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A Simple and Delicious Indian Dinner--Cook the Books: "Climbing The Mango Trees"

Posted Sep 21 2010 6:00pm

I love being a part of Cook The Books , the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club I am lucky enough to co-host with Rachel, The Crispy Cook and Johanna of Food Junkie not Junk Food and not just for the fact that I love both books and food, and especially books that involve food. It also pushes me to finally read the many food-related books stacked around my house, like " Climbing The Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India " by Madhur Jaffrey. I bought the book at a used book store a couple of years ago because I admire Jaffrey--cook, author, actress and lauded authority on Indian cuisine, and I own about a half dozen of her many cookbooks. It languished on a shelf until I finally chose it as our current CTB selection, thinking it would get me to finally read the book and be a good excuse (as if one actually needs an excuse!) to make some delicious Indian dishes.

"Climbing The Mango Trees" is Madhur Jaffrey's recount of life growing up in Delhi and Kampur in a large well-to-do family. One of 6 children, Jaffrey's family lived with her extended family, with often 40 or more aunts, uncles and cousins at dinner, at her grandfather's compound. Although the book covers what it was like to grow up in India in the 1930's to the 1950's, Jaffrey's family history along with the country's history--and the effect of Partition on both, what stands out and is covered in the most detail is the food. Jaffrey weaves her evocative memories of food throughout the book (don't read this one on an empty stomach) and includes 30 of her favorites family recipes at the back of the book. The book transports the reader to a different and exotic time and place in a charming and conversational manner that leaves one wanting more. Hopefully, since this book covers her early childhood into her early adulthood, Jaffrey will continue the tale of her fascinating life in a future book.

Although there were many delicious recipes in the back of the book, I decided to pull out Jaffrey's " Quick & Easy Indian Cooking "-- also languishing in one of my cookbook stacks (hmm... anyone notice a pattern here?) and cook something from it. I ended up with three dishes, Fish Fillets in Curry Sauce, Simply Grilled Tomatoes, and Rice