February 1, 2014

The Sood Family Cookbook : A Review & Pahaadi Kaala Chana Khatta

T

his cookbook came as a bit of a surprise, though a nice one as it turned out, as Harper Collins sent me a review copy without any intimation that it was on its way to me. This cookbook has a rather unassuming front cover of a hand sketched ceramic jar and couple of small oranges on the cover and the label on the jar reads “The Sood Family Cookbook – 101 recipes for every home” by Aparna Jain! The back cover of the book in contrast is quite colourful and covered with sketches of food and names of recipes giving one a clue of what’s inside.
Every family has its own treasured collection of recipes, and everyone will tell of a certain dish that could never be cooked by anyone else exactly the way their mother, grandmother, aunt, father, uncle or someone else cooked it. Aparna Jain has collected recipes from her immediate and extended family in India and other parts of the world, and put them together in this delightful cookbook. So you will find an interesting collection of recipes that are Pahadi (from her native cuisine), Indian, Thai, American, Italian, Swiss, etc.





You’ll find recipes for All-Day Breakfast, Home Food-Comfort Food, From Far and Near, Light and Healthy, for When Under the Weather, Anytime Eats, Chutneys with Oomph, Sood Grog, Sweet Somethings.
There are a sizeable number of vegetarian recipes in this book and examples of recipes you would find here include Sindhi Sael Dabroti, Pahaadi Raajroopiyama, Kashmiri Kofta Curry, Baked Tomato Spaghetti, Winter Swiss Fondue, Naj Thai Green Curry, Hanoi-inspired Salad, Bocconcini Salad with Kasaundi, Karela Soup, Snowdrop Cookies, Banana Bread, Pahaadi Maani, Nepali Tomato Chutney, Radish Khimchi, Diabolical Mulled Wine, Swamp Pudding, Stolen Narangi Preserve and an Infallible Chocolate Cake.

Each of the recipes start with a small introduction and invariably a family story connected it making the recipe a little more personal. Each recipe is also accompanied by colourful and beautiful hand drawn illustrations which must be mentioned. The illustrations by Ayesha Broacha, Priya Hegde and Anusheela give the book an almost old-world feel which is very inviting and a lovely change from the glossy food photography that’s the hallmark of most cookbooks these days (I like that too!).



 
The recipes are marked according to how easy or difficult they are to cook (most of them are relatively easy) and colour coded to mark them as vegetarian, non-vegetarian or containing eggs. The measurements of ingredients are mostly in cups and spoons for ease, and one nice thing is that many of the typically Indian ingredients are also provided with their Hindi names so that you don’t have to keep searching through a glossary if you come across an unfamiliar ingredient.

On the flip-side, there are many other ingredients which have been mentioned without perhaps realising that there are a large number of people who might cook from this book who don’t speak or understand Hindi. So for such people, terms like “dhuli urad dal”, “Sabut urad dal”, “malka dal” (I don’t know what this one is) don’t make much sense. So maybe a glossary at the end of the book might have been a good idea after all. I also found a reference to dill/ shepu bhaji  as soya leaves! I thought the former was a weed and the latter belonged to the ben family.  
The Sood Family Cookbook is worth looking through if you like to collect good cookbooks, or you want a book with recipes for good and simple family style fare that you can rustle up without too much of a hassle.

About the author:

Aparna Jain has a postgraduate degree in hospitality, and with technology in the Silicon Valley before working as marketing head for Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, and later at Tehelka. She runs her own marketing consultancy and Integral-based coaching practice called Zebraa Works. She also loves reading, learning to play the cello and cooking the occasional fancy when time permits.

I’m a stranger to Pahaadi cuisine and since this book has quite a few recipes from this style of cooking, I thought I would try one of them. Pahaadi cooking is the native cuisine of the people from beautiful Kangra Valley at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The word “Pahaadi” literally means “of the mountains”. 
I chose to make Pahaadi Kaala Chana Khatta which roughly translates to English as Tangy Black Chickpea/ Black Gram from the Mountains! Also known as “Chane ka Khatta”, this dish is an important part of the Kangri Dham which is a traditional Pahaadi festive lunch from the Kangra Valley.



 

My reason for picking this in particular dish was because it uses Bengal gram/ Black Chickpeas which is we use to cook with in Kerala and I was interested in exploring this new way of using them. When I started cooking the dish, what I discovered was that not only does this dish use an interesting mix of spices; it also doesn’t involve cutting any vegetables and can be put together in about 20 minutes!
Now that’s my kind of cooking. All it needs is a little planning ahead in terms of soaking of the chickpeas overnight and cooking it in the morning. The choice of souring agent here is amchur which is a beige/ brown powder made from dried raw mangoes. The addition of the jaggery at the end creates a nice balance of a hint of sweetness in an otherwise sour dish.



 
Serve this with chapathis, naan or even bread. I must mention that this way of cooking Kaala Chana is fast becoming a family favourite. I did change a few things in the recipe while cooking this dish. We haven’t acquired a taste for mustard oil yet, so I use my usual cooking oil instead. I wasn’t too sure what exactly “white” cumin seeds were so I used the cumin I normally cook with (I understand cumin can be white, amber or black). For me, the addition of jaggery is definitely not optional as I feel it balances out the tang of the amchur perfectly while giving this preparation a hint of sweet which we like.

The author does suggest that one could use potatoes in place of Bengla gram/ black chikpeas to make this idsh. I personally think even the regular white chickpeas would do well in this recipe.

Pahaadi Kaala Chana Khatta
 

Ingredients:

1 cup black gram/brown chickpeas with shell, soaked overnight
3 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp white cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek seeds/ fenugreek powder
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp dried mango powder (amchur)
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
2 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
1/8 tsp asafoetida (hing)
3 ½ cups water (optional)
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1/2 tsp jaggery
 

Method:

Boil the soaked black gram in a pressure cooker till it is tender (I added a pinch of baking soda to the chickpeas before cooking them to soften them). Drain the black gram but do not throw out the liquid.
Heat the mustard oil in a wok. When the oil is hot, add the cooked black gram and salt to taste. Add the cumin, fenugreek, chilli powder, dried mango powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds, and chickpea flour to the wok.
Sauté till you can smell the toasty chickpea flour. Add the asafoetida.  Add the water (I used the reserved liquid in which the gram was cooked and added a little more water to make up the quantity), and cook till the curry is slightly thick (like beasn kadhi).
Garnish with coriander leaves. If you feel the curry is too sour, then add the jaggery.
This recipe serves 4.

 

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