India is currently struggling with a powerful wave of Hindu nationalism that threatens its Muslim population with deadly violence. The news is hard to ignore, even in a food story: Hindu supremacists, who push a narrow definition of Indianness, also push a narrow definition of India’s food culture.
When my editors asked me to choose 10 essential Indian recipes, I wasn’t sure if the task was possible. But I came to see it as a way of celebrating the breadth of Indian home cooking.
This is a cuisine defined by its multiplicity. It is many cuisines in one, each resisting generalization and abridgment. I’m grateful for that, but it does make the task difficult. Where to start?
I picked these recipes, after reading dozens of Indian cookbooks, and interviewing a number of home cooks outside my family, because they represented, to me, the vast pleasures and ingenuities of Indian home cooking, each in a totally different way — from matar kachori, the deep-fried pea-stuffed dumplings, to kosambari, a quick raw salad of grated carrot, seasoned with coconut and lemon.
I didn’t want the project to be limited by my biography. Yes, there is a taste of my childhood here: a basic Gujarati-style toor dal bobbing with boiled peanuts and toasted cumin seeds, and a tangy Mangalorean fish curry, shimmering with coconut oil. But you won’t find my family’s recipes for undhiyu, dhokla or samosas.
Instead, you’ll find a hodgepodge of ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, eggs) as well as techniques (fermenting batter, tempering fat, crushing curry paste). These are introductory recipes for the home cook, and though they don’t all belong to one region, caste or religious group, they do all welcome you into the kitchen.