MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
EVERY RECIPE TELLS A STORY
At the heart of every one of my recipes is a place called Gujarat. It’s where, as long as anyone can remember, our family came from. And although my family has now settled in England, we are still Gujarati, and day in day out we talk, think, and eat like Gujaratis.
Gujarat, a small state on the western coast of India, has had a very big impact on Indian food culture. It all started in 269 BC when Emperor Ashoka banned the slaughter of any living animal in the name of peace. Since that time, the majority of the millions of Hindus in the state have been vegetarian. Over thousands of years, a rich and resourceful vegetable-first way of cooking has evolved. Home cooks, restaurant chefs, and street-food stallholders alike have all been creating simple but extraordinary dishes, using just what grows on the land and is in season.
Walk the streets of Ahmedabad or Rajkot and you’ll come across simple but heavenly potato curries cooked with garlic, mustard seeds, and tomatoes. Or sweet corn cooked in a deeply savory sauce of ground peanuts and yogurt and eggplants that have been smoked over red coals until they become deeply mysterious and creamy.
I’ve long been fascinated by how this limitation of not cooking with meat has been the catalyst for new ways of thinking about and cooking with often familiar ingredients. Take the humble chickpea, for example. In Gujarati hands it has been transformed into a variety of dishes of different textures and forms—from the gossamer-like chickpea bread dhokla, studded with sesame and mustard seeds, to a silken handkerchief-like pasta called khandvi and even a meltingly soft fudge.
This is the Gujarati way: creative, fresh, and always vegetable first.
Although Gujarat in particular is famous for this, a similar story exists all across India. For hundreds of millions of people in India, vegetarianism is not a choice but a way of life.
I grew up here in England in a small farming village in Lincolnshire. Behind our house were fields bursting with potatoes, leeks, corn, and chard, and down the road, mustard, cauliflower, and all sorts of greens. Mum adopted and adapted, spicing all this produce to make our very own special dishes, from zucchini kofta to green bean bhajis, rhubarb chutney, and even rainbow chard saag. With every dish, you could see the Gujarati resourcefulness and creativity at work.
When I moved from our little village to London twelve years ago, I continued to cook in much the same way as my mum had. As the years passed, I began to notice how my family’s approach to cooking was so at odds with how most people thought about and experienced Indian food. While my family gravitated toward the fresh, the vibrant, and the seasonal, Indian food in the UK was often heavy, swimming in brown sauce and lacking in variety.
I’ve written Fresh India to follow Made in India because I want to show you another type of Indian food, one that is vegetable led and packed with bold flavors. This is the food I love, which is influenced by how Gujaratis think about food but also by each and every state of India and occasionally Sri Lanka too.
Some of the dishes in Fresh India have been passed down the generations in my family and haven’t seen the light of day outside our home until now. Many have come from my travels all over India and the people I have met along the way, from home cooks to street stall vendors, temple cooks to chefs in top restaurants.
Others have come from my experiments in the kitchen, taking classic Indian techniques and flavors and imagining something new. After all, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered what an Indian salad could look and taste like.
This is a book all about vegetables, but whether you call it a vegetarian cookbook is up to you. I’m aware I’ve written it at a time when a change is taking place in our attitudes toward both meat and vegetables. More of us are questioning how we farm, how we treat animals, and whether how we eat is sustainable, good for the environment and also for our health.
But my aim with this book is not to preach or to write only for vegetarians: it is to inspire you to cook a different, fresher, vegetable-led type of Indian food. To honor the seasons and what grows in our fields, and also to celebrate the way that hundreds of millions of Indians eat, and the Gujarati way of thinking.
Copyright © 2016 by Meera Sodha