If you think Indian food is too hot and spicy, or you like it but don’t cook it because the dishes are complicated, I’ve got news for you. It isn’t, and they’re not. I just ran across a couple of cookbooks by Suvir Saran that might make an aficionado of anyone. Indian Home Cooking offers the delicious recipes Saran grew up with in New Delhi, many of them simple enough for a weekday meal. And, for those of you still hesitating to sample this “exotic” cuisine, there’s American Masala: recipes that use Indian flavors to liven up American favorites like burgers, meatloaf, and mac and cheese. (Masala is the Hindi term for the various blends of spices used in Indian cooking.)
Most ingredients are readily available, and so are the chutneys and breads that you may not want to tackle but which make traditional Indian meals such a feast. You’ll find frozen naan and sometimes paratha in most supermarkets. Dried crispy lentil pappadums are fun to prepare: drop them in very hot oil and they puff up dramatically in two seconds. (Make sure your guests are watching.)
Saran came to New York City in ’93 to study at the School of Visual Arts. “By accident,” he says, he went into retail, working as a home furnishings buyer at Bergdorf Goodman. A happier accident was his move into the culinary world, after friends who loved his cooking encouraged him to open Devi, the Manhattan restaurant that New York Times food writer Mark Bittman declares serves “the best Indian food in the United States.” Martha Stewart is another fan, should that endorsement sway you.
These days, Saran leaves his well-trained team to run Devi, while he and his partner, Charlie Burd, tend their 69-acre farm in Washington County, where they raise heritage breeds of chickens, geese, ducks, goats, and sheep along with “a vegetable garden big enough to feed us and our neighbors,” Saran says. He also teaches at the Culinary Institute. You can see how cute he is and find out more at www.suvir.com.
Saran has another book coming out in December, just in time for Christmas. It’s called Masala Farm. I’ll try to remember to remind you.