I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
You won’t recognize many of the recipes in Vibrant India from your local Indian restaurant (unless it’s a South Indian restaurant – lucky you!) I am not familiar enough with South Indian food to give you a thorough explanation, but fortunately the author provides that in the first few sections of this book. She describes it as “a true celebration of vegetarian ingredients resulting in a perfect melding of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and savory flavors all on one plate”.
Of course, I couldn’t review a cookbook without trying a few recipes first. So far I’ve made recipes from the breakfast/lights meals, rice and bread, soups, stews, and lentils, and from scratch sections – you can see the full table of contents below (click to make the photo full size).
The first thing I made was Saaru (Rasam) powder – since I needed it for the second recipe I made. While the ingredient list and instructions seem intimidatingly long given that it’s a spice mix, the preparation is actually simple. You just need a little patience to toast each spice individually, then grind everything together and make your kitchen smell delicious.
Saaru powder in hand, the next recipe I tried was spicy and sour tomato lentil soup – which, fittingly, is a type of saaru. The main flavors are all in the title – tomato, red lentils, and saaru. It’s finished off with tempered spices. We loved this recipe – who doesn’t love a good lentil soup?
I also made some spicy sweet potato buns to go with the soup (can you tell I was excited to start trying these recipes?) It’s hard to go wrong with some good buns, and these have a unique spicy-sweet flavor profile with sweet potatoes, chile peppers, and herbs. Also they look pretty:
We’ve also tried the roasted kabocha squash and coconut milk soup (love) and the vermicelli noodle stir-fry (good, but not my favorite). And there’s a long list of recipes I still want to try: breakfast crepe recipes, lime dill rice with pistachios, curry leaf popcorn, chile watermelon juice, and more.
This book is written for an audience unfamiliar with South Indian cooking, so there’s an extensive front section on ingredients, techniques, and tools. The recipes themselves include plenty of detail to follow along with.
The recipes include serving suggestions so you know what dishes would commonly be served together. There’s even a full section in the back of the book with sample menus.
Things to know
Unsurprisingly, there are many different spices used in Vibrant India. If you try to get by with what’s already in your pantry, you may be limited in what recipes you can try. At the very least, you’ll want black mustard seeds, asafetida, and curry leaves for most of the savory recipes.
Because our spice collection borders on extreme, the only thing I needed to buy was curry leaves. No, I did not find fresh curry leaves in small town Montana – I ended up ordering these dried ones (affiliate link). I’m not sure I’ve had anything made with fresh curry leaves, so I can’t say how these compare, but they have a strong spicy-bay-leaf smell and made a noticeable flavor difference, so I’d venture a guess that they’re decent quality.
There’s also a lot of coconut in the recipes. Honestly, I’ve been leaving it out (unless it’s coconut milk) because neither of us likes coconut. I’m sure it makes the recipes less authentic, but if you’re on team no-coconut, know that you can enjoy this cookbook without it.
The one drawback of this book, for me, is suboptimal use of photo space. The photos themselves are beautiful – but there are several photos of the ingredients for a dish rather than the finished dish. When making something unfamiliar, I’d much prefer a photo of the final product.
If you’re interested in buying Vibrant India, the cover thumbnail below will take you to the Amazon page (affiliate link):
Have you tried South Indian food?
What recipe from Vibrant India would you make first?