Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eating Well (and Vegetarian?) in India (Part II)

As promised in my last post, I'd like to do a roundup of my favorite dishes from my recent trip to Pune, in Maharashtra, India.

First and foremost, the sheer selection of vegetarian dishes was incredible. As I've said before, I've struggled with the question of whether to go veg for quite a while, and I pretty much don't eat meat in public anymore unless I know exactly how it was raised. But it is not very easy to eat well and avoid meat here. In recent years, I had thought that eating vegetarian had become easy, especially in Boulder, until I started actually trying to do it. Unless you have an infinite tolerance for cheese quesadillas and iceberg lettuce salads, there isn't much to offer in restaurants. And eating in my house isn't any better. I run out of ideas after about 2 meat free meals per week.

In Pune, it seemed to me that you could eat vegetarian every day for a year and try a different vegetable based dish every day. You definitely don't feel like you're missing out.

A few of my favorites (please forgive my lack of proper names) -

Dal - a soup of yellow lentils that seems to be eaten with most meals. It is significantly better than dal that you get in restaurants here. I am on record as hating lentil soup, and I really liked this.

Okra - a dish of sliced okra, rubbed in some spice and either sauteed or deep fried (I couldn't tell) was juicy, crispy, spicy, sweet and pungent all at once.

Paneer - I tried lots of different curries with paneer (a dry, pressed cottage cheese that has a similar texture to firm tofu). My absolute favorite was one made with coconut milk, spices and almonds. I've never had almonds in a curry before, and now I'm wondering why.

A few observations about grains... given my love of whole wheat bread, I was pleasantly surprised to find that whole wheat flat breads (called roti, I think) were served with all the meals I had. My hotel served breakfast of a flat whole wheat bread, almost like a thicker tortilla, stuffed with a filling which changed each day, from spinach to potato to cauliflower. Tasty, healthy and filling ... this is how I like to start my day.

Not so with the rice though. I didn't come across any brown rice, although white rice was served with every meal.

Finally, after my (attempt at humorous) rant last time about there being no desserts in India, I'll take that back and say that I did have some great desserts, although I was sorely missing a good flaky pastry.

Those doughy balls swimming in sugar syrup that you get in every Indian lunch buffet here? I definitely did not expect to ever like these. They actually have a name (Galub Jamun) and they are actually really, really good. Kind of like a denser, more fragrant version of tiramisu without the marscapone or alcohol.

And my favorite dessert was homemade - a cross between rice pudding, with some spices and grated carrot mixed in. It was delicate and refreshing.

I came away feeling inspired to stray from my typical European cooking style (Italian in summer, Irish in winter!) to experiment with more vegetable-centric cuisines. Any cookbook recommendations out there??

4 Responses:

k80c said...

I have a few book suggestions: one of my first and favorite vegetarian cookbooks - "The Savory Way" by Deborah Madison another one of hers is "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone".
A few years ago we found a book in the discount bin for $3.95 that was published, poorly, by Barnes and Nobel called "Regional Italian Vegetarian Cooking" by Paola Gavin. This book is woderful, we have nearly worn it out, always a good sign. she also has a French one You can get them on Amazon.
As far as Indian goes, Julie Sahni has a fantastic book, "Classical Indian Vegetarian & Grain Cooking", that I was really into a few years ago. Delicious food, complicated recipes= some fun cooking. Love your blog esp. the family brown bread recipe. It was nice meeting you this weekend.

jennysue said...

i second the Deborah Madison books - she is great. the "Veg Cooking for Everyone" is my staple. There's another chef/author my sister just told me about and i'm forgetting the name - i need to ask. and STEF, your blog is so good. now that i'm unemployed, i can stay up to date. :D

boulderhomecook said...

Thanks for the suggestions. Looks like Deborah Madison is a popular choice, and the other suggestions also look good. Thanks for being so supportive about the blog.

boulderhomecook said...

One more note --- k80c, it was very nice to meet you last week too. I was looking for your email through blogger but couldn't find it. Would love to keep in touch.