A Taste of India: Authentic Recipes From Culinary Experts Preena and Arvinda Chauhan
This Mumbai street-food specialty — a mashed vegetable curry (the bhaji) with a ghee-toasted soft bun (pav) — will be love at first bite. Photo: Reena Newman
This mother-daughter duo knows a thing or two about flavourful cooking. They are, after all, proprietors of the Canadian-based Arvinda’s Spices & Chai, which produces some of the world’s premier spice blends, retailing in smart shops like Harrods in London and Whole Foods in North America.
Their recent project, a cookbook called New Indian Basics, is the result of years spent preparing and teaching Indian cooking. “We’ve been dreaming of writing a cookbook like New Indian Basics for many years, and the idea for this book was thought out a long time ago!” the Chauhans told Zoomer via email. “Over the years of teaching our cooking classes together since the early ’90s, our students would often ask us for a cookbook with all the recipes they were learning in the classes …“
The idea behind the book was to make Indian dishes — both modern and traditional — less complicated for home cooks, while maintaining their authenticity. “So many recipes are personal favourites that we love to make, share and teach,” they said. “One that stands out is Pav Bhaji, one of Mumbai’s most famous street foods, another is Kale & Black-Eyed Peas, a cooking-class favourite.”
And then there are the health benefits. Said the Chauhans, “We want to empower readers to cook more with spices, both for the incredible flavours they lend to the food, but also for their amazing health and medicinal benefits. We always used to say in our classes, ‘when you’re eating a curry, you are healing yourself inside and out’ because of the immense health benefits spices offer.”
Here, we share some palate-pleasing recipes from the book, including the aforementioned Pav Bhaji and Kale & Black-Eyed Peas, but first some culinary tips from this talented multigenerational foodie team.
Insider Tips: Can you share your favourite flavour boosters — and any other secret weapons?
There are so many small details that make all the difference in a final Indian dish. One of the most important “spice flavouring rules” is to always start with fresh, premium spices, the cornerstone of traditional Indian cooking. Also, think of adding spices in an Indian dish in layers, with some recipes using up to four layers of spices — this is how to achieve a depth of flavour in any given dish. We also emphasize the reader should think about spices as being well-balanced; we want them to get comfortable with suiting the spicing to their own palate, always checking that not one spice is too overpowering. Sometimes when a curry seems to be missing something, quite often it’s only a pinch of sea salt that does the trick!
Must-Haves: What items/ingredients do you keep stocked in your pantry or fridge?
For the fresh ingredients, the foundational flavours of Indian cooking include fresh garlic, fresh ginger, green chilies and cilantro. The spices are the cornerstone of Indian cuisine, so keeping fresh spices on hand is also a must! Another pantry ingredient is concentrated tamarind paste, and keep a premium quality basmati rice on hand, essential for biryanis and rice pullaos.
Easy Entertaining: What is your go-to dish for cooking/entertaining without the stress?
A dish we both love serving for an Indian dinner for guests is a traditional Kerelan Avial, an exquisite coconutty vegetable stew with curry leaves that is both flavourful and easy to make. We love the Caramelized Chai-Spiced Bananas (recipe below) for an impromptu dessert if you didn’t have anything sweet planned in advance.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length
Kale & Black-eyed Peas
In 1993, when my mother started teaching her cooking classes, she called her venture Healthy Gourmet Indian Cooking, known to us by the abbreviation HGIC. This recipe is an HGIC original featured in the lentils and beans session, and we’ve been cooking it ever since. As our cooking classes evolved, we taught more intensive lentil and bean curry workshops as a way to boost interest in plant-based proteins and demonstrate how to cook them in an Indian way. This dish is traditionally made with just black-eyed peas all on their own, but my mother’s rendition includes greens, making it a great meal in one.
Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus overnight soaking
Cook Time: 1 hour + 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
1 cup black-eyed peas (whole), dried
4 cups water, plus extra if necessary
1½ teaspoons sea salt, divided
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
½ cup finely chopped onions
1 medium fresh tomato, chopped, or 1 tablespoon crushed tomatoes
1½ teaspoons coriander powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon Indian chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 cups finely chopped green kale
1 teaspoon kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped, to garnish
- In a medium bowl, rinse the black-eyed peas in two to three changes of warm water. Cover with fresh warm water and soak overnight.
- Rinse and drain the peas in another couple of changes of warm water, then place in a medium pot along with 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook on medium-high for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covering with a lid. Cook for 40 minutes or until tender.
- In a separate medium non-stick pot on medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook until soft and golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, then add the tomatoes and sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Add the garlic paste and stir to combine. Add the kale and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until slightly wilted.
- Stir in the cooked black-eyed peas along with their cooking liquid. Add ½ cup water if they start to dry out. Sprinkle in the kasoori methi. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the black-eyed peas are very tender and the spices have mixed in thoroughly. It should have a soupy consistency.
- Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro to taste.
