Living in a country where South Asian food tends to be associated with Northern Indian cuisine, Chitra Agrawal’s cookbook, Vibrant India brings a refreshing change. State-specific South Asian cookbooks are a rare find. Coming across one with a personal narrative and captures the cuisine from the south-western Indian state of Karnataka, suggests we are entering into an exciting time for South Asian cookbooks.
Filled with every day to special occasion dishes, Vibrant India connects food with family memories, traditions, and comfort. Recipes passed down from generations, rooted in sattvic dietary customs and reflective of a second-generation American of Karnataka descent. It’s family’s cookbook of sorts. One that is now publicly available to the DIY foodie, the traditional enthusiast and/or those seeking to diversify their South Asian recipe box beyond chicken tikka masala and palak paneer.
Whether planning a multi-course meal or cooking up a side dish, Vibrant India includes simple to complex, vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free recipes. Suited for the amateur or advanced chef. Chitra, the founder of the blog ABCD’s of Cooking and condiment company, Brooklyn Delhi, shares recipes for pickles to drinks, and everything in-between. In this beautifully photographed and illustrated book published by Ten Speed Press.
Each recipe also comes with a little story or fun fact. From the dishes name in Kannada, to details about an ingredient or the special occasion for the dish. The personal, cultural and historical snippets add a sweet, informative layer. For the person interested in more information, the introductory chapters offer a personal narrative of Chitra’s journey into the food industry and how her family’s belief system influenced their dietary choices.
Although not marketed as an “Ayurvedic” cookbook, Ayurveda’s dietary guidelines are apparent in the more traditional recipes. The taste profiles, fresh ingredients, seasonality and spice combinations are reflective of a sattvic family kitchen. One that veered away from rajasic and tamasic ingredients and followed Ayurveda with an orthodox approach. Over time, the practices shifted, but the traditional recipes still do not call for garlic.
Being familiar with Ayurveda’s basic dietary guidelines will be helpful if utilizing recipes for dosha balancing. If following a pure sattvic based diet, the rajasic and tamasic ingredients such as radish, chili or tomatoes can easily be omitted or substituted without much compromise to the integrity of the recipe. A worthwhile effort in lieu of hard to come by traditional South Indian recipes.
Another approach is to make the recipes according to the season. One of Ayurveda’s key dietary recommendations. If desired, the noted season with each recipe can also be linked to the corresponding dosha—fall is vata, summer is pitta and spring/winter is kapha dosha. A helpful way to contextualize the recipes to one’s personal constitution. Whether choosing to balance a dosha and/or eating seasonally, the ingredient’s quality and the quantity eaten are important considerations in Ayurveda. Vibrant India can help expand the recipe box with traditional South Indian recipes, while the approach to cooking and eating is an individuals choice.
As the years’ pass and we continue to migrate to other lands virtually or physically, the traditional recipes will evolve. Although there is beauty in change, the recipes orally passed down from grand to great-grandparents nourish the soul, our genetic make-up. In Vibrant India, they speak to cultural traditions that silently permeate through a land rooted in holistic, seasonal living. A way of eating that seems to be fading as generations pass on and with the year-round availability of ingredients. In Vibrant India, Chitra has not only captured her family’s recipes but also documented cultural traditions for generations to come.
Here’s what I’ve cooked up this season
- Hesaru Bele Carrot Kosambri, Shredded Carrot & Lentil Salad
- Huralikayi Palya, Green Bean & Coconut Stir-Fry
- Kumbalakayi Huli, Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Stew
P.S. If you are new to South Asian cooking, I recommend looking up some of the cooking techniques on YouTube. A visual I find helps with nuances that are challenging to document on paper such a tempering spices!