Meditations

Vij’s Cookbook


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Today is my sister in law Rebekka’s birthday, and to start it off right Kristil and I had her over for breakfast this morning. Honest, tasty fare, whipped up by Kristil before I could even drag my butt out of bed: scrambled eggs, toasted bagels and spicy turkey sausages I picked up on the way home from class last night. So we were eating breakfast together, a rare occasion in this household, and I was trying to enjoy being up at that ungodly hour as much as I was enjoying their company, when Rebekka turned to me and said, “Colin, Kristil tells me you made the best dinner ever last weekend.”

Well. The best dinner ever. This may sound wrong to you, but there then ensued a few awkward seconds between the moment when I turned to Kristil and the moment when she started, in all sincerity, to backpedal on her shining compliment to my culinary chops.

The reason for the backpedaling was that I’ve made a LOT of dinners for my wife and for our friends. And I like to buy ingredients and cook with an open agenda: if I like the look of the skate at the market and not the halibut, well, maybe the skate goes in the dish instead. Or often I’ve seen a technique or a dish at work and I’ll do what I can to replicate it at home, which which can be a tall order that again requires improvisation (a little “le systeme d”) because though I love to cook, and though I serve great food every day, I’m so not a trained chef. Which is to say that sometimes I’m not just winging it because I want to, but because I have to. Some meals might be better than others, but I take pride in the reasons for that, and I especially live for those moments when I’m able to pull a culinary miracle out the combined chaos of my inexperience and good intentions.

This is where we come back to Kristil and the backpedaling about her saying I had done good, because in this case there was, ahem, no improvisation whatsoever. Rebekka had given me Elegant and Inspired: Vij’s Indian Cuisine for Christmas, and last Friday I finally had an audience and a whole day to put a meal together using recipes from the book. I left for Vancouver’s little India about noon, and picked up almost everything I needed (and some things I didn’t) from Punjabi Foods (on Main at 50th on the west side of the street) to make dinner. They were a huge help.

I got home and spent the afternoon whipping up four dishes I’ve never made before, but that I can gaurantee you I’ll be making again: sauteed brussels sprouts with red bell peppers, homemade paneer and cashews (p. 50), sablefish in tomato yogurt broth (p. 121), japanese eggplant with tamarind and kalonji curry (p. 132) and Vij’s signature dish, the marinated lamb popsicles with fenugreek cream curry (p. 83). All of these dishes were amazingly delicious, especially with the wines that Mark, Ben and the Andreas brought with them: Albert Mann Pinot Auxerrois 2004 (Alsace), Anakena Viognier 2005 (Chile) (both from Marquis Wine Cellars), and Dirty Laundry Gewurtztraminer 2005.

As he was helping me put up the sablefish dish, Mark was telling me that he took a cooking course with Vikram years ago, and I can’t remember exactly what he did, but he started to paint outside the lines, so to speak, and Vik admonished him, complete with finger wagging: “No fly by night,” he said. Indeed. I’ll leave it to Mark to tell you whether or not he’s actually learned that lesson or if he just likes telling the story, but I can tell you most certainly, dear reader, that I’ve learned it well.

The recipes in Elegant and Inspired: Vij’s Indian Cuisine really are bomb-proof – a true testament to Vikram’s, Meeru’s and their entire team’s attention to detail and dedication to great food. The book makes no attempt to be encyclopedic, but rather offers a clear and concise look at the creative Indian cuisine Vij’s has been serving up for the past twelve years or so. Yes, assembling all the spices, making your own garam masala and making homemade paneer all take time, but the results were there on our plates for us to taste. The best meal I’ve ever cooked? Hmm. I can accept that. Even though it did cause a rather awkward moment over breakfast…

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