Note: Feel free to use spinach, rapini or fresh fenugreek leaves as a substitute for kale. Black-eyed peas can also be cooked in a pressure cooker in 10 minutes.
This Mumbai street-food specialty — a mashed vegetable curry (the bhaji) with a ghee-toasted soft bun (pav) — will be love at first bite, guaranteed. The first time I visited Mumbai, on the inbound flight I sat next to a Mumbaiker who was returning home, and we had a great conversation about the food culture of this fascinating city. I jotted down the names of some restaurants to try and the districts to visit as he reeled off a list of delicious things to eat and intriguing places to go. As we got off the plane, my last question to him was this: If I should try just one food from this crazy, bustling city, what would it be? His answer was clear: It must be pav bhaji.
Because of my love for this mouthwatering street food, I teach this dish in our cooking classes, sharing its deliciousness and its origins as a Mumbai specialty and showing how simple it can be to make at home. Garam masala and ghee are musts, and choose a pillowy soft bun to serve with it.
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
¼ small cauliflower, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped fresh green beans
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1½ cups water, plus extra if necessary
2 teaspoons sea salt, divided, plus extra to taste
3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
½ cup unsalted crushed tomatoes
1½ teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon Warming Garam Masala
½ teaspoon Indian chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste
- In a large pot, combine the potatoes, cauliflower, beans, red peppers, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Be sure there is enough water to cover the vegetables, adding more if necessary. Cook on medium-high heat for 25 minutes or until very soft. Drain any excess water.
- In a medium tawa, wok, or non-stick pan on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and fry until softened and light golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the fresh tomatoes and crushed tomatoes and stir.
- Sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, garam masala, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, chili powder, and turmeric. Stir to combine, then add the garlic and ginger pastes. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the cooked vegetables and, using a potato masher or flat utensil, mash the vegetables until smooth. Cook for 10 minutes, until all the ingredients are combined. Add a little water if necessary to make a soft vegetable curry (bhaji). The bhaji shouldn’t be too watery or runny, but neither should it be overly thick and dry. Add salt to taste.
8 white dinner rolls or soft buns
¼ cup salted butter
Red onion, finely chopped
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
4 lemon wedges
- Slice the buns (pavs) in half, leaving one edge attached. Apply a generous amount of butter on each and toast in a frying pan until they are crisp and golden brown.
- To serve, spoon hot bhaji into individual bowls. Serve with a toasted pav on the side. Add a pat of butter as a garnish on top, red onions and cilantro to taste, and a lemon wedge on the side. Add a squeeze of lemon to every bite.
Note: Pav bhaji is meant to be eaten with your hands! Break off a piece of the pav and dip it into the bhaji and pop it into your mouth! Choose a pillowy, soft bun or dinner roll to serve with this delicious curry. I like whole wheat, but in Mumbai the bun of choice is white (made from all-purpose flour, known as maida).
Caramelized Chai Spiced Bananas
In fresh produce markets in India, baby bananas are everywhere. Either red or a warm golden yellow (they are different varieties), they are peppered with dark spots because they quickly ripen in heat and are specially merchandized right at the front of market stalls to seduce you with their strong banana aroma. Some baby bananas are sweeter than their bigger counterparts, but for this recipe I’ve used the larger variety as the baby ones are not readily available. The jaggery that we use to caramelize the bananas can be sourced from South Asian grocery stores. Serve these caramelized bananas with a dollop of creamy Decadent Shrikhand on the side or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
4 ripe bananas, peeled
2 tablespoons raw cashew halves, to garnish
1 tablespoon ghee or salted butter
¼ cup jaggery or brown or maple sugar (see note)
⅓ cup half-and-half cream
1 teaspoon Perfumy Chai Masala
½ teaspoon ginger powder
2 tablespoons blueberries, to garnish
2 tablespoons coconut chips or dried desiccated coconut, unsweetened
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dark chocolate, to garnish
4 fresh mint leaves, to garnish
- Cut the peeled bananas in half and slice lengthwise. Set aside.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add the cashews and gently toast for a couple of minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside as a garnish.
- In the same large non-stick skillet on medium heat, melt the ghee. Add the jaggery and stir to combine. Stir in the cream and sprinkle in the chai masala and ginger powder. Mix together to create a sauce.
- Gently add the bananas, coating with the ghee and jaggery mixture, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until soft.
- Serve the caramelized bananas as a plated dessert garnished with the toasted cashews, blueberries, coconut chips, dark chocolate, and a mint leaf.
Note: If using brown or maple sugar instead of jaggery, consider reducing the amount slightly, as the results may be a touch sweeter.
Excerpted from New Indian Basics: 100 Traditional and Modern Recipes from Arvinda’s Family Kitchen by Preena Chauhan and Arvinda Chauhan. Copyright © 2022 Preena Chauhan. Cover and book design by Andrew Roberts. Photography by Reena Newman, with photos on pages iii, 10, 18, 28, 129, 209, 255, 272 by Sandy Nicholson. Published in Canada by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
A version of this tory was originally published on Nov. 1, 2022