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Classic Cookbooks: Madhur Jaffrey's Cauliflower with Ginger and Chinese Parsley

I didn’t discover Indian food until I was 21 and living in New York City for the first time, and I didn’t try cooking it until my husband and I started dating a few years later. His family, he explained, loved this cookbook author called Madhur Jaffrey—had I heard of her? As it happened, I was working for Knopf, her publisher, but had never taken home a copy of her 1973 classic An Invitation to Indian Cooking. Indian cooking seemed forbiddingly complicated, and besides, the current edition of the book was just a little paperback whose cover featured a campy picture of Jaffrey dressed in a sari, smiling benignly over a still life of ingredients despite the fact that we readers seem to have surprised her in the act of chopping cilantro.

Well, it was foolish of me to fall into that old trap with books and covers; almost as soon as I cracked the spine, Jaffrey became one of my favorite food and recipe writers. She is much more witty and wicked than the Stepfordish cover photo suggests, which should have come as no surprise since she is also an actress. As a writer she reminds me of Nigella Lawson in that I can read her recipes and notes for hours at a time because she brings so much character, emotion, and personal history to the page without ever forcing it. Even the cheap paperback format proved to be an asset—it was much easier to tuck into my totebag or read before bed than, say, The French Laundry Cookbook.

The conversational recipes are not especially complicated or challenging, though I do find that mise en place helps when working with so many spices and gradual additions, and I tend to reduce the amount of oil called for. Since Jaffrey wrote this book for Americans, she includes lots of explanation; each recipe concludes with serving suggestions, very helpful if the thought of pulling a whole meal together intimidates you.

Here is my favorite recipe from An Invitation to Indian Cooking: cauliflower with ginger and Chinese parsley. (Chinese parsley is cilantro.) We often eat this for dinner with white rice.

About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.

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