Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cookbook Review: Vij's

As part of focusing our efforts on more in depth ideas at SeeUsEat, we've decided to add a new periodic feature: cookbook reviews. And what better way to start off this feature than with the wonderful Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine. Vij's is an incredible (so I hear) Indian restaurant in Vancouver, BC, where Alexis' sister lives. Last Christmas Alexis was gifted this book and has since read it cover to cover, tried many of the recipes and become inspired by many others. One thing I really love about the book is the story. It was written by Vikram Vij and his wife, Meeru Dhalwala, who together have turned Vij's into the reknowned place it is today. It's a classic rags to riches story that's incredibly inspiring because it was their commitment to producing excellent food that took them from a tiny storefront with no real restaurant kitchen (when they were cooking at home and bringing the food to the restaurant) to the elegant restaurant that it is today.

Vikram and Meeru's cooking philosophy is personal and flexible. They stress that measuring is really not important and that you can change recipes to suit your own taste. I like this because I cook this way too. Even when I attempt to follow a recipe, which is rare, I find that I am unable to follow it exactly, knowing that it will taste better with twice the garlic, or some other ingredient. I like a cookbook that encourages me to go down the path I'm going to take anyway.

Vij's cookbook also comes with an extensive ingredient glossary which is very helpful for someone who isn't familiar with Indian ingredients and spices or who wants to know what substitutions can be made. The glossary is also very interesting to read even if you are already familiar with asafoetida and fenugreek, as it offers information on medicinal uses of common Indian cooking herbs and spices. The glossary also offer tips on how the folks at Vij's like to use specific ingredients.

The focus of Vij's is on Indian style with fresh and local ingredients. For this reason, this cookbook is not going to give you what Americans have come to think of as Indian standards, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala and the like. What this cookbook will offer are great way to prepare the seasonal ingredients you have on hand in an Indian style. It provides recipes for simple curries, Indian basics like ghee and paneer, as well as some of Vij's signature dishes, the like lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream sauce. Sometimes I'll make something exactly as it appears in Vij's cookbook, but most often I'll look through Vij's for ideas, then make a curry based on what I've got in my fridge. Click here to view the wonderful dishes that we've tried from Vij's cookbook (or inspired by it).

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