Wednesday 13 June 2012

Cookbook & Recipe Review

Today, we had a potluck for my team leader, who is retiring. I tried out a couple of new recipes in honour of the occasion. The first is from The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson (Robert Rose Inc., 2010). This is an attractive cookbook that combines one of my favourite small appliances with my chosen cuisine (vegetarian). The print is a reasonable size and the recipes are well laid out and easy to follow. Quantities are given in both imperial and metric measurements. Each recipe tells how many servings it provides, whether or not it is "Vegan Friendly" and also lets you know if it is a good recipe for company (Entertaining Worthy) as well as if the recipe can be halved. It also details what size of slow cooker to use and adds tips on choosing and handling ingredients. While not totally vegan, there are many "vegan friendly" recipes in the book and even ones not listed as such could frequently be converted by the knowledgeable vegan. The Vegetarian Slow Cooker is liberally sprinkled with pictures, generally located across the page from the recipes they portray. The recipe I chose from this book was Tomato Dal with Spinach. This was a fairly simple and straightforward recipe and I got compliments on it as well. One of the things I think could have been done differently would be to cook the split peas directly in the slow cooker. The recipe calls for you to boil them for 25 minutes on the stovetop before adding them to the cooker. This, of course, creates extra dishes to wash and I feel it could have been done differently to avoid this. I also felt that the dal could have been thicker, so I added 2 tablespooons of cornstarch after adding the spinach and curry powder-lemon juice mixture. It turned out fine. If you choose to eat it out of a bowl, then leaving out the cornstarch would work as well. This recipe is listed as serving 4 to 6, which would be generous servings. 
I served the dal with a rice dish, which I took from 660 Curries (previously reviewed). Dirty Rice with Caramelized Onions (or "Mitty" Chawal) makes a very aromatic dish. And yes, it does indeed look dirty. While the author of this cookbook does not recommend cooking rice in a rice cooker, that is my method of choice. I have a programmable rice cooker and when rice has to be cooked while I'm working or at church, I turn to my rice cooker. I put the correct amount of rice and water into my rice cooker (I doubled this recipe since, unlike the previous cookbook, I do not find the serving sizes generous in this book), using brown basmati rice rather than white since I prefer to use unrefined grains as often as possible. One other insignificant change I made was to substitute unbleached organic sugar from crystallized cane syrup for the white granulated sugar. I then prepared the rest of the ingredients as instructed, dumped them into the rice cooker with the rice and water, covered the bowl of the rice cooker with plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight in preparation for cooking today. This recipe was both sweet and hot (but not overly much of either taste), smelled wonderful and tasted great. It is, however, not for the culinarily timid. This unique combination of flavours, textures and ingredients might not be welcome to those to whom East Indian cooking is unfamiliar or unwelcome. Cinnamon and cloves, normally associated with desserts, are combined here with onions and black pepper. There is also one more alteration  I would suggest, especially to make this recipe more palatable to the uninitiated palate. East Indian cooking uses ground spices or whole spices. This recipe starts with whole spices but instructs the cook to pound them to break them into smaller pieces and release the aromatic oils. When spices are left whole, they can be readily removed after cooking if desired. However, pounding them left them in a somewhat unpleasant texture of grit and sticks, which some may find repugnant. Though pounding may release more flavour and the texture is not inconsistent with East Indian cuisine, I think next time I use this recipe I will leave the spices whole.
An interesting side-note: we have one staff member at the health unit who is married to an East Indian man. He taught her how to cook Indian food and that is what she usually brings to potlucks. I'm not sure what she brought today, but everyone smelling the Indian food cooking assumed she brought it. Surprise, it was Laura this time.

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