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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Importance of Being Madhur Jaffrey

Cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and cumin are commonly stocked spices in any supermarket nowadays. But before Madhur Jaffrey's seminal Indian cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking was released in 1973, those spices were surprisingly hard to find outside Asian and Spanish grocery stores. Most people weren't as familiar with tamarind or turmeric. This proved to be difficult for your average Americans and even recent Indian emigres to cook authentic, homemade Indian food at their own convenience. However, Jaffrey was determined to change the status quo and thereby introduced America and the Western world the complexities and subtleties of Indian food. She guided and taught eager home cooks and chefs the importance of high-quality spices and fresh ingredients, even substitutes, and how to use them to accommodate the American kitchen. In An Invitation to Indian Cooking, Jaffrey acknowledged the fear of making Indian food for an American family because of the presumption that it is spicy. So she skillfully clarified the difference between heat and spicy, adding anecdotes about her childhood and life in India.

Madhur explained that the book came into fruition after many years of sharing recipes with friends, which was eventually passed around everywhere to the point when she decided to compile the Indian recipes she knew and loved to be loved by all. In 1933, Jaffrey was born in Delhi, India and grew up cooking food for the family alongside her mother. She learned mostly from her mother and grandmother, but also became influenced while and eventually lived in America. Madhur Jaffrey ended her first cookbook's introduction with a statement that fully reflects her love of sharing Indian food with everyone:

"Some day, I hope, books will be written about all of India’s cuisines—Gujarati food, Malayali food, Assamese food, Punjabi food, Maharashtrian food, Sindhi food, Bengali food, Goan food, Kashmiri food, Hyderabadi food, to name just a few. But until that happens, my book can introduce you to the smells and tastes which I grew up with as a child in Delhi and which I have struggled over the years to re-create in my American kitchen. These dishes, some traditional and some adapted to the produce in American supermarkets, you can now cook in your own homes instead of having to rely on second-rate eating places or the mercy of Indian acquaintances."

Kheer (adapted from An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey)

This is Madhur's mom's recipe that Jaffrey grew up eating. She makes it clear that it is a milk and rice dessert and NOT a rice pudding.

4 cups milk
1 tablespoon sushi rice
1 tablespoon Bluebird Grain Farms' Old World Cereal Blend
4 whole green cardamom pods, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1 tablespoon to finish
Toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped dates, or golden raisins for garnishing

Place the milk, rice, cereal blend, cardamom pods, and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a medium pot. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to reduce milk for about 2 hours, or until reduced to 2 cups.
Turn off heat and remove cardamom pod. Mix in the rest of the sugar and let it cool completely. Refrigerate and serve cold with topping of choice.

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