Bods’s Cookbook Collection Reviewed – Hansa’s Indian Vegetarian Cuisine

Published on 12 March 2010 in , ,

Yes, it’s still going on. I’m still reviewing cookbooks from my shelf. Well it’s just one of those things a blogger has to do every now and then. Anyway, time to head to the Indian sub-continent now…

Once upon a time, home made curries just seemed to consist of lobbing some curry powder into a pan and hoping for the best. Then the world learnt about jars of curry sauce and the differences between a korma and a rogan josh. And they were happy.

Personally I was never a curry sauce fan – my mum introduced the family to Patak’s curry paste – a far better ingredient, and cheaper too. So when I moved out of the parental abode and started cooking myself, the curry paste came with me.

However I still wasn’t quite satisfied. I wanted to be making my own curries from scratch. I tried a few recipes, including one which involved making your own curry paste, however the results were lacklustre and uninspiring. And then a good friend gave me a copy of Hansa’s Indian Vegetarian Cookbook for my birthday, and the world was changed forever.

31% of people in India are vegetarian, and it’s the country of the world with the most vegetarians. Some regions are more vegetarian than others, and in the Gujarit region, the population and food are primarily vegetarian. So no surprise then that Gujurati cuisine has come up with some excellent dishes over the years.

Hansa’s is a Gujrati resturant in Leeds. And if the self-published recipe book is anything to go by, it must be an excellent place to eat. (If you’re in London, may I suggest a trip to Kastoori in Tooting)

The book isn’t just a collection of recipes, but an insight into the culture of food in the region, and how people eat it, and all the information you need on how to cook it. It’s split into several sections, like street food and snack items like bhajis and pakoras, chutneys and salads, however it’s the curry sections that are of most interest.

Split between vegetable and pulse based meals, there’s much to choose from. Many are dry curries which can be served either with chapatis, or with rice and a sauce (there’s an excellent dahl sauce and kahadi sauce which is brilliant and yogurt based). The Ful Cobi – cauliflower, carrots and peas – is excellent, whilst the Ringan Mattar (aubergine, tomato and pea curry) is to die for.

Most surprising however is the Cobi Mattar – a potato and cabbage curry. I’ll run that by you again – potato and cabbage. Doesn’t sound particularly inspiring I know, however it’s absolutely superb. It’ll be hard for even the hardened cabbage hater to dislike this particular dish. The pulse section contains even more brilliance, and of course lots of lentil based dahls.

Then there’s the rice section, which contains the best pillau rice I’ve ever made at home and tastes just like you’d get in a good restaurant. The khichadi rice (basically a spiced rice with lentils) is especially good.

Although the ingredients lists can be rather high thanks to the number of spices, most of the recipes are very quick to do if you’re organised. Most can be done in 25-30 minutes without a problem if you’re ready to go – and most of that is cooking time with nothing to do. Most of the spices are added in one go, so the trick is simply to collect them all in a ramekin and put them all in together at the relevant point.

One of the annoying things is usually how many pans I end up requiring – a curry, dahl and rice is at least three pans and whilst its doable, there’s easier ways. I learnt very quickly that dahl freezes wonderfully meaning you can make a large batch in advance and just heat them up when required. And whilst many of the recipes tell you to use all manner of exciting and interesting dahls (dahl being a split bean or lentil), if you’re in a rush and can’t be bothered with the soaking, red lentils can be bunged straight in and will cook quickly.

The book also includes a desert section, salads and fresh chutneys too. Most of the ingredients you’ll be able to find in a good supermarket, although there are a few spices that I had to put more effort in to track down – thankfully I live in an area with lots of Sri Lankan shops, although even then it took me ages to find Carom seeds. That was thankfully a rarity, and pretty much everything else could be found in my local Sainsburys. Mind you, even then some detective work was needed thanks to many spices having varying names – I eventually found Hing sold as Asphodita, and Carom seeds sold as Ajwain. Thankfully a glossary at the back gives various alternative names along with the health benefits associated with them!

If there’s one flaw in this book, it’s in some of the sub editing. Every now and then you’ll spot little mistakes, like on page 60 where the Spinach Bhaji recipe tells you it’s perfect with Khirchadi rice, where the recipe can be found on page 85. Page 85 then provides a recipe for Coriander Rice – the actual recipe is on page 89. There are other little niggling things like the intro to the Chutneys section which references two recipes which aren’t even in the book, and on one occasion, you’re not told what to do with a particular ingredient.

Okay, that’s a bit picky – this is an excellent book and I’d be lost without it. It’s opened up a whole new world of cooking for me and given some excellent meals that are real crowd pleasers. If you’ve ever thought vegetarian curries were slightly lacking in something, this is a book you need to get hold of.

According to Hansa’s website, author Hansa Dabhi is currently writing a second book. I can’t wait for it to be published.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering… no, I haven’t stopped buying curry paste. Sometimes it just works very well. But I am buying far less of it than I ever used to…

Tasty, tasty, ooh such a good time… Tomorrow it’s time for some food. But better make it fast!