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Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood


Growing up in Bombay, Raghavan Iyer was immersed in a colorful, flavorful world of homemade Southern Indian cooking and irresistible street food (forbidden by his mother and sisters, but too good to pass up). In this touching, vivid, and expert cookbook, Iyer—now a successful caterer and cookbook author—returns to the recipes and memories of his delicious upbringing: rich curries and stews, irresistible rice dishes, spicy chutneys, crispy poori breads, grilled kebabs, savory ...

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Growing up in Bombay, Raghavan Iyer was immersed in a colorful, flavorful world of homemade Southern Indian cooking and irresistible street food (forbidden by his mother and sisters, but too good to pass up). In this touching, vivid, and expert cookbook, Iyer—now a successful caterer and cookbook author—returns to the recipes and memories of his delicious upbringing: rich curries and stews, irresistible rice dishes, spicy chutneys, crispy poori breads, grilled kebabs, savory vegetable samosas, ginger-spiked chai, and sweet fruit desserts.

With clear recipes that even a novice can master, this richly woven, deeply personal, and above all authentic cookbook brings Southern India to life. Anyone who likes to cook, loves Indian food, or is fascinated by Indian culture will relish the recipes, anecdotes, and reflections in The Turmeric Trail.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Every recipe tells a story in Raghavan Iyer's memoir-cum-cookbook evoking his childhood in Bombay, now called Mumbai. The recipes are delicious and exotic, while the stories range from nostalgic to poignant and, occasionally, extraordinarily painful. The latter includes the story of his grandmother, who married at age eight, became pregnant a few years later, and was beaten by her husband every night for years until her oldest son grew up and rescued her and his younger brother.

Interspersed with the stories are the food Iyer grew up on -- Tamilian foods like idlis (steamed cakes), dosais (lacy crepes), and sambhar (spicy stews). Later on, he was introduced to the food of northern India -- the hot naans, creamy spinach sauces, and delicately spiced basmati rice dishes. There are also street food dishes that rarely made it in to the homes of North or South, like Pista Baadam Paal, steamed milk with pistachios, almonds, and sugar.

Iyer does a very thorough job explaining the herbs, spices, and legumes of the Indian pantry; more than 60 varieties of beans, peas, and lentils are commonly used and form the backbone of Indian cuisine. (Ginger Curwen)

Library Journal
Born in Bombay, Iyer has lived in the United States since the early 1980s. A cooking teacher and chef, he's also the author of Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking. Here, he presents his favorite recipes from his southern Indian childhood, along with reminiscences and anecdotes about his beloved grandmother and the rest of his large extended family. The recipes are clear and detailed, with many useful tips on ingredients and techniques, but the prose is often fulsome and clich d. With an ever-increasing number of good Indian cookbooks available, including Smita Chandra's excellent Cuisines of India, Mridular Baljekar's Secrets from an Indian Kitchen, and Maya Kaimal's Savoring the Spice Coast of India, Iyer's contribution is an optional purchase for most libraries. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312276829
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/29/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.82 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Raghavan Iyer

Raghavan Iyer is a chef/caterer and cooking instructor based in Minneapolis. His first book is Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking (Hungry Minds, April 2001). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1982, at the age of 16, and has returned to India several times to research the recipes of his family. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface: Akka's Journey xi
Introduction: Indian Cooking, North and South 1
Herbs, Spices, and Legumes in the Indian Pantry 3
Baahar Ka Khaana--Street Foods of Mumbai 13
Naashta--Snacks 47
Subzi--Vegetables 61
Dals--Lentil-Based Stews 91
Sevai, Idlis, Aur Kozhakuttais--Noodles, Cakes, and Dumplings 117
Murghi, Gosht, Aur Meen--Poultry, Meat, and Fish 141
Maa Annapurna--A Tribute to the Rice Goddess 159
Rotis--Breads, Pancakes, and Crepes 181
Chutneys, Achars, Aur Masaalas--Relishes, Pickles, and Spice Blends 203
Mithai--Sweets 227
Mail-Order Sources 243
Index 245
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SUKHA BHEL -- Puffed Rice with Green Mango
Serves 8

The word sukha is really a misnomer, since it means "dry" and this dish is wet thanks to the tart lime juice. I prefer this combination to the one with gilla Bhel [see book] because I love the freshness and clean taste of freshly squeezed lime juice that barely coat the vegetables without overpowering them.

1 cup finely chopped peeled, unripe green mango
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled, cooled, and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 fresh Thai, cayenne, or serrano chilies, finely chopped
Juice of 1 large lime
1 package (1 pound) bhel mix (see note)

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the bhel mix.
  2. Just before serving, add the bhel mix and toss well. Serve immediately.
Bhel mix is available in Indian grocery stores. It is a mixture of turmeric-stained puffed rice (murmura/moori), very fine fried garbanzo bean flour noodles (sev) and pieces of flat crispy bread (poori). It has a relatively long shelf life (like potato chips) and can also be eaten as is for a snack.

The texture of this dish is very important -- since you want to experience the bhel mix's crunchiness with the vegetables' relative softness. For this reason, combine the wet and dry ingredients just before serving.

The vegetable mixture can be prepared up to two days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

ADRAK CHAI -- Ginger-Spiked Milk Tea
Serves 4

Chai, that milky sweet and spicy brew, is the lifeblood of India's social, political, and business gatherings. In a store selling silk sarees, when you are faced with a choice between the flame red silk laced with gold or the midnight purple with a sea green border and green leaves, the owner will offer you a cup of hot chai in a stainless steel tumbler to enlighten your decision. Visit your best friend or close a hostile business deal, but first sip chai. Stroll down the dry streets of summer Mumbai or wade through a flood of standing water in the harsh monsoons, but do take a moment to sip chai, available on every street corner, hawked by vendors everywhere. Chai: Darjeeling tea stepped with milk, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and a kick of black pepper. This adrak chai is quintessential Mumbai: bold, spicy, and sensuous.

The red double-decker bus waded through the murky, fudge-colored waters in the gray morning of a typical June day -- ah, monsoons in Mumbai, you've got to love them! Pervasive dampness, clinging to moist skin and polyester clothing, climbing up a woman's petticoat under her six-yard saree, seeping through leather clogs by Bata Shoes, failing to keep the soaked, virulent waters from invading every core of your being. Raincoats, umbrellas, and gumboots (those knee-high rubbers often worn by garbage collectors) are ineffectual in their battle with the sorrow of the pregnant clouds. I gingerly stepped from the bus into knee-deep water and waded to the entrance of the college canteen, joining my friends huddled together, deep in discussion of the upcoming practical on frog, earthworm, and cockroach dissection. The gory details never bothered even the daintiest stomach as gulps of steaming hot chai with freshly crushed ginger and cardamom provided comfort against the angry downpour.

2 cups water
4 teaspoons loose Darjeeling black tea leaves (or 5 tea bags)
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped gingerroot, crushed
1 teaspoon cardamom seed (removed from pods), crushed
4 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk or 4 teaspoons sugar

  1. Bring the water to a rapid boil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tea leaves and brew for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, taking care not to let the milk boil over.
  3. Strain the tea into cups. Served immediately.

Crush gingerroot using a mortar and pestle for 1 to 2 minutes, until some juices are released. Use the crushed gingerroot along with any residual liquid to flavor the chai.

Crush cardamom seed with a mortar and pestle until they are coarsely cracked. You can also place the seed between layers of plastic wrap and crush with a rolling pin.

You can use reduced-fat milk, but whole milk results in a richer tasting and creamier brew.

ZEERA CHAAWAL -- Cumin-Scented Basmati Rice
Serves 4

In this dish, the haunting sweetness of basmati rice is enhanced by the caramelized combination of stir-fried red onion and nutty cumin seed.

1 cup uncooked basmati or long-grain rice
1 tablespoon Ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 small red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt

  1. In a small bowl, cover the rice with water. With your fingers, gently swish the grains until the water becomes cloudy; drain. Repeat 3 or 4 times until the water appears almost clear. Cover the rice with cold water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes; drain.
  2. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seed and sizzle for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onion and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown.
  3. Stir in the rice, water, and salt; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, stirring once or twice, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until almost all the water has evaporated. Lower the heat as far as possible and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the burner and let the pan sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork or spoon to release the steam.

I always serve this rice as an accompaniment to more full-flavored curries and stir-fries. Even a piece of simply grilled fish served on a bed of zeera chaawal makes for a satisfying meal.

Copyright © 2002 by Raghavan Iyer.

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