Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Nov 5th, 2017, 10:06 pm

TITLE: Rasika: Flavors of India
AUTHOR(s): Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam, David Hagedorn
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Cookbooks, Food & Wine, Regional & International, Indian
PUBLISHED: October 10, 2017
RATING: ★★★★★

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon iBookStore

Review: Rasika is one of the more innovative and acclaimed Indian restaurants in the USA. Its restauranteurs, Ashok Bajaj, James Beard, and award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam are the brains behind this groundbreaking Indian restaurant. Indian food is one of richer food heritages in the world, which makes it not easy to innovate and recreate classics to modern Indian cuisine while maintaining the integrity of its dishes; but the team at Rasika has successfully achieved that objective. The Washington Post has awarded Rasika four stars, its highest rating.

In turn you would be correct to think it would be hard to adapt the restaurant’s quality recipes for home cooking, but people will realise it’s actually not that hard after reading Rasika: Flavors of India. the effirt requires prep work, preparing the pastes or spices, and the dicing or chopping of veggies as with any other cuisine. I wouldn’t exactly call Rasika ‘Indian food made easy’ but it makes cooking Indian food more accessible as it’s restaurant quality food.

People don’t realise it, but lots of Indian recipes are actually free of gluten and vegan as well. Meals that use paneer (cottage cheese) or cream can be substituted with tofu and coconut cream (if required).

I love the autobiographical and introduction section of the book that provides us readers a glimpse into the lives of people behind this successful restaurant chain; how a person from India lands in London, and eventually to Washington, to open the most successful Indian restaurant in the country. A lot of time such sections can be a bit boring but in this instance, it was actually very interesting to read the culinary journey of both these individuals.

One of the best things I liked about Rasika is that it doesn’t concentrate on a particular type of regional cuisine from India, rather it takes inspiration and showcases recipes from various parts of India, as cooking and spices will differ from North to South, and East to West. The same vegetable or piece of meat will be cooked vastly different in different parts by use of spices prominent in that region and the taste palate varies completely.

As with any good cookbook, Rasika has a section that details specific utensils/kitchen equipment you will require to cook. The best section for me is the basic flavourings and sauces section, as it teaches and explains to you the techniques of base sauces and introduces you to the spices used in Indian cuisine, and how you can make and store a lot of them in the freezer to cook at ease. It explains tips to increase the flavours and also explains the various kind of sauces that are used for what type of recipes.

One drawback is in cases where the weight/amount of ingredients were given in ounces, pounds, and quarts rather than metric measurements, which are more adaptable around the world anywhere.

Borrowing from a blurb for the cookbook
Rasika incorporates local, seasonal ingredients to reinterpret dishes from one of the world’s richest and most varied cuisines. Inventive recipes like squash samosas, avocado chaat with banana, eggplant and sweet potato lasagna, and masala chai crème brûlée accompany reimagined classics including chicken tikka masala, grilled mango shrimp, and goat biryani, rounding out Rasika’s menu of beloved dishes and new favourites.

The book has 120 diverse photographed recipes from across India, which includes veggies, seafood, meat, poultry; I love the fact that there is a picture with every recipe. I utterly dislike it when there is no visual representation to any recipe. How would the cook know the appearance of the final product? I like the chutney/condiment and the desserts section collections as well. One of my fave recipes is:

SERVES 6 TO 8 Kulfi is a frozen treat, similar to ice cream, that was introduced to the subcontinent by the Moghuls in the sixteenth century, by way of the Persians.

1 quart whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon chopped saffron

1 cup canned Alphonso mango pulp, such as Ratnā or Deep brand
1 teaspoon grated lemon or lime zest
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped pistachios, preferably Sicilian

1 MAKE THE RABDI: In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, combine the milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered until the liquid has reduced to just over 2 cups and is slightly thick and custard colored, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Strain into a bowl.
2 Measure out 1 cup of the rabdi, transfer it to a large bowl, and refrigerate it to cool completely.
3 Stir the saffron into the remaining 1 cup warm rabdi. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate the saffron rabdi sauce.

4 MAKE THE KULFI: In a large bowl, combine the cooled rabdi, the mango pulp, lemon zest, rum, honey, and vanilla.
5 In a bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer into soft peaks. (Do not overbeat.) Fold the whipped cream into the mango mixture until completely combined. Fill freezer pop molds with the kulfi mixture. (See headnote.) Or line six 6-ounce ramekins with plastic wrap and fill them each with ½ cup of the mixture. Freeze for at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight.
6 To serve, unmold each kulfi by dipping the mold or ramekin in a bowl of hot water long enough for the kulfi to release. (If using lined ramekins, peel off and discard the plastic wrap.) Serve on a dessert plate with part of the kulfi overlapping a small pool (2 tablespoons) of saffron rabdi sauce. (If your sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of heavy cream.) Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and serve immediately.

There is a Bombay specialty street food called Pav Bhaji (mentioned as Pao Bhaji in the book) but my version is better and tastier than the recipe offered in Rasika. I am very picky about this dish and I very rarely order it when I dine out, as it is never as tasty as the one I make at home. It's the same situation with Rasika; they have 7 extra ingredients, and sadly, one of them adds bitterness to the dish that I disfavor and don't like. That's my main issue with the dish in the restaurants too, and no one has tried to improve the recipe to remove that bitter element from it. Also, there are no carrots in the recipe in India but was their addition to it. It's gratifying on a personal level to know my version is still better than the best Indian restaurant abroad!

Rasika is definitely a must-have cookbook for people who love to eat Indian food and would like to cook it at home; thus, an excellent addition to everyone’s cookbook library.
Nov 5th, 2017, 10:06 pm