by Nicki Wood
This winter I edited a cookbook that was so thrilling, so different, that I want to come out from behind the pages. Flavors of My World: A Culinary Tour Through 25 Countries by Maneet Chauhan has some of the most innovative recipes and exciting flavor combinations I’ve come across in 25 years of food writing.
I’m talking about ropa vieja made with seasonings used for rogan josh. Fish and chips flavored like masala aloo. Doro wat with Mangaloran spices.
In Nashville, Chauhan is getting attention because of her announcement that she's planning to open her first restaurant here: a gastropub with Indian-inspired cuisine, called Chauhan Ale & Masala House. (She's partnering with local restaurateurs Moni Advani, London Parfitt and Austin Ratliff, who co-own Anthem and Revelry in the Gulch. The new restaurant's site isn't determined yet, but it's expected to open by the end of the year.)
Nationally, Chauhan was probably best known as one of the judges on the Food Network show Chopped. Before that, she was executive chef at Vermilion in Chicago and New York for eight years, serving Latin-Indian fusion food that won loads of recognition and awards.
The cookbook is based on that fusion ethic, blending Indian flavor profiles with already interesting “ethnic” foods like spanokopita, risotto, soda bread, Spanish omelets and goulash. I was so bowled over that I kept an electronic copy of the edited document, with its original title, Indie Culinaire.
To be sure, the recipes needed a little editing. Though Chauhan’s recipes were in better shape than usual, pretty much all chef cookbooks are compilations of scribblings that only make perfect sense to the chef. Atypically, hers were already scaled for a home kitchen. (I was weak with relief, since sometimes I have to do the scaling myself, and her book included exotic ingredients I didn’t have much experience using.) Still, I sent a seven-page, 6,100-word file of queries on the recipes.
The book's official publication date is today, according to the publisher, Nashville-based Favorite Recipes Press. Check with Parnassus Books, which said it wasn't sure whether it would be stocking the book but will certainly order one for you. Or you can buy through Amazon. I can’t say enough good things about this cookbook. Really, it’s a masterpiece, a game-changer, with brilliantly imagined dishes. Of 50 recipes, only a couple didn’t appeal, or looked laborious.
I look forward to working my way through the book. It’s a heady prospect of exotic flavors. To start you off easy, try one of her beverages, Coke Masala Cuba Libre, seasoned with slightly sulfurous black salt and chaat masala, both of which are used to flavor fast foods and snacks in India and Pakistan. Bollywood cherry palinka is a fruity, vanilla-fied, masala-scented Champagne-based drink that is ideal for entertaining a crowd with adventurous palates.
Masala Coke Cuba Libre
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon chaat masala
Black salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried mint
2 ounces Cuban rum
Combine the lime juice, masala, salt and pepper in a tall glass. Add the Coke, a little at a time, stirring continuously to allow the soda to froth up, until the glass is full. Crush the mint leaves slightly and add to the glass. Add the rum.
Bollywood Cherry Palinka
1/4 cup pitted dark cherries
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 ounce vanilla-infused simple syrup
1 ounce gypsy cherry palinka [I used kirsch]
1/2 ounce Amaretto di Saronno
4 ounces dry Champagne
Cherry for garnish
Muddle the cherries, garam masala and simple syrup in a shaker. Add the cherry palinka and Amaretto. Add ice, cover, and shake to blend. Strain into a Champagne flute. Top with Champagne. Garnish with a cherry.