their previous book to never include the omnipresent Butter Chicken, since it is never served at their restaurant, but a fusion-style recipe for Butter-Chicken Schnitzel serves as a dish that parents and children can make together. Chicken, Tomato and Green Bean Curry is a simple preparation, easy to make on a week night.

The Marinated Duck Breast comes with a warning: Lots of pots and pans are required. It’s served with a Mung Bean and Sesame Seed Pilaf, and despite the clean-up afterwards, I suspect it's worth the effort.

Stews and sautés with an emphasis on goat comprise the meats chapter. The Lamb in Creamy Green Cardamon Curry is especially appetizing, as are the Ground Lamb, Beef and Lentil Kabobs, but in general, the meat recipes seem somewhat similar to those in Vikram and Meeru's first cookbook.

Overall, Vij’s At Home is an excellent companion to Vij’s: Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine, particularly with the superior chapter on vegetables. Meat, poultry and fish don't get as much coverage this time round, but Vikram and Meeru don't pretend that this book is a comprehensive Bible for Indian cuisine.

Their focus is on the “warmth and ease of Indian cooking”, and in that, Vikram and Meeru shine.

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