My lovely sister gave me this terrific little book for my birthday. I mentioned The Indian Grocery Store Demystified in my Splendid Table post a few months ago, and the book does not disappoint. It’s perfect for geeking out over ingredients and tantalizing descriptions of Indian goodies. Take, for example, this passage about yogurt:
“Yogurt enrichens and thickens sauces, acts as a tenderizer in marinades, is used in creamy dips, or is folded into cooked rice.
“Dehin is a thick yogurt cheese made by straining off the whey in a cloth-lined colander in the refrigerator overnight. This is used to make shirkhand, a dessert that is blended with sugar, saffron, and rose essence and sprinkled with chopped nuts. Similar to sour cream, dehin can be flavored with spices as a dip. Kharis are smooth, yogurt-based sauces and soups. Pachadi are yogurt salads that are similar to raita but have grated coconut added. Mishti doi is the Bengali delicacy of sweetened yogurt set in clay pots and served at the end of a meal.”
Shall I go on? How about a quick description of one of my favorite spices, cardamom?
“The flavor of cardamom is sweet and zesty with a hint of eucalyptus. For subtle flavor the whole pods are added to rice pualos, simmered dishes, puddings, and sugar syrups. It is best to lightly bruise whole pods first so that their fragrance will permeate the dish.”
Maybe you are in the mood for a sweet:
“Mysore pak. A famous South Indian sweet, this is a rich, melt-in-your-mouth, chickpea-flour shortbread. It is made by slowly adding roasted chickpea flour into a buttery, cardamom-infused sugar syrup, then stirring it constantly until it froths. The yellow-ochre mixture is cooled and cut into thick squares. It has a silky-smooth surface, a melting texture, and a rich, buttery, toffee flavor. It is usually garnished with sliced almonds.”
Yum. Mysore pak, you had me at toffee. But what if I’m in the mood for cheesecake?
“Kalakand. This is Indian cheesecake. Creamy bars or diamond shapes are made from a condensed, boiled mixture of chenna cheese, ghee, milk, sugar, ground almonds, and pistachios flavored with cardamom. The cream-colored treat tastes like a cheesecake brownie with a dense, fudgy texture.”
Oh baby. A cheesecake brownies with cardamom and pistachios? Now that I might have to try to recreate at home as an American knockoff. We can do it!
I really could go on and on, but I probably shouldn’t quote the entire book in a blog post. Suffice to say that this book satisfies a deep craving for delicious food prose and a sense of the exotic. I feel transported to a place I’ve never been. And I think sometimes, when we read, that’s exactly what we want: to feel lifted out of our everyday lives and deposited somewhere new and exciting, where our only task is to taste and sniff and explore.
Will I ever visit India? Maybe someday, when I am brave and rich enough to buy that plane ticket. Until then, I’ve got a kitchen and a tiny Indian grocery store near me and an appetite big enough to keep things interesting.