A roadmap, for cooks and armchair travellers alike, to one of the world’s richest and most diverse culinary regions, by the authors of Seductions of Rice and Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
From Sri Lanka to Pakistan, from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal and northern India to the lushness of Bangladesh and southern India, the Subcontinent has always been a source of wonder, and for people who love food and cooking, it has forever been a part of the world unlike any other.
Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford have been making trips to the Subcontinent, separately and together, for over thirty years. As the couple says, “A trip to the Subcontinent has become a great gift; we come home feeling more alive, more connected.” On their frequent visits, they are continually reminded how good everyday food is, both street food and home cooking. Whether it’s a simple dish of rice and lentils, a masala dosa, or a tender grilled fish served with hot tandoor bread and fresh coriander chutney, food doesn’t have to be elaborate to be good, or to be special.
Jeffrey and Naomi explore the Subcontinent and its cuisines, seeking out authenticity as they go. Their stories, along with their breathtakingly diverse photographs of places, people and food, allow us to experience with them one of the most visually stunning places on earth. Their recipes are tailored for the North American home cook, and for every occasion. Mountain Dal with Bhutanese Red Rice makes a perfect last-minute weeknight supper, while Cashew-Coconut Meatballs, Goan Fish with Green Chutney, Banana Pachadi, and Bean Sprout Salad make a dazzling yet easy-to-prepare feast for a dinner party.
Mangoes and Curry Leaves is a very accessible and practical resource, and an intriguing introduction to one of the most extraordinary culinary regions of the world, served up with a little slice of life on the side.close this panel
There's a shared sensibility in the Subcontinent when it comes to matters of eating. People almost always eat using one hand (the right hand), and they very seldom use utensils. This may not sound like a big deal, but we think it is. Time after time we watch foreigners come to the Subcontinent and have a very difficult time at first, eating without utensils and using only one hand. But interestingly, almost everyone breaks through, and when they do, they are entirely converted. Eating by hand influences how food tastes and how we relate to it. It's so sensual, so direct. But when we go back home, no matter how hard we try to resist, out come the utensils. Eating is a very culture-bound tradition.
One of the great pleasures of eating in the Subcontinent is that styles of eating by hand differ from place to place. When northerners eat rice, they pick it up with the tips of their fingers and then use their thumb to push the small amount of rice into their mouth. In southern regions, people eat rice using the entire hand, forming a ball of rice (approximately the size of a golf ball) by gathering the rice into their palm, flicking the wrist sideways to shape it into a mass, and finally tossing the entire ball into their mouth.
As a foreigner, it's fun to watch and learn, to try to imitate (though a style doesn't come quickly). After a while, when you think you've got it down, the style itself feels somehow crucial to the food, as if that particular food has to be eaten in that particular way. And if you eat by hand, when you're finished with your meal, you still have tasty little bits on your fingers, and then later, even after you've washed your hands, there's a delicious aroma that lingers. As foreigners we find all this wonderfully addictive, and so we can only imagine how important it would feel if we'd been eating this same food in this same way all our lives, and how unsatisfying it would feel to eat with utensils.
Recipe: Sweet Yogurt Sundae with Saffron and Pistachios
Yogurt makes a simple and attractive sweet course or cooling snack-treat. This version of sweetened yogurt from Bengal is called mishti doi, doi being Bengali for "yogurt." The yogurt drains for an hour to lose its bitter whey and to thicken a little, then it is blended with jaggery (palm or crude sugar) and flavorings. Use good whole-milk yogurt, preferably organic. Serve in small bowls or tall sundae glasses and top with pistachios, or with pomegranate seeds or chopped toasted almonds.
• Line a large sieve or colander with cheesecloth or coarse cotton.
• Wet the cloth with water, then place the sieve or colander over a bowl. Place the yogurt in the sieve to drain for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
• Turn the yogurt into a bowl and set aside. Use the whey for another purpose (it makes a refreshing drink and can also be used in place of lemon juice to curdle milk for making chhana and paneer), or discard.
• If using the saffron, lightly toast the strands in a small dry skillet over medium heat, until brittle. Add the milk and cardamom or nutmeg, or if not using saffron, heat the milk and cardamom in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer, and simmer briefly, until the cardamom releases its scent (and the optional saffron gives off its color). Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar or honey until dissolved.
• Whisk the mixture into the yogurt. Use a ladle to pour the yogurt into glasses or bowls. Top with a sprinkling of nuts or pomegranate seeds, and with a little more sugar if you wish.
• Serves 8
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s four previous books have all been major award-winners. Flatbreads & Flavors and Hot Sour Salty Sweet both won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year Award (in 1996 and 2001 respectively). Seductions of Rice and HomeBaking, their most recent book, each won a Cuisine Canada Cookbook Award (in 1999 and 2004). Naomi and Jeffrey have written for all the major food magazines in Canada and the U.S., including Gourmet and Food & Wine, and also for the National Post. They live in Toronto with their two sons.close this panel
“Random House Canada continues its impressive cookbook program with another lavish volume from world travelers Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.”
–Quill and Quire
“What is left to say about the astonishing husband-and-wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid?...This wonderful coffee table book is the result of multiple trips over three decades to the Indian subcontinent…Alford and Duguid have gathered a breathtaking range of recipes…The book’s gorgeous design is filled out with the authors’ own luminous travel photos…Mangoes and Curry Leaves is so fascinating it renders one virtually speechless.”
–Quill and Quire