With his latest title, Twin Cities cookbook author Raghavan Iyer breaks down the complexities of Indian cooking, one how-to photograph and kitchen tip at a time.
Photo by ¬© TOP/Tate Carlson Raghavan Iyer's new cookbook hopes to unlock the mystery of Indian cooking. Details: Eden Prairie, MN - Job No. 6655 - 02.09 Febuary - EPM Eden Prairie Magazine: Farida Kathawalla, Raghavan Iyer, indian foodDate: Tuesday December 16, 2008 Photo by ¬© TOP/Tate Carlson 2008 Technical Questions: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 952.936.5184. EPM 02.09 6655
In retrospect, it’s a publishing no-brainer: A gifted culinary teacher and cookbook author combines both pursuits to produce an easy-to-follow field guide into the vast universe that is Indian cooking.
That’s the background behind “Indian Cooking Unfolded” (Workman, $19.95), the latest from Twin Cities resident Raghavan Iyer. The title’s “unfolded” has a literal meaning: Some of the book’s most essential recipes are fully illuminated with a series of how-to photographs spread across accordion-style folding pages.
It’s a conceit that could have gone into yet another Indian Cooking 101 direction — bookstores are full of them. Instead, Iyer veers his readers into far more productive dimensions while channeling his trademark cooking-class approachability into print.
It’s a book that especially caters to beginners and to the time-crunched. No recipe requires more than 10 ingredients, and rather than tripping up home cooks with hard-to-find building blocks, each spice, chile or herb is a supermarket staple.
“Unfolded” is a departure from Iyer’s earlier titles — his exhaustive “660 Curries” from 2008 and his autobiographical “The Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories From an Indian Childhood” from 2002. In some ways, the book’s extreme user-friendliness recalls the plain-spoken practicality of Iyer’s first title, the 12-year-old “Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking.”
While taking a break from the third stop on his 40-city book tour, Iyer, with his robust and easily triggered laugh at the ready, discussed India’s centuries-long history with fusion cooking, his brushes with reality television and why he has cut his number of visits to the Indian grocery store from twice a week to once every two months.
Q: After diving so deep into “660 Curries,” what inspired you to tackle the more mainstream “Unfolded”?
A: The premise of the book is about making things accessible, stressing essential techniques and using mainstream ingredients.
I didn’t want it to be a scholarly piece. The way that the book reads is the way that I am as a teacher. I’m right there in the kitchen with you, while you’re cooking. The book retails for $19.95, and there are 100 recipes, so for 20 cents a recipe, you can have me in your kitchen [laughs].
I came up with the constraint of making dishes with 10 ingredients or less, and when I first started working on it, I felt like I was cheating the Indian grocery stores. But it turned out to be an exhilarating experience. This book has really simplified the way that I cook.
Q: How has it been an exhilarating experience?
A: Initially, I felt like you really couldn’t execute Indian food without having access to all those multitudes of legumes and spices and herbs that are still very esoteric to the American audience.
So the freeing came when I started creating recipes and tasting. It was like, “Wow, this has the complexity it would have if I were to use 10 spices.” In my mind, it freed me to think that this was extremely doable, and I feel that it represents the true flavors of India.
Before I started working on the book, I used to go once or twice a week to an Indian grocery store. Now I go once maybe every two months. I’m sure the Indian grocer doesn’t like that, but it’s exhilarating to me.
I’ve discovered that I can go to a Whole Foods or a Kowalski’s and look around and say, “I want something comforting and Indian, and I want to be able to make it in a half an hour.” That’s what this kind of freedom is all about.