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Food Connects

Anu Kriti

By Vikas Khanna
Lake Isle Press, New York, New York, New York, USA, 2011, pp. 262, $ 24.95

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

A good cookbook is more than just a collection of recipes. It tells stories about the writer and the ingredients. It transports you to kitchens and markets both familiar and unknown. Based on these criteria, Flavors First is surely a success. If you watch Master Chef or live in New York, chances are that you are already familiar with its author, Vikas Khanna. Vikas grew up in Amritsar, watching and learning to cook from his grandmother, Biji. At seventeen, he opened a catering business and then moved to New York after studying hotel management in India. He worked his way up through the New York restaurant scene and is now considered one of the most talented Indian chefs in America. Flavors First compiles souvenirs from Vikas’s culinary journey. There is room in it for ghar jaisi dalas well as masala-honey Cornish hen with lavender. The book contains 138 recipes in all—93 of which are vegetarian—organized by broad food groups, such as poultry, legumes, and breads. Standard American measures are used throughout the book, however a handy chart at the end provides the equivalent metric conversions for readers’ reference. A useful introductory section describes spices, herbs, and vegetables unfamiliar to the book’s non-Indian readers. Even if you are familiar with methi and amchoor, you might occasionally discover fascinating tid-bits of food culture and history. Did you know that murabba originated in Gujarat? Or that archaeologists have found nigella seeds (kalaunji) in the tomb of Tutankhamen? Before testing recipes from a new cookbook, I spend weeks (sometimes months!) reading it as if it were any other book. I carry it with me on the subway, let it sit on the night-stand, admire a picture or two when in need of a break, and so on. It makes me feel like I am with the writer cooking in his or her kitchen—measuring the flour out, chopping the vegetables, or simply making a mess and dreading the pile of pots and pans in the sink. Recreating a recipe when all you have are written words requires immense patience. I often find this somewhat procrastination-like process of getting to know the recipes in a slow and steady manner extremely rewarding. I approached Flavors First in a similar manner and soon found the connection I was looking for. Whether you are an Indian cook looking for more globalized versions of familiar recipes or ...

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