For Everyday Vegetable Dishes, Meera Sodha Is the Master
By the time I got back to Brooklyn, I wanted to make Ms. Sodha’s vegetarian recipes part of my weekly routine. I started with her basic moong dal, and graduated to her quick-cooking dal made from red lentils and finished with coconut milk, served with a pile of tender kale on top.
To make her summery recipe for a Gujarati corn-on-the-cob curry, a simple sauce of yogurt thickened with chickpea flour, I hunted down the sugary corn that made its way to Brooklyn markets in mid-September.
Stranded with two small heads of broccoli and no inspiration, I turned to her recipe for malai broccoli. Her adaptation of the cream sauce was a lean, bright and intensely delicious update: a mix of ground almonds with cream cheese and Greek yogurt, spiked with nutmeg and squished into every last crevice of the broccoli florets. Roasted on high heat for about 20 minutes, the mixture became golden brown in places, and the broccoli charred, expanding its flavor.
Ms. Sodha got the idea after trying a similar dish in Goa. “You know when you realize what you’re eating is just so magnificent, and there’s a sort of rip in the atmosphere?” she said. ”My brain started racing and I thought, how do I make this?”
Back in her London kitchen, she tinkered until she figured it out. “To develop a recipe, I have to trust my tongue,” she said.
In “Fresh India,” Ms. Sodha traces a line from the variety and sophistication of seasonal Gujarati cooking back to the third century B.C., when the emperor Ashoka banned the slaughter of animals. The region’s vegetarian cuisine has flourished over many centuries, and as families have left the region with their foods, they have adapted their dishes in new homes all over the world.
Ms. Sodha’s grandfather and great-grandfather left India for Uganda. When her parents were exiled from that country in 1972, along with many thousands of Ugandan-Asians, they settled in England.
Ms. Sodha was born and raised there, in a farming village in Lincolnshire, down the road from fields of potatoes and rainbow chard. She watched as her mother took to these new local ingredients and rearranged them like a musician. Ms. Sodha came to understand how spontaneity, resourcefulness and the ability to adapt define good home cooking.
Andaz is a Hindi word meaning “style,” and to say a cook has andaz is a great compliment, Ms. Sodha said. Some people may use the term to mean a gift for making a dish one’s own, or the ability to make food with a special harmony.
Ms. Sodha describes andaz as a kind of knowledge, particular to a cuisine that is rooted in oral tradition, that can only be learned through observation and apprenticeship, mistakes and repetition.
“It’s a sense of judgment that’s built up through doing,” she said.
I thought that following Ms. Sodha’s recipes could help speed the process a little. But still, there is only way to get there: Cook.
Recipes: Sri Lankan Dal with Coconut and Lime Kale | Roasted Broccoli with Almonds and Cardamom (Malai Broccoli)
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