COOKBOOK REVIEWVIJ’S Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine
By Vikram Vij and Meeru DhalwalaThis is not a restaurant review!
That said, one can’t help but have great expectations of the book based on the wonderful dining experience created by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala.
Vij’s has been an institution of sorts in Vancouver, BC since 1994, when it was in a tiny venue near the corner of Granville and Broadway. The little restaurant became incredibly popular even though customers had to line up outside. We would all happily wait in the cool misty drizzle while Vikram Vij brought out steaming cups of chai and little nibbles to keep us content and warm. It wasn’t long before they had to move to their present location just a few blocks south off Granville.
Their philosophy is to keep the spices and cooking techniques Indian while using local meats, seafood and produce. This makes most of the ingredients easy to find. A few of the spices may be a little more difficult to locate, but in most cases it does not deter from recreating the recipes.
The book is lovely to look at. The recipes rest on linen tinted pages, with photographs scattered throughout. Of all the photographs in the book, it was the more modest sized snapshots that captured the feel of the recipes and restaurant.
I enjoyed the Preface to this book more than most cookbooks. Vij tells the story of the restaurant’s life, from inception to maturity, and it reads much like a good curry tastes. From modest but hopeful beginnings, it is a tale of dedication, family, hard work, and romantic love, all mingled together. It is a good story.
The recipes are no more than moderately difficult, and many are dead easy. Some are time consuming, often because some element of the recipe has to marinate or cook for extended periods. The food is innovative, creative and tastes wonderful, but….in some cases it tastes, well, a bit thin. Indian food is all about layering flavours. In a few of the recipes tested it was as if a layer were missing. For those who have not dined at Vij’s, the point will be moot because the recipes do taste good. Some are just not as good as they could be. The Prawns in Coconut and Saffron Curry seemed literally too thin, as if there was just too much water in the recipe. But then, it really wasn’t such a problem to quickly convert to soup bowls and finish it up as such.
There is a nice mix of quick recipes, such as Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion Curry, that takes about 20 minutes to prepare, start to finish, (and is a wonderful combination of tangy heat from the yogurt and cayenne), to slow cooked meats like the Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry. I would have liked to have had an easy-to-read breakdown of preparation times so that menu planning would have been a little simpler.
Vij’s is a wonderful cookbook, and it is also the sum of many things: the romantic roots of family, love, and fulfilling dreams. Even though there are a few recipes that are less than perfect, the others make up for it. Try these two to see for yourself.Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion Curry
7 oz. green onions, (about 8 stalks)
1 cup plain yogurt, stirred
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon (ground) turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 eggplant, skin on, in 1 inch cubes, (I used Japanese eggplant)
2 cups chopped tomatoes, (2 large)
½ cup canola oil
Wash green onions. Chop white parts in rounds ¼ inch long. Remove and discard the hollow green parts. Chop the remaining green parts in rounds ¾ inch long. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Add eggplant, tomatoes and onions and stir well to make sure vegetables are well covered in the curry mixture.
In a shallow heavy pan, heat oil on medium-high heat for 45 seconds. Pour curry into the pan and stir well. Sauté for about 3 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through the cooking. Turn off the heat and stir once more. Remove the lid if you are not going to serve the curry immediately, or the eggplant will become too mushy.
Ladle curry into six bowls or plates. If serving with another curry, serve this one in a bowl, so that it doesn’t “run” on the plate.Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry
2 tablespoons ghee, or butter
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 lb. onion, finely chopped, (2 large)
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup pureed fresh tomatoes, (2 large)
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon, (ground) turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 ½ tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 whole piece cinnamon bark (about 32 inches long)
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock, fat skimmed off
½ cup red wine
2 ½ beef short ribs, bone removed and excess fat trimmed (each rib about 7 oz. raw)
In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, melt ghee on medium to high heat. (If using butter, melt on low heat and increase the heat to medium after adding the cooking oil.) Add oil and cumin seeds. Allow seeds to sizzle for 30 seconds, then add onions. Sauté onions 8 to 10 minutes, or until brown. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is golden brown and onions are a darker brown, about 3 minutes. The darker you sauté the onions without letting them burn, the richer the onion flavour will be in this curry.
Reduce the heat to low and add tomatoes, fenugreek, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, chili and cinnamon bark. Stir well, then increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring regularly, until ghee/oil separates from the tomatoes, about 10 minutes. Stir in stock and red wine and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until ghee/oil separates from the stock and rises to the top.
Add short ribs and stir well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Place one short rib in each bowl. Ladle curry equally among the bowls, pouring it over the short ribs.
Can you find the asafoetida?