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Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, Past and Present

Maggie Borden

January 27, 2016

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For most people, the phrase “Indian cookbook” is synonymous with one name only—Madhur Jaffrey. The multiple JBF Award winner and “Godmother of Indian cooking” has been shaping our conceptions of the edible Subcontinent for nearly a half century, and shows no sign of slowing her prolific pace. Her most recent tome, Vegetarian India (Knopf), garnered rave reviews from the press and chefs alike. Next week, Jaffrey will share stories and insights from the book at our monthly Beard on Books reading series. In honor of her legacy, we’re dipping back into the archives to sample her last literary Beard event, a dinner from April 1995, that showcased recipes from her cookbook, Flavors of India (Carol Southern). Read on for a glimpse of the theme and the menu, and join us on February 3 to see what has fellow veg-heads April Bloomfield and Yotam Ottolenghi so excited. 

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Regional Indian Dinner
Madhur Jaffery, author of Flavors of India
Saturday, April 22, 1995

For every bite of chewy naan, puffy poori, or succulent tandoori chicken you’ve savored in this country, you might want to thank Madhur Jaffrey. Hailed as the Julia Child of Indian cookery, Jaffrey penned her first, ground-breaking Indian cookbook over 20 years ago; and she hasn’t extinguished the fire in her tandoor oven since.

“One of the ten people who changed the way New York eats,” trumpeted New York magazine. “The finest authority on Indian cooking in America,” piped Craig Claiborne of the New York Times. With An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Vintage) Jaffrey showed Americans that Indian food means more than just curry. Eight cookbooks later, she has expanded her horizons (and ours in the process), writing about a variety of exotic cuisines in books such as Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cookbook (Knopf), 1994 James Beard Awards Cookbook of the Year Madhur Jaffrey’s A Taste of the Far East (Carol Southern), and her latest Flavors of India (Carol Southern). 

Whether it’s samosas or satay, Jaffrey is adept in most Far Eastern kitchens. But it’s clearly the cuisine of her homeland that drives this multitalented muse of food. “Indian food is light years ahead of where it was when I wrote my first book, but not quite where it should be,” says the Indian-born and -raised Jaffrey, who studied drama at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Unwilling to give up acting all together, Jaffrey has starred in numerous pictures, including Merchant-Ivory’s first production, Shakespeare Wallah. She is slated to direct the next Merchant-Ivory collaboration.

Jaffrey travels the world speaking about Indian cooking. And when she’s not in the air herself, she can often be found on the airwaves in one of her many BBC food series. She also serves as food consultant for New York’s premier Indian restaurant, Dawat. Writing in Condé Nast Traveler, Mimi Sheraton opined, “The delicate food of…Jaffrey results in what is probably the country’s finest Indian restaurant.” 

MENU

Hors d’Oeuvre

Sindhi-Style Potato Patties with Red Pepper Chutney

Khandvi > Gujarati Chickpea Pasta Rolls

Fresh Punjabi-Style Cheese with a Gingery Salad

Dinner

Bhel-Poori > Crisp Noodles with Tamarind Chutney

Salmon “Miolee” > Kerala-Style Poached Salmon in Spicy Coconut Milk

Bohri “Kari” > Lamb Shanks Cooked in a Cashew Nut and Melon Seed Sauce with Dill Pilaf and Green Beans Cooked with Hulled Mung Beans

Tamarind Chutney with Bananas, Crispy-Fried Onion Rings with Nigella Seeds, and Yogurt with Roasted Eggplant

Caramelized Carrot Halva Pie

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Maggie Borden is assistant editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.