Vikram Vij and his wife, Meeru Dhalwala, own maybe the most splendid Indian restaurant I've ever eaten at: Vij's, in Vancouver, BC. It has many unique facets: A women-only kitchen, run by Meeru; a warm, welcoming environment dim and flickering with candles, presided over by Vikram; an incredibly fragrant, fresh interpretation of Indian dishes that each take your breath away. These two passionate and ambitious restauranteurs also have a home life infused with the good food they share at their two restaurants. But until just a few years ago, they didn't have a proper dining room. The journey to creating a dining room, and cooking at home more often, is detailed in their new cookbook: Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey.
Indian cooking often appears elaborate, time-consuming, and strange to those of us who are not accustomed to it. It can be the last thing we turn to for quick weeknight suppers. But the recipes in the new Vij's book offer a different perspective. While the first Vij's cookbook (Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine) recreated the exotic, sophisticated dishes from the restaurant, Vij's at Home turns towards the home kitchen and dining table.
That dining table is a new thing for this cooking couple. They ignored their own home for a long time as all their energies went into their restaurant and their children. The dining room was a combination office and playroom, and dinner parties meant that guests held their plates on their laps.
That finally changed a few years ago, and the introduction to this book describes the vast change in their family life. They began eating breakfast together and cooking together with their girls more often. "After not realizing what we were missing, " they write, "the arrival of a dining table was like a balm to our lives. We've always loved cooking, but now our rewards are multiplied with the joys of being able to have friends over for dinner without any stress of rearranging kitchens and carrying folding tables and chairs. Simply put, we are less lonely with the freedom of being able to more often invite people over for a meal."
What a wonderful statement — how could we not love a cookbook that came out of such a realization and change? This book offers the sort of food that Meeru and Vikram cook at home: Many, many vegetarian dishes that can be made quickly, like Turnips and Tomatoes in Kalonji Masala, and Mung Beans in Coconut Curry. There are some meat and seafood dishes as well, like Fresh Fennel and Pork Curry.
They offer a guide to the spices they use, with notes on which spices really are optional. They talk about the role of the pressure cooker in Indian cooking, and wine pairings for their highly-spiced food.
And the whole book is illustrated with photos of them cooking at home with their two girls. There are all sorts of things I want to cook in this book, made accessible with Western measurements and terminology, paced and scaled for a weeknight cook. This is the kind of Indian food I want to cook!
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