Published by Hippocrene Books on May 15, 2014
Genres: Cooking, Courses & Dishes
Thank you so much for doing this interview for Creating Serenity! I hope you’re all comfy and ready to go!
How did you get into cooking and what made you want to write Spices & Seasons?
I have grown up surrounded by people who loved to cook and took great pride in the importance of serving and creating good food. My grandmothers and mother were all good cooks, even my late father used to occasionally dabble with some specialty items, all of this translated to an extreme awareness of the importance of cooking. I learnt a lot my watching, especially since I was a constant fixture in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen who told me about cooking through folklore, techniques and demonstration. It was from her, I learnt a lot about the rules that went into food and the subtle things that made a difference.
When I moved away from India as a graduate student in the US, this is when I seriously began to start paying attention to cooking as I missed the homey comfort dishes that are not really easy to find in restaurants. I also then began to explore the sheer diversity of India’s culinary heritage and there has been no going back. Over time I met my husband, who is an avid gardener and I began to pay attention to seasonal ingredients that he grew and this is where the seasonal component of Spices and Seasons comes from. Essentially, I wanted a book that is accessible, fun and close to the environment. This is why I wrote Spices and Seasons.
There are quite a few chapters? How did you figure the best way to configure this cookbook?
The instinct would be to organize the book by Seasons, however, I really stuck closer to the sequence of the Indian meal. I also, wanted people to build up on their knowledge of spices as they moved along the book. I wanted these sections to be general, and this is why I scattered them through the book. Two chapters that are very close two my heart – Indian for the holidays, is probably very unique since other books do not have it, and I like the Spice Chest chapter as it offers a very clear overview of spice blends, not to mention the make ahead sauces.
Already I was able to get some of the spices that are required! Are there any spices you use that are harder to obtain?
A large chunk of the recipes work around or with the essential spice kit, and this is a very basic collection of 7 spices and aromatics that I think can be found anywhere. There are cases where I have used spices like asafetida and also flavors like fresh tamarind, which might be a little harder to find. I have been good about suggesting substitutions where appropriate.
What would you suggest someone do if they were allergic or could not obtain a specific spice?
Most things can be worked around, one just needs to know what they are trying to get at in terms of flavors. People are welcome to ask me, my site is Spice Chronicles, I am on facebook/spicechronicles and on twitter @wchestermasala. That is something that I like to emphasize, despite its appearance of complexity Indian cooking is actually very forgiving and highly adaptable making it very suitable for a variety of allergies and special diets. I have also included vegan and gluten-free indexes for easy reference. In particular, also included a lot of gluten-free breads and pancakes.
Already my hubby and I both have made some of the meals and picked out more to make. How did you come up with so many recipes that seem diverse, easy to make, and look so yummy?
Indian cooking has actually very diverse, with each state of Indian having its own very broad and evolved culinary heritage. One can write a book on every one of them, In fact, my first cookbook, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles is mostly focused on the cuisine of Eastern India. So, I had a lot of good and broad resources to work with.
In terms of keeping it simple, I essentially created recipes that would fit into a practical everyday lifestyle. I am a busy person with two young children and much as I love cooking I do not have loads of time to spare, so my recipes reflect that need to move along with things, get food on the table in an easy and manageable manner. That said, there are enough complex recipes that would keep you engages and working in the kitchen on a weekend or when you have more time on hand.
What recipe did you want to add but would not fit?
I fussed a lot with the desserts sections, as Indian desserts tend to be very time consuming. So, I would have probably liked a few more traditional recipes in there, such as a classic Gajar Halwa or carrot pudding. Other than that I am happy with the collection of recipes, I think it is a good balance of traditional and contemporary recipes. Of course, I love cooking and continue to experiment, that is why I have my blog, Spice Chronicles.
What’s your favorite recipe in Spices & Seasons?
You know that is like asking me if I have a favorite child! Well, it is difficult to narrow it down to just one recipe, however the Indian for the Holidays is a section that I had a lot of fun with. I also love the vegetable section, I think that section works and offers many good ideas and unique recipes for often overlooked vegetables such as turnips.
With so many meals what recipe(s) would you recommend a new cook start with first?
A new cook should first go all the way back to the Spice Chest, then look at my essential spice kit and then circle back to the first section on small plates. I think there are lots of easy and good starter recipes.
I have to admit! I am in love with this book and the diverse meals! I’m already looking forward to more.
In one sentence why should people buy Spices & Seasons?
It is offers a unique approach Indian that makes it manageable, sustainable, fun and delicious.
This is an amazing cookbook!
Spices, spices, and more spices!
First, it got me out of my comfort zone quite a bit. There are spices in here that I’ve shied away from for years! It also got my taste buds curious about these meals! We’ve already tried a few and I’ve absolutely loved them!
Ingredients that are attainable!
What makes this such a great cookbook is that the meals are accessible. The ingredients at first glance can look a bit daunting but really they are not. I live in a small town where I was worried that I would not be able to get most of these ingredients but we did not have many problems at all! The hardest that have been lentils! Which sort of surprising me because I thought every store would have lentils. We had to travel to a larger store to get some things but most were at our local store. Making these meals easy!
I was also able to prepare my list based on the ingredients which made setting up a list for our week a lot easier.
Most recipes are pretty straight forward and easy to cook.
The funny thing is my hubby has a much better palate than I do. He is not picky at all. So when I received this I went with a few recipes that I thought we would both like and then we both picked some that ventured us out of the comfort zone. It was so much fun! Some of the meals do take a bit longer to prepare than others, like the porridge takes four hours BUT Rinku set it up so you don’t have to stand over the stove for four hours. I was able to do other things and come in when the timer went off to stir. Easy, easy, easy! Even for a four hour recipe!
Tons of recipes that we tried and still more we want to cook!
All in all we’ve tried a few of the recipes so far and cannot wait to try some more. We’ve been able to venture into Indian cooking and love it! I think the only downside is that we have American tastes. A few things I wanted to add more salt to, and we’re not used to using a lot of half and half (called for in the rice pudding YUM!) but I’m getting a handle on it!
Favorite so far was the asparagus! This recipe was a shocker. This sauce was so easy to make but so delicious! Soy sauce and my hubby’s favorite, maple syrup! This was a really quick, really easy meal that tasted like the sauce took hours! We did not have an asparagus left in the house! Delicious!
In short: If you’re wanting something a bit different but not TOO out there give this a try. It’s fantastic and will leave you wanting more!