Vegetarianism, fusion food, and spiritualism in one indian volume – the boston globe

17418-300_21_bodybuilding-bulking-meal-plan89

Getting noticed in a market flooded with Indian cookbooks is difficult, but Vikas Khanna, corporate chef at Michelin-starred Junoon in New York City, might have just hit on what it takes. His “Indian Harvest: Classic and Contemporary Vegetarian Dishes” celebrates vegetarianism, fusion cooking, and eastern philosophy and spiritualism.

The 400-page volume offers photographs of India, many with an ever-smiling Khanna buying vegetables,


devouring street food, or playing cricket with the local children in Amritsar, the north Indian city where he was raised. The photos evoke a slowly disappearing India where pushcart vendors go from one neighborhood to the next selling fresh, vegetables and fruits, where housewives gather around to select the best produce, and where, by late morning, the streets are filled with the aromas of cooking.

Advertisement

Vegetables and fruits take center-stage in Khanna’s book and his love for working with the soil is obvious in the anecdotes describing his own boyhood, when he loved to help in the family’s garden, to becoming a chef. He thinks of the growing, picking, and cooking of vegetables and fruits as a spiritual experience and while his references to the people who taught him to cook as “gurus” can be taken in stride, his overly effusive reverence for nature might be a bit much to digest. Descriptions of “Goddesses of Fertility of the Soil,” might not go down well with the non-religious and statements such as “Every time I see a blossom fallen to the ground, I get mad at gravity,” seem too sentimental and almost hokey.

Overlook the sentimentality and “Indian Harvest” won’t disappoint you. Khanna offers 127 recipes, some classic and others incorporating flavors and techniques from around the world. The book isn’t for the unadventurous; you need to challenge your taste buds with his mix of ingredients, spices, and flavors, which can be a sensory, often shocking, delight.

Few cooks, for example, would think of combining tofu with collard greens and fresh turmeric root, which has an overpowering and distinctive flavor, but if you get this recipe right, it is delicious. An appetizer of beets smothered in white sauce with Indian spices and a main course of creamy black-eyed peas with roasted garlic, mustard, cumin, and cilantro are testimony to Khanna’s innovation. An onion soup with cumin and ginger is a twist on the French classic, but much easier to prepare, lighter, and still flavorful. The sweetness of the caramelized onions, the sharpness of ginger, and the earthy nuttiness of cumin blend unexpectedly.

Recipe for onion soup with ginger and cumin

In a large, flameproof casserole over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the butter and when it melts, add the onions, ginger, and cumin seeds.

Khanna’s most creative and versatile recipes are his condiments. A star-fruit and ginger pickle with mustard and fenugreek seeds, and turmeric and chile powders, is everything at once — sweet, sour, spicy, slightly bitter. Most of the recipes in this section will go well with any cuisine as condiments or sides.

Drinks are bold and shock the palate. The chef combines sweet, sour, and heat and goes a step further by using juices not native to India. A mandarin juice with Tabasco and chile powder is initially hard to swallow but keep sipping and you’ll be hooked.

Certain recipes, like an edamame-wheatberry pilaf with star anise and smoked paprika, fall flat. The star anise conceals the subtle, earthy flavor of wheatberries and smoked paprika and you wonder what Khanna was thinking when he created it.

He urges readers to get creative and substitute ingredients, something that is inevitable, as many of the ingredients are hard to find. Tamarind leaves, hibiscus flowers, pomegranate molasses, and lotus roots might be difficult to come by. And if you’ve never tasted them, you don’t know what to use instead.

All in all, though, “Indian Harvest” comes at the right time, when cooks are seeking new flavors and the world is becoming smaller.

INDIAN HARVEST: Classic and Contemporary Vegetarian Dishes

By Vikas Khanna

Bloomsbury, 401 pp., $35

Sena Desai Gopal can be reached at sena_desai@yahoo. com.

BostonGlobe. com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe. com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe. com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.

BostonGlobe. com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe. com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe. com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.