I’m not proud, but I’ve eaten a lot of Tasty Bites in my day. I love Indian food, but to me it always meant either dining out at a restaurant, or dining out of those classy little envelopes of curry. Then when I started cooking a lot, I was less than impressed with most cookbooks’ attempt at the “obligatory chickpea curry recipe.” (Dear future cookbook authors: just don’t. The world has enough crappy chickpea curry recipes.) I used to own a vegetarian Indian cookbook, but I never used it much. It did annoying things like call samosas “spicy potato prisms.” I get the point of translating the Indian names to understand what they are, but that one is taking it a bit too far. However, I digress.
It was always a given that I’d get this book. I actually pre-ordered it five months before it came out, so it was a lovely surprise coming home to it one day. (That alone is like the best reason ever to pre-order books… surprise mail! They’re like presents to your future self.) So it was a really good day, the day I received this gift from myself. I promptly started marking recipes to try first, as I salivated all over the pages. It was summer though, and Indian food just didn’t really appeal to me much in the hot summer months. I’d cook from it here and there, but it wasn’t until fall and winter and I delved in a little more. I still haven’t cooked from it as much as I’d like, only about ten things so far. They’ve all been great, but some greater than others. One of my tippy top faves (that I highly recommend) has been the Cabbage Kofta in Creamy Tomato Sauce. It’s such a light, refreshing take on kofta. I honestly could have eaten all of it myself. Alas, I had to share with my husband. Balls.
The lover of savory breakfast that I am, some of my other faves have come from the breakfast chapter. The Savory Oats Hash is basically a tofu scramble, but with oats instead of tofu. It’s awesome. The Chickpea Flour Pancakes are too. They’re full of cilantro, onion, and chiles. And then, when you take that pancake batter and dip bread into it to make the Savory Pan-Fried French Toast? HEAVEN. Way too good.
Every year around the holidays, I throw a “Curry Christmas” party. It’s just my excuse to throw a party and eat delicious Indian food. This past year, even though I finally had this awesome Indian cookbook to cook from, we didn’t have time to throw our usual shindig. However, when we were visiting some friends for the weekend, we opted to have a small, low-key Curry Christmas at their house. I would get to cook a feast from this book after all! I made the Avocado Naan, the Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Makhani Gravy (pretty much the greatest ever), and our friends made a chickpea biryani (from another book). All together, it was glorious. For dessert, I also made the Cardamom Fudge. It was very different, but very wonderful. It even got the lip-smacking seal of approval from two toddlers!
A couple weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, I bought saffron for the first time, making it my last new food of 2015 (I tried a new food each week last year). Taking a whiff of the most expensive spice in the world, however, I was quickly taken aback. This is supposed to be good? It smells like tires! I figured the potent smell would dissolve into the dish, the Quinoa Cauliflower Biryani I was making. It more or less did, but it did impart a slight flavor I’d just as soon do without. When I posted on Instagram, I discovered I was not alone in my ambivalence toward saffron. Many friends piped in that they too did not understand the allure. I’ll use mine up in any future recipes that call for saffron (maybe just in slightly smaller amounts), but after that I probably won’t buy it again. And that is actually another reason I love this book. Even when something tastes off to me, it’s teaching me about food, having me try new things, learning more about my personal tastes, and expanding my culinary education. I love the lessons food gives to me.
This book inadvertently taught me another lesson. Let’s talk about bay leaves. I honestly don’t remember anything about the Navratan Korma I made, except the bay leaves. You know how all recipes with bay leaves have you leave them in for a little while, and then pick them out before you eat? I’ve always wondered what the hell they actually did, what flavor they imparted (if any). Well, now I know. Oh boy, do I know (hint: I wish I didn’t). I know because this recipe leaves the bay leaves in, and then you blend them up into the curry. Do you want to know what bay leaves taste like? They taste like menthol. Very strong, very potent piney menthol. They will very quickly overpower a dish if you are dumb like me and put in really large bay leaves (bigger is not always better… don’t dismiss the small ones).
This led me to discover that Indian bay leaves are not the same thing as the more common bay laurel leaves (which is what you have in your cupboard, and what I used). This distinction is mentioned in the beginning of this book, which I had clearly skipped over, but it also says that you can substitute one for the other if you can’t find Indian bay leaves. But listen to me, if you are going to leave the bay leaves in (and blend them up), do NOT use your standard bay leaves. For all that is good in the world, DO NOT USE THEM. That is, unless you want your food to taste like a piney menthol curry. Indian bay leaves supposedly offer more of a cinnamon or cloves flavor, which I can definitely understand in this dish. So while I did not enjoy the menthol aroma of my final dish (my husband didn’t mind it though), I do appreciate learning new things, and like I discovered with the saffron, this mishap with the bay leaves is teaching me about food. And good or bad, anything (anything) is going to be better than eating curry out of a Tasty Bite envelope.