What’s the USP? Why, it’s a big old book of vegan and vegetarian dishes drawn from the eternally diverse world of Indian food. Two hundred of them, in fact, organised by region.
I think you’ve misunderstood the concept of ‘USP’. It is true that this is far from the first Indian cookbook to hone in on the plant-based cookbook trend. There are already much-loved offerings from the likes of Madhur Jaffrey, Meera Sodha and Romy Gill.
This new title comes from Mridula Baljekar, an award-winning cookbook writer who has sold over a million copies of her titles, which frequently focus on the regional cuisines of India. This latest volume has a pretty flashy look by her usual standards – the vibrant cover art echoing the style of Gill’s recent Zaika, as well as Yasmin Khan’s Palestinian doppelgänger Zaitoun.
So a contemporary new look for Baljekar’s books? Well, not quite. The insides of the cookbook feel curiously dated. From the writing to the design, and even the glossy paper of the pages, Indian Vegan & Vegetarian has a distinctly textbook-esque vibe. The lengthy introductory section is filled with sub-headings and stock photos. Regional maps could be drawn straight from a Year 8 Geography lesson.
Textbooks do tend to be rather useful though, don’t they? They do! And Baljekar’s book is no different. Though it lacks stylistic pizazz, it is packed tightly with excellent recipes, pairing suggestions, practical advice and cultural insights. There are tips for variations and techniques that will aid the home cook, and the tremendous range of delicious and varied dishes manage to almost exclusively use readily accessible ingredients.
How often will I cook from the book? For those living their lives out of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, this could prove a definitive volume on their shelves. The sheer breadth of ideas on offer here mean that you could easily draw from this a couple of times a week without getting bored. The regional chapters allow readers to build up culturally-connected menus with ease too – Baljekar’s recipe introductions frequently include directions to appropriate accompaniments.
Very few of the dishes leap out as being genuinely innovative or even particularly exciting, though. Baljekar offers up plenty of authentic dishes, but those looking for dinner party show-stoppers or even something to brighten up a weekend dinner would be better served exploring other recent releases. Though the design of this book might allude to an era where bold ideas for vegan meals were a rarity, these days few major cookbooks are released where there are not at least a few delicious options.
Killer recipes: Baljekar’s Crushed Parsnips in Mustard Oil represent one of the few occasions where the book rears away from traditional Indian ingredients, and as such comes across not only as one of the most tempting recipes present, but also a potential way to inject some imagination into the sides at Christmas dinner.
Elsewhere the Batter-fried Spinach Leaves bring an echo of tempura to proceedings, and the Cinnamon and Clove Cheese Curry is a stand-out that combines some unexpected flavours in a very satisfying way.
Should I buy it? Baljekar is not offering anything new in Vegan & Vegetarian Indian. In fact, she’s continuing her long-standing tendency towards producing modest but thorough Indian cookbooks that forgo showmanship in favour of authentic regional expertise. This isn’t a must-buy volume, but it’ll be a rare home cook who can’t draw regular inspiration from it nonetheless.
Suitable for: Beginner / confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Indian Vegan & Vegetarian: 200 traditional plant-based recipes
£20, Lorenz Books
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas