When I started working on my cookbook series, I decided I wanted several of the books to be by Canadian authors. In my search, I came across Everyday Indian, written by Bal Arneson, who lives in Vancouver. When I found it was a cookbook about simple, healthy Indian food, I was sold.
I love all the kinds of Asian food I’ve eaten, and Indian is right up there. But I’ve never cooked Indian food at home, so I was intrigued.
The design of the book is clean and simple – just like the food. Arneson has been teaching cooking classes for years in Vancouver, introducing her cooking philosophy to her students. Now the rest of the world can learn too.
Arneson emphasizes cooking with no butter or cream, using simple ingredients, and making recipes that don’t take much time. I had never really looked at an Indian cookbook before, so everything was interesting to me. I can make my own rotis? My own chutney? My own garam masala? Awesome!
Arneson begins the cookbook by introducing many of the spices essential to Indian cooking. But she also says that in her village in India growing up, her mother used two spices: garam masala and turmeric. When she came to Canada, she couldn’t believe all of the exotic spices and ingredients that were at her fingertips.
The book includes recipes for several different spice mixes, including garam masala, chat masala, and chana masala. I decided to make the garam masala spice mix, and see how it compares to store-bought mix. I also made the chat masala mix, although I haven’t used that one yet.
To buy my ingredients, I visited the Spice Centre for the first time. It’s an Indian grocery in Little India here in Edmonton, over at Calgary Trail and 34th Avenue. I spoke with the owner, Amrit Bindra, who was more than helpful and explained many of the different spices on my list. I bought things I’ve never cooked with before: fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, mango and pomegranate powder, and dried curry leaves. I also picked up a few more familiar things: cumin and coriander seeds and cinnamon sticks.
At home I roasted a mix of the spices in the oven and ground them up in my spice grinder. It was a strong, heady blend. Rough and dark brown, it was miles above the bland, fine-textured store-bought garam masala. Even taking a sniff out of the jar was delicious.
The yam and cauliflower dish I made with the store-bought garam masala was delicious, don’t get me wrong. But the Sunshine Organics chicken breast chunks I sauteed with garlic, ginger and my own garam masala was divine. One of the most flavourful things I’ve ever cooked in my life. Hands down. After mixing it with fresh mango and setting it on a bed of lettuce, the mango chicken salad was a refreshing, aromatic lunch. I kept stealing bites of the chicken-mango mixture from the refrigerator over the next 24 hours. That’s as long as it lasted.
There are plenty more recipes in this book I want to try (I have a feeling that after spending the summer discovering new cookbooks, my cookbook shelf will be a lot heavier and my wallet a lot lighter). The baked samosas, homemade paneer, no-butter chicken (made with yogurt), and homemade Chai are at the top of the list.
This book was just released this Spring, so I’m not sure if it’s hit bookstores in Edmonton yet. But you can definitely buy it online or borrow it from the library. And trust me – if you have time for a trip out to the Spice Centre, making your own garam masala is so worth it.
You can hear more about Everyday Indian on the second instalment of my cookbook series tomorrow on CBC Radio One, 740 am, 93.9 fm, or click here to listen live. It’s on Radio Active, between 3 and 6 every Monday afternoon.