Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: The Healthy Cuisine of India

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 1, 2005

Bharti Kirchner’s Healthy Cuisine of India is a great introductory cookbook to Indian (or at least Bengali) cuisine. Everything unfamiliar is explained simply, and the recipes are extremely tasty.

AuthorBharti Kirchner
PublisherLowell House
Length286 pages
Book Rating7

The Healthy Cuisine of India” is specifically about the cuisine of the Bengal region of India. This, according to author Bharti Kirchner, means an abundance of fish, kalonji seeds, a special Bengali five-spice, and black mustard seeds.

Bengali cooking uses many spices that are unknown or rare in the West. Besides the kalonji seed, you’ll find frequent reference to black salt, silver leaf, mustard oil, tamarind, and mango powder. These recipes also use a significant amount of ginger, cilantro, cumin, and turmeric. Kirchner devotes one chapter to explaining the use of these spices, as well as how to recognize and find some of the less well known items. She also explains how to prepare eggplant for cooking

The first chapter of recipes is devoted to dal. Dal means legumes: lentils, peas, and beans. The highlights here are “Onion Fragrant Red Lentils” (Musurir Dal) and “Green Split Peas in Zesty Mustard Sauce” (Matar Dal Shorshe Diyea). Chickpeas (Chholar Dal) are common here also and form the base for aromatic and spicy dishes.

Vegetarianism is common in Bengal, and the next chapter describes a number of vegetarian recipes. “Spicy Home Fries” (Siddha Alur Bhaja) is a mainstay and easy to prepare. Potatoes and eggplants make up the main part of many of these recipes. “Rich Roasted Eggplant” (Begun Pora), with kalonji seeds, green chili, ginger, onions, and tomatoes, is one of my favorites. Squashes and pumpkins, and then greens fill out the end of the chapter.

The next chapter describes many wonderful ways to make rice! From Saak Bhate (greens, chili, and coconut over rice) to lemon-laced rice and shrimp pullao, you can hardly go wrong with any of them. “Ginger-Scented Yogurt Rice” (Doi Bhat), with asafetida powder, ginger, chili, and cilantro is a festival of exotic flavors and one of the simplest to prepare as well. I love it!

There is also a chapter on flatbreads, with puffed breads and filled breads. And fish and seafood, with chili-mustard sauce, cashew-pistachio sauce, ginger-raisin sauce. Prawns, shrimp, crab, scallops, clams, and mussels join the fish at your table.

Poultry and meat are combined as one chapter. Chicken in rich ginger-poppyseed sauce and beef in rich cashew sauce are the high points of this relatively small chapter. But from there it goes on to the chutneys and raitas. We have mango chutney, tomato chutney, tamarind chutney, coconut chutney and plum chutney, and many more. I find the “Splendid Cilantro Chutney” (Dhane Patar Chatney) to be a splendidly tart way to use up leftover cilantro when recipes call for only a few tablespoons.

The final chapters detail drinks, including lassis and teas, as well as ‘teatime’ dishes; and then sweets. “Milk balls” in rose syrup, or in saffron cream sauce. Milk puffs in cardamom syrup. Golden mango cream. Amazingly simple, although I’m not sure how “healthy” some of these are.

The final chapter is titled “Dishes for the Adventurous”. These are not unusual by Bengali standards, nor are they particularly strange. They simply use ingredients that are not often found in the West: bitter melon, banana blossom, green papaya, and jackfruit. I’m afraid I haven’t tried any of these, but they do look like they would be worth searching out the ingredients.

I found “The Healthy Cuisine of India” to be a great introductory cookbook to Indian (or at least Bengali) cuisine. Everything unfamiliar is explained simply, and the recipes are extremely tasty—though you do have to like chili and spices. I strongly recommend this book for your kitchen.

Lebur Lassi

  • ¾ cup plain yogurt,
  • ½ cup water,
  • 3 ice cubes,
  • 2 tsp sugar,
  • 2 tblsp fresh lime juice,
  • ¼ tsp salt,
  • dash nutmeg.
  1. Combine yogurt, water, ice sugar, lime, and salt in a blender.
  2. Purée until smooth and bubbly and the ice cubes are crushed.
  3. Pour into a chilled glass.
  4. Sprinkle nutmeg on top before serving.

The Healthy Cuisine of India

Bharti Kirchner

My cost: $5.95

Recommendation: Wonderful

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