Saturday, December 31, 2011
James Herriot revisited - A review of Suvir Saran's new cookbook 'Masala Farm'
I can't ask for a better subject to cap this wonderful year of blogging, Chef Suvir Saran's new book. Masala Farm. Taking a break from life in the Garden state, sipping a piping hot cup of coffee, looking out on Crescent lake in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, with family. The entire setting takes the memory cells on a nostalgic trip, of country life, meandering pathways, cows, horses grazing in pastures, tales & anecdotes straight out of Alf Wight's beloved classics.
For those of you unfamiliar with Alf Wight, he was a country vet from Yorkshire, England who wrote a series of delightfully quirky classic books about country life, animals and his career as a country vet, under the pen name of James Herriot. A bevy of four legged characters and their humans with their strengths & failings, their individual personalities, ranging from elegant to right down eccentric. Its a beautiful ode to country life in the 1940's onward.
Fast forward to the 21st century, it seems that such an idyllic scenario is all but impossible in this fast paced life, but believe me, it does.. Most definitely in a bucolic setting in the far reaches in Washington county, New York State,bordering Vermont. A beautiful oasis called the American Masala Farm.
My first thoughts at seeing images of Chef Suvir Saran's Farm, was that it reminded me of Enid Blyton & James Herriot. Turns out, I wasn't totally wrong. The farm stories in the book take you back to a comfort zone of good food & conversation.
Chef Suvir Saran is the owner & executive chef of the Michelin rated restaurant Devi, as well as the author of several well known books such as Indian Home cooking and American Masala. In his latest book, Chef Saran invites readers into the heart of his home/farm, to a sumptuous table filled with about seventy classic, comforting, 'stick-to-your-ribs good for you' recipes. The proverbial sprinkling of masala (spice) is provided by heartwarming farm yarns about the myriad goats, a coop of heirloom variety chickens, each with their individual personalities, predatory ravens, coyotes, and the occasional oddball visitor offering a joint in return for egg samples!
The book also offers a glimpse into the responsible practices of modern farming and community involvement. Chef Saran takes the effort to include relevant information about food related enterprises in the area, not just about the wonderful services offered, such as Gardenworks, a pick-your-own berry farm.
The recipes in the book stand out in sharp contrast to the slick, upmarket offerings that Chef Saran creates for Devi. This is a collection of down to earth hearty fare, a delightful set of classic family oriented dishes from Suvir Saran's childhood in India (with endearing & warm credits extended to the family cook, Panditji) and traditional American dishes from co-author Charlie Burd's family (Notably Grandma Burd's recipe for Pasta Primavera, redolent with fresh picked herbs) and other lip smacking contributions from friends & colleagues.
The book has ample goodies for vegetarians in terms of recipes. (I've already cooked my way through three dishes with many more on the list.). The recipes are simple and easy enough to follow for the average home cook, and are meant to be made & shared with family. For the more health conscious types out there, many of the recipes do call for generous amounts of butter and oil, but can easily be made just as delicious with much less.
Masala Farm is available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other book stores.
I had previously made a rice & lentil offering from the book, 'Birbal ki Khichdee'. I'm following this up with a fabulous dish.. Farmhouse crispy creamy potatoes from the book. The technique of parboiling the potatoes prior to roasting ensures a dual texture, a crisp shell enveloping a dollop of creamy & fluffy perfectly cooked potatoes. Disclaimer: I cut down heavily on the recommended amount of oil, and added cracked black pepper for a hint of heat (for the family's Indian palate!) which did not take away from the divine taste. Chef Saran recommends serving these alongside fresh baked bread, I say scarf it down with a spritz of lemon or lime juice.
Farmhouse Crispy - Creamy potatoes:
1 lb. medium sized red potatoes (quartered)
1 tablespoon Kosher Salt (& a good pinch of sea salt)
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup Canola oil
2 tablespoon EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive oil)
12 Sage leaves
2 sprigs Thyme
2 sprigs Rosemary
A generous sprinkle of fresh cracked peppercorn
1 Head Garlic with the top 1/3rd sliced off
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Salt a large pot of water with 2 teaspoons of salt & bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and herbes de provence, Lower to a medium heat once the water begins boiling again, and cook until the potatoes are soft enough for a paring knife to easily sink in (~ 15 min), Drain & set potatoes aside in a large mixing bowl.
Melt the butter in a cast iron frying pan and add the Canola & EVOO. Add a sprig each of rosemary & thyme and about 8 sage leaves. When the sage just begins to wilt, Pour this mix over the par boiled potatoes and toss to combine. Return the potatoes to the frying pan and place the pan in the oven for 30 min.
Pull out the frying pan after 30 mins and place the sliced off garlic head in the center along with the remaining rosemary, thyme & sage. sprinkle with the remaining salt and cracked peppercorn. Return to the oven & roast for another 45 minutes until the potatoes are crisp & browned well and the garlic is soft enough to be squeezed out of the scaly pods. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes & serve with a wedge of lemon alongside.
Thanks so much for all the support from all you readers out there and the motivation you've given me through the year. Looking forward to your continued support going into the New Year!
Wishing all of you a HAPPY, PROSPEROUS & DELICIOUS 2012!!