JUNE 2017
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


Book Reviews By NITISH S. RELE,


Vibrant India cookbook“Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn,” by Chitra Agrawal; 224 pages; $24.99; published by Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House. (www.tenspeed.com)

The founder of the Indian condiment line, Brooklyn Delhi (brooklyndelhi.com), and popular recipe blog “The ABCDs of Cooking” (abcdsofcooking.com) takes the reader on a trip down memory lane before presenting nearly 80 time-tested family recipes. And what an epicurean journey it is, reminiscing about her mother and maternal grandparents from Karnataka, to bringing the delectable South Indian cuisine thousands of miles back home to Brooklyn. Vegetarians (and that includes vegans and gluten-free folks) will dig in to prepare “Stir-Fried Corn with Basil and Leeks,” “Pineapple and Peppers in Red Coconut Curry,” “Lettuce ‘Dosa’ Wrap with Curried Potato and Chutney,” “Stuffed Shishito Pepper Fritters (Bhajji),” “Chile Watermelon Juice with Lime and Mint Leaves,” among other scrumptious recipes.

The easy-to-follow recipes by Chitra Agrawal are separated by chapters such as Breakfast and Light Meals; Salads and Yogurts; Stir-Fries and Curries; Rice and Bread; Soups, Stews, and Lentils; Festive Bites and Snacks; Sweets and Drinks; Chutneys and Pickles; and From Scratch. There are also quick notes on Indian cooking techniques and tips, the South Indian pantry, kitchen tools, meal planning and sample menus and even a starter grocery list. Beginner cook in the family or a friend? This one’s for you.

Here are two recipes:


Tharakaari Huli or Sambar

Vegan, Gluten-Free

All seasons • Serves 4 

Huli is a spicy lentil and vegetable stew served daily in Karnataka homes, usually with rice. Similar stews are prepared throughout South India and referred to as sambar. The stew is flavored with tamarind, coconut, curry leaves, and a spice blend called huli powder, which you can make at home or buy in Indian shops, where it will be labeled as sambar powder. 

You can make huli with several vegetables or just one. When I make it with mixed vegetables, my favorite combination is potato, carrot, and onion, but it works well with spinach, green beans, daikon, kohlrabi, cabbage or chayote squash. 

This recipe is for my weekday, one-pot version of huli. Traditionally, the stew is made with toor dal, but I use quicker-cooking red lentils when I’m short on time. 


Put the ghee and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When the ghee has melted and the oil is hot and shimmering, add one black mustard seed. When the seed sizzles and pops, add the rest of the mustard seeds and the asafetida. Keep a lid handy to cover the pan while the mustard seeds are popping. When the popping starts to subside (a few seconds), turn the heat to medium-low. Rub the curry leaves between your fingers a little to release their natural oils, and drop them and the dried red chile into the oil. Cover immediately, as moisture from the curry leaves will cause the oil to spatter. Then stir to evenly coat everything with oil, a few seconds. Turn off the heat. 

Add the onion and turmeric powder to the pan and fry until the onion has softened and is translucent, a couple of minutes. Mix in the carrot, potato, and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to coat with oil. Add the lentils and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Ladle out any foam that comes to the surface. Then simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, until the lentils are falling apart and the vegetables are tender; this should take 25 to 30 minutes. 

Add the huli powder to the cooked lentils and vegetables and mix well. Add the tamarind paste and 11⁄4 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Cook at a boil for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for salt and tamarind and adjust as needed. I like the consistency of my huli to be right in the middle, not too thick and not too thin. Add a bit more water or boil for longer depending on your preferred consistency. Mix in the coconut and simmer for a minute more. Turn off the heat. Garnish with cilantro leaves. 

Serve hot over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt and hot pickle, or with dosas. You can also enjoy the stew plain. 

When reheating huli, add water to get it back to your desired consistency, as it has a tendency to thicken up in the fridge. 


Sabbakki Payasa 

Summer • Serves 4 

Vegan, Gluten-Free

Payasa is a sweetened saffron milk dessert often made with either tapioca or thin noodles and usually prepared on festival days. It is the South Indian equivalent of North Indian rice pudding, or kheer. This recipe is a variation on my mother’s tapioca or sabbakki payasa, using chia seeds and coconut milk. I have a number of vegan and gluten-free friends, so my chia pudding satisfies all parties. Instead of the traditional golden raisins, I top the pudding with blueberries roasted with jaggery, unrefined sugarcane. 

What’s great about chia seeds is that they are extraordinarily nutritious and delicious and easy to prepare. You just soak the seeds overnight in coconut milk and you have the base of your dessert ready to go. If you prefer, you can use almond milk in place of coconut milk. I’ve also served this pudding topped with homemade jam when blueberries were not in season. 

In a bowl, mix the chia seeds, coconut milk, honey, cardamom powder, and salt together. Refrigerate overnight. 

You can choose to serve your chia pudding with warm blueberries or cooled, depending on your preference. If going with the cooled option, you can make the blueberries the day before and chill them in the refrigerator. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the blueberries in a baking dish. Sprinkle the jaggery on top and mix. Roast the blueberries for 14 to 16 minutes, stirring them a few times so they cook evenly. They are done when the berries are exuding their juices but they still hold their shape. There may be one or two that have collapsed, which is fine. Depending on the ripeness of your berries, they may take less time to get to this point, so keep an eye on them. Make sure that a majority of the blueberries are plump, so when you bite into one, you get a burst of juice. 

Serve the chia pudding topped with the roasted blueberries, warm or chilled, and a garnish of chopped pistachios and dried coconut on top. 

Reprinted with permission from Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.”

Photography credit: Erin Scott © 2017

The WildingsThe Wildings: Book One of The Hundred Names of Darkness” (324 pages; $18.95) by Nilanjana Roy; published by Random House Canada (www.penguinrandomhouse.ca)

Cat lovers, this one is for you. A treat, indeed. A small posse of cats has lived peacefully in the intricate passageways and vestiges of Nizamuddin, a neighborhood in Delhi. There’s the astute Siamese clan leader Miao, much-feared Katar, the great fighter tom Hulo, good-looking queen Beraal; and a kitten Southpaw. Enter Mara, an orange-colored kitten with extraordinary “sending” powers to turn the world of the wildings’ upside down. “Calico cats, tortoiseshell cats, pedigreed cats, strays; neighbourhoods where cats roamed on vast manicured lawns; areas where their territory was a twisted mass of bylanes brimming over with filth and abundant life; old scarred fighters’ faces, blinking kitten faces, furry maternal faces; she could hear them all as a distant, humming noise in the background.” But it is not Mara who is a threat but feral cats in the Shuttered House occupied by Bigfoot (humans) for whom the cats appears to have scant respect or regard. “Mark it well: it’s the smell of age, and decay, and sadness,” says Miao. Or as Mara believes, “Poor things. They can’t smell very well, or see very clearly in the dark. You have to be very patient with Bigfeet.” An ode to cats, this is a brilliantly written book of endurance and fighting back against one’s fears. We are looking forward to reading its sequel “The Hundred Names of Darkness” in the near future. Stay tuned.

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