Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ginger and Ganesh

The little book club has read some great books over the last several months; Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and now we are The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Don't tell, but I haven't even started the last one because I've been reading three or four other books. One of them, I tried to convince the gals to read because we've read some longish books and we're all super busy right now (them more than me). I grabbed Ginger and Ganesh at the library the other day because how could a I pass up a book with a subtitle of "Adventures in Indian Cooking, Culture and Love"? I thought we could read and bring dishes from the book to the discussion. I figured the Indian theme would work well with all the past books we covered, but my dedicated group was not willing to slack off and take on a fluff book even if it meant Indian food. I love them! We have some of the best discussions I've ever had in any group so I honestly appreciate the time everyone puts into reading and the thoughtful conversations which come about. I did go ahead and read Ginger and Ganesh on my own and while I'm glad I did, it is really not little book club worthy. However, if you are looking for a light read and some really great vegetarian Indian recipes, but don't mind some pretty sub-par editing (I know, I'm one to complain, but reading my blog is free) then get your hands on Ginger and Ganesh. The recipes are fun to read because they aren't very precise and leave timing up to interpretation, which I like. I would rather have clues to how the dish is supposed to be progressing, like "saute until brown", instead of "saute for two minutes". One or two recipes suggest vegan versions, but all of them seem vegan or easy to veganize. It is a tad paneer heavy, but I've always thought of tofu and paneer as cousins. (I've never tasted paneer, but it is supposed to take on the flavor of the dish much like tofu.)
The story around the recipes was also interesting to me. I'm an Indiaphile. My love of India started years back even before I became vegan. Then becoming vegan made my love for Indian food grow, which made my interest in all things Indian expand even more. Working in tech jobs meant I had lots of opportunities to make friends from India. Rob and we planned a trip to India twelve years ago, around that time I became pregnant with our first child. Then we had a scare with the pregnancy (long story), although my yoga instructor (in Maryland) at the time was super supportive and great in aiding me to relax during that very trying time, she also suggested we postpone our thoughts of traveling around the world until after my son's birth. Throw a move to Illinois in there and a new job for my husband, even before Parker was born, and India was pushed out of our minds, if not our hearts. You know how life has a way of moving on. Nani Power, the author of Ginger and Ganesh, does something I've always wanted to do and learns to cook Indian food from several Indian women from various parts of India. Power lives in Northern Virginia which is a great part of the country to get to know people from almost anywhere, but the fact that she was able to enter so many strangers' kitchens to learn their cooking secrets is next to amazing. She also talks about attending a festival which makes me miss the Hare Krishna temple in Potomac. Power is divorced and her way of finding love, seeking spiritually, and enjoying food reminded me of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, which I watched recently on Netflix and Emily dropped off her copy of the book last weekend so it is something else I'm reading. I agree with Power's admonishing of the way Americans eat. She is vegetarian, but does not proselytize, for better or worse. She covers how Americans have lost the art of cooking. We rarely touch food with our hands. The act of picking out produce, chopping, adding spices, smelling when to add the next ingredient, sensing our food, infusing the food with nutrition and love are essentially lost in our culture. We prefer to use jarred sauces and bagged salads for the sake of convenience, but are we truly gaining time and if so, what are we spending this time on once we have it?
Josie begged me to buy a couple heads of cauliflower at Common Ground Co-op last week so Ujala's Gobi Fry (Spiced Cauliflower) on page 113 was an obvious choice. Josie couldn't wait to eat the cauliflower so she ate some at every stage of cooking. We roasted the cauliflower in the oven, per Power's optional instructions, instead of deep frying. It was a perfect balance of spices and not too oily.
Jasmin's Mattar Pulao from page 97 also caught my eye since we didn't have to substitute anything to make the dish vegan and we had all the ingredients on hand. It makes a lot of rice (four cups uncooked basmati) and is a great accompaniment for any Indian meal. Josie is a fan of anything with peas (mattar). The kids could not get enough of the layers of flavor in this rice dish. It was all gone within twenty-four hours. Rob and I had ours with Indian pickled mango.
We added roasted asparagus to the meal, but Josie ate a lot of asparagus raw (just the stems, not the tops, crazy kid!) and all the kids stole some cooked stalks before it made it to the table. I can't wait to try out another recipe from Ginger and Ganesh. Vegan Indian potluck anyone?

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