Cooking from the heart Gujarati-style (Prashad)

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Prashad is an Indian vegetarian restaurant in West Yorkshire that was named Best Restaurant by no less than Gordon Ramsay. The word “Prashad” means “sacred offering” and refers to religious food offerings left at temples. Amazon happened to recommend Prashad to me as I was looking at other UK-authored vegetarian cookbooks. I was instantly intrigued, as I am quite familiar with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern vegetarian cuisine, but Indian cuisine is relatively unknown to me other than some Indian restaurant standards like tikka masala and saag paneer. I’ve been vegetarian for over ten years and am always on the lookout for new dishes to add to my repertoire, and “Prashad” opened my eyes (and my spice cupboard!) to the myriad of flavors and textures in Gujarati cuisine and introduced me to new ways of cooking that will make it into my regular rotation, particularly how to make masalas and tarkas (heating spices in hot oil). Gujarati cuisine is also very vegetarian-friendly as it is strongly influenced by Jain vegetarianism and traditional Hinduism.

I reached out to Prashad through Facebook and the restaurant was kind enough to send out an autographed review copy from the UK. The book is written by matriarch Kaushy (her son Bobby is the current owner and manager of the restaurant). Kaushy’s four simple rules (fresh and fantastic, prepare, relax, and cook with love) and clear instructions make this flavorful vegetarian cuisine accessible to any level of cook. As many of the cooking utensils and ingredients were new to me, I particularly appreciated the illustrated guide to ingredients and utensils and the several pages of practical points, top tips and how to (roasting seeds, stopping eggplant from oxidizing, stopping dhal from foaming over, preventing tarka spices from burning, balancing spicy foods, etc.) Sharing extra food with friends and neighbors (“vakti vevar”) is also an important step to creating community bonds in Gujarati culture. The several sample menus in the back will allow you to create an authentic Gujarati feast for family and friends with plenty to share!

As this is a UK cookbook, recipes are in metric / temperatures in Celsius, but as I frequently cook using metric, this is no issue as long as you have a good kitchen scale. Many of the starters / appetizers are fried, but Kaushy also provides instructions for baking them for a lower-fat alternative, which I greatly appreciated as I try to avoid fried foods. You will also find variations that will add extra mileage, and serving suggestions on what to pair each recipe with (I liked that the page numbers were provided for quick reference and tabbed those so I could quickly flip back and forth between the two). Beautiful full-color photos on matte paper and colorful illustrations of elephants and geometric prints give a much-needed splash of color and makes the pages “pop”. At the back of the book is a guide of Kaushy’s suggested brands, although most may only be available in the UK or online (the only commercial brand I saw near me was Deep). The clear step-by-step instructions with helpful visual and auditory cues (“when the mustard seeds begin to pop, turn the heat to low”) make you feel as though Kaushy is standing next to you guiding you; Kaushy also gives cooking classes at The Cooking School at Dean Clough Mills, which I would love to attend.

I also loved the sample menus for special occasion feasts, weekend dinner party, and three sample quick midweek suppers. This section is particularly well-suited for new cooks, as Kaushy gives timing instructions for each step of the dinner so all the dishes are ready at the same time. This is extremely helpful and something which is frequently left out of other cookbooks.

The most difficult challenge will undoubtedly be finding the fresh Indian vegetables, pulses, and specialty flour blends locally; even with an Indian and Middle Eastern grocery store at my disposal, I was unable to source some of the more “exotic” ingredients like colocasia leaves, hyacinth beans, and bottle gourd, but found enough staples to make several of the dishes that caught my eye, including the pethis (garlic-coconut filled potato balls), handvo (seed topped lentil cake), paneer tikka (with homemade paneer that I added curry powder to from One-Hour Cheese: Ricotta, Mozzarella, Chèvre, Paneer–Even Burrata. Fresh and Simple Cheeses You Can Make in an Hour or Less!), ferar bataka (ginger-chili peanuts and potatoes), and chole. Some of the dishes like chole come together quickly, while others like the handvo require time for prep (the dough must ferment at least 12 hours). There is also a chapter on rice dishes and breads that includes many Gujarati staples such as rotli, bhakri, juvar na rotla, paratha, puri and bathura.

I have a notorious sweet tooth and am quite familiar with Middle Eastern desserts like baklava and basbousa and some Indian desserts like gulab jamun, but loved the carrot pudding, dhud pak (cardamom, almond and pistachio rice pudding) and mava lapsi (spiced fruit, nut, and cracked wheat pudding, which reminded me of the Ukrainian kutya) from Prashad. I enjoyed trying out some of the accompanying dishes like imli chutney; tamarind is easy to find in my town both fresh and dried, and I loved the tangy sweet-sour-spicy kick this gave to dishes. I am particularly fond of chutneys and pickles, which had always intimidated me before (I will admit to buying commercial chutney, which always seemed lacking or too sweet). I can’t wait to try the murabho (cinnamon and cardamom-infused sweet mango pickle) as mangoes are plentiful in my city; I use piloncillo in place of jaggery as it is much easier to come by in my neck of the woods.

Pleasing to the eyes and stomach, Prashad opened up a whole new world of flavors and cooking techniques from Gujarati cuisine; a second Prashad cookbook is currently in the works, and based on the fabulous recipes and cultural tidbits in the first book, it will be on my must-buy list!

(Thank you to Kaushy, Bobby, and the Prashad staff for the review copy and I hope to visit you in Drighlington one day!)

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