Recipes from the Rim: Part II

November 5th, 2007

American Masala
American Masala
125 New Classics from
My Home Kitchen

Suvir Saran with Raquel Pelzel

Clarkson Potter (October 2, 2007);
272 pages; $35.00

Known for his Manhattan Indian-fusion restaurant, Devi, the effusive Suvir Saran takes mainstream American dishes (or once-ethnic dishes that have become mainstream) and infuses some of them with Indian spice and Indian techniques. He also takes inspiration from Mexican, Mediterranean, and North African kitchens.

So, we get Tamarind-Glazed Meatloaf, Turkey Hash Masala, Shrimp Scampi Masala, Indian Eggplant Caponata, and French Toast (with cardamom). There are some very rich, if tame, comfort foods—and a lot of cheese (Parmesan, Gouda, taleggio, fontina, ricotta). Cheese is not a huge feature of Indian cooking, but Mr. Saran is clearly enraptured by it. Two and one-quarter pounds of three different cheeses ensure that his mild Macaroni and Cheese (serving 8-10)will make some people very happy.

Roasted corn on the cob (Chaat Masala Corn with Lime) would make more people happier if there were a guideline for making this sour and salty seasoning blend. We’re glad to see a recipe for Mr. Saran’s version of Garam Masala, but someone forgot to include one for Chaat Masala; at bare minimum, there should be a description of it. (A basic chaat masala would include toasted cumin, coriander seed, black pepper, red chili, powdered mango, asafoetida, and the distinctively sulphurous Indian kala namak, “black salt.”)

Fusion Scallops
Scallops with Roasted Pepper Chutney
Photograph by Ben Fink for American Masala

It’s clear that Mr. Saran loves to entertain, but I will take issue that roasting vegetables in the oven for an hour (and then to purée them as a dip) is what anyone—pro or not—does to whip up a snack for unexpected guests. And I am mystified as to why his skillet corn bread uses a package of prepared corn-bread mix, unless it is some secret, unswerving homage to the recipe’s originator, one Grandma Hayes.

Nonetheless, the spirit of American Masala is contagious. The recipes illustrate that appreciation of flavor occurs at many levels and that spice does not have to mean heat. Though he is a restaurant chef, Suvir Saran delights in preparing food at home and demonstrates that it’s both practical and fun for home cooks to have a global pantry.

Suvir Saran’s engaging anecdotes (Raquel Pelzel is credited as his co-author) make it clear that he grew up in an affluent and well-educated Indian family with their own cook. In contrast, Puerto Riquena-American Isabel Cruz was raised in a polyglot Los Angeles neighborhood of Caribbean, Latin American, Japanese, and Thai immigrants. In the next post on fusion cooking, I will look at her new book, Isabel’s Cantina. —Holly Chase

Note: Clarkson Potter sent us this book for review

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