When I was recently asked to review a copy of the newest cookbook to come from the Vij’s brand, Vij’s Indian by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, I jumped at the chance. Even though I don’t cook Indian food often, I did experience one of my best meals ever at Vij’s flagship restaurant in Vancouver a few years ago. It was a magical night that commenced the moment we sat at our table with a cup of chai. That chai was a welcome, not only to the restaurant, but also invited us into an evening where food and companionship were intertwined.
Before I received my copy of the book in the mail, I was hoping to see some of the recipes for the dishes I enjoyed that evening and to be honest, I thought that this post would revolve around that. But what I really want to talk about is the book itself.
This isn’t your typical recipe book. It does have photos of food and ingredient lists located in the sidebars but what really struck me is the format in general. This is more like a short story book than a cookbook. And you all know how I like a good story.
The beginning of the book, like most cookbooks, gives you a heads up as to what to expect when cooking from it, like what spices you will need and why you need them. Or a feature that I particularly like is the wine pairing section. Members of the Vij’s team each recommend wines that they like to pair with the dishes that are served throughout the restaurants.
Then you get into the heart of the book, the recipes. Each recipe begins with a story and each story is different, of course, depending on the recipe. There is an easy way that the book talks about the partnership between Meeru and Vikram, in their restaurants and in their home. Why they eat things the way that they do, like why you should eat pumpkin seeds versus sunflower seeds depending on your constitution. Or what kind of things are popular in their restaurants. If you have been to Vij’s or plan on going there, everyone will tell you to eat the Lamb Popsicles. The recipe for the famous Lamb Popsicles is in the book, but with a twist. It has been simplified so that you can make it for yourself at home.
The thing that is most noticeable in the book is the method for the recipes. Most cookbooks list the directions in a step by step format, using numbers or bullet points. Vij’s Indian is different. The instructions for making the recipe are written together in paragraph form. Because of that you do need to be careful when making the recipe that you don’t miss anything. But what I like about this format is it makes it personal. It’s almost like Meeru or Vikram are in your kitchen guiding you as you move along with the recipe. It’s a conversation, a give and take. And it’s that kind of thing that facilitates bringing a little bit of the Vij’s world into your home.
I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make initially from the book. There is a section near the beginning called Condiments and Complements that contain recipes that you would make before you would even start creating anything else in the book, things like Paneer and Garam Masala. My best advice is to scan the book and if the recipes you want to make include any of these condiments, make those first.
Ultimately I made the Fruit Chaat which had the Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and the Date Chutney included in the ingredient list. Both of these recipes were in that Condiment section. What is really great about making these before hand is that you will use them for more than just that recipe. For example, I made the Spiced Pumpkin Seeds to use in the Fruit Chaat but they are so good on their own as a snack. I have also been using them for extra texture and flavour in my yogurt, they really make a difference! An added bonus is that a number of items in the Condiment section would work well as homemade gifts.
Also included in the Condiment section are a few variations of how to make chai. You do get the recipe that is used in the restaurant but a few others as well. It is the original chai recipe that I have decided to share with you. The chai is thing that draws you in and keeps everything together. It’s the one constant throughout the meal and the story. It’s the beginning and the end.
But before I share that recipe with you, I wanted to let you know about an event that is happening this upcoming week. On Monday, March 27 Calgary’s own Cookbook Co. Cooks will be hosting an evening with Vikram Vij. The event will celebrate the release of Vij’s Indian as well as Vij: A Chef’s One-Way Ticket to Canada with Indian Spices in His Suitcase. When I last spoke with Cookbook Co. Cooks there were still tickets available. The cost is $85 per person but keep in mind that not only do you get to attend the event, you also get the chance to meet Vikram Vij and walk home with a copy of each of the books. If you are interested in registering, call Cookbook Co. Cooks at (403) 265-0600, ext 1 to book your tickets. And if you want to know more about the event itself, just click through to the website.
Ok, now that I have let you know about that I will end with the chai recipe.
5 1/2 cups water
12 to 15 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
5 orange pekoe teabags
6 teaspoons sugar (optional)
3/4 cup whole milk (optional)
Makes 6 cups
Prep and Cooking time: 20 to 30 minutes
Set a small bowl and tea strainer/sieve beside the stove before you begin. In a kettle or pot, combine the water, cardamom pods and fennel seeds and bring to a vigorous boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to boil for another 2 minutes. Add the teabags and sugar, stir well and allow to boil for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes more, or longer if you like a stronger flavoured tea.
Using the sieve or a large spoon, remove the teabags and place in the bowl. Add the milk to the pot and continue to heat through for 45 seconds to 1 minute (you don’t want the milk to boil over). Turn off the heat. Place the tea strainer over the mouth of a teapot and pour the chai into it. Or hold the strainer over individual cups before pouring. Serve immediately.