Long before bloggers were blogging and before you could get a paneer tikka masala in seemingly every town in America, Madhur Jaffrey was spreading the gospel of Indian cooking.
Her first cookbook was published in 1973, and since then her dozens of books have been racking up awards and showing us all how to take the lessons of her home country and translate them to our own kitchens.
For her newest book, Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking ($35), Jaffrey crisscrossed India (the country with the largest percentage of vegetarians in the world) and gathered recipes from home cooks.
These are not the heavy meat and cream-laden curries you will see at a restaurant. Instead, they showcase the vibrancy and incredible diversity of Indian vegetarian cuisine. There is the sweet, sour, salty and coconut-enriched Kodava mushroom curry from southern Karnataka; a spinach dish stir-fried with garlic, cumin and fenugreek seeds; and cabbage fritters from the state of Andhra Pradesh held together with just a wisp of chickpea flour.
This massive book (it clocks in at 400-plus pages) is a reminder of why we still buy cookbooks even with an Internet saturated with recipes. It’s a lockbox of lush, beautiful and functional recipes that are guaranteed to work. Even the most die-hard cook is bound to pick up a few new ideas and techniques.
Jaffrey shared her recipe for fresh cucumber spears, sprinkled with lemon juice and dusted with spices, with us. They are the perfect last-minute addition to your Thanksgiving menu: crisp and refreshing enough to cut through a rich and heavy meal, and easy enough (no reheating needed!) to not create any headaches. If your menu is full-to-the-brim already, save the recipe for later—it’s the perfect revitalizer post T-day, and all year round.
Kheeray Ki Phankay
4 cucumbers (ideally seedless cucumbers, labeled Armenian or Persian)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1⁄8 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1⁄8 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons olive or peanut oil
1⁄8 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
1⁄8 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
5–6 fresh curry leaves or small basil leaves
1. Peel the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise. Arrange them on a plate, cut side up. Dribble the lemon juice over them as evenly as you can manage. Now sprinkle the salt, cumin seeds, and chili powder over them in the same even manner.
2. Put the oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, a matter of seconds, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Throw in the curry leaves and turn off the heat. Now tilt the frying pan and spoon the oil and spices evenly over the cucumbers. They are ready to be served.
Excerpted from VEGETARIAN INDIA by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.