Unfolding the secrets of Indian cooking

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2013 - 3:41 PM

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.

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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: tate.carlson@greatwatermedia.com; Phone: 952.936.5184. EPM 02.09 6655

Photo: Tate Carlson • TOP,

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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.

 

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  • Recipes from Raghavan Iyer's "Indian Cooking Unfolded”

    Wednesday September 25, 2013

    poppadums with chile-spiked onion spread √Makes enough dip for 6 poppadums.Note: Poppadums are lentil wafers, usually found in the Asian...

  • Poppadums With Chile-Spiked Onion Spread, from Raghavan Iyer’s new “Indian Cooking Unfolded,” is simple to make and the ingredients are readily available.

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