Our Cookbook Club get together on April 14 brought all seven of us back together at Mariana’s beautiful home overlooking a stunning view of water and mountains on the west side of Bowen Island.
We could chose recipes from two Vij cookbooks – Vij’s at Home or Elegant & Inspired Vij’s. Vancouver residents are very familiar with the gourmet Indian cooking of Vikram Vij. His restaurants are almost always packed — and for good reason. Here’s an excerpt from Vij’s website describing his take on Indian cuisine:
Vikram Vij opened Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver in 1994, with Meeru Dhalwala joining him soon after to collaborate on a menu that would change the landscape of Indian cuisine in Canada. Using traditional Indian methods, spices and culinary influences, and pairing them with sustainable, local produce from British Columbia, they created one of the best-known and most beloved Indian restaurants in North America.
We all share a love for Indian food and so an evening of Vij-inspired cuisine couldn’t fail to please.
The evening began with a glass of Mariana’s wickedly strong and mouth-pursingly sour Gin & Tonic. Helen and I both hated it and could not gulp down more than a few sips, but the rest of the group loved it! I opted for a safe glass of white wine.
Becky passed around a plate of Potato Pooris from the Vij at Home cookbook. Made with potatoes, flour, fennel and Vij’s roasted cumin, the pooris are dipped in a sour cream, parsley, and mango chutney. The pooris were, quite simply, to die for. The word that comes to mind about the flavors is complexity. There was a lot to chew on!
I could have eaten the entire plate, but restrained myself, knowing that I was in for a marathon evening, sampling seven different dishes. But oh, those pooris! I will definitely be making them the next time I cook an Indian meal.
In the kitchen, pots sizzled on the stove top — salmon, soup, shrimp, rajma chawal, rice. The aroma of warm Indian spices filled the whole house.
We sat down at the table and started in on Helen’s appetizer–homemade chapatis wrapped around a generous dollop of spicy split pea dahl and sweet potatoes. The dahl was eye-wateringly hot and absolutely delicious paired with the sweet potatoes and beautifully cooked chapatis from Vij’s Elegant and Inspired book. I was too busy devouring the chapatis and dahl to take a picture. Just know that they were spectacular.
Next up was Jacqui’s Mushroom Medley soup made with potatoes, spices and lots of meaty mushrooms from Vij’s At Home cookbook.
The broth was very spicy with plenty of ginger, cayenne, and garlic mixed into buttermilk. Again – incredible! I could have just stayed with the chapatis, dahl and soup. My stomach was almost full when an overflowing plate of food landed in front of me.
I started with a helping of rajma chawal, otherwise known as kidney beans in tomato sauce. This was my contribution paired with a scrumptious tomato and onion relish, both from Vij’s at Home. I was a bit disappointed in my rajma chawal–the spiciness was too muted and the flavors a bit lacking. Fortunately, the tomato and onion relish was extremely good and I can attest to several more days of using it to spice up leftovers when I got home. It makes a particularly good dip for crackers. I’ll definitely be making the relish again. The rajma chawal improved with age as I found out when I had enough leftovers to enjoy two more dinners for two people.
Mariana made the salmon dish from Vij at Home. Chunks of grilled salmon were paired with cumin seeds. I would have liked a sauce and a bit more spice. Several of us declared the dish to be good but not all that “Indian” which is in keeping with Vij’s eclectic approach to his cuisine.
Corinne created a lovely shrimp dish from Vij’s At Home — pomegranate juice mixed with lots of cilantro and a curry sauce that was flavorful but not too hot. Kate’s cabbage cooked with black mustard seeds added a helping of much-needed veggies to the plate. I’m not a cabbage fan and did not find the dish changed my mind, although the mustard seeds were a nice touch.
Dessert consisted of a basmati rice pudding infused with fresh cardamon. Although full to the gills, I managed to find room for the pudding and found it lovely and warm and comforting. Kate refused to eat any of it even though she had made it because it reminded her too much of the rice puddings she was served as a child growing up in Ireland! But I doubt those puddings included cardamon and to my mind, that addition made all the difference.
The final verdict on the evening’s dishes was not quite as enthusiastic as it has been on other evenings, particularly our previous meeting with Ottolenghi’s Plenty. We found the dishes flavorful but not particularly Indian, even the spicy dishes. The word fusion was mentioned as a good descriptor of the cuisine. We also missed green leafy veggies–one of the features of our Ottolenghi evening.
We decided that for our next Cookbook Club meeting, we’d continue selecting cookbooks written by local writers. We chose the Whitewater Cooks series of cookbooks by Shelley Adams of Nelson, BC. With five cookbooks now out, we will have plenty to choose from. I can’t wait to dive in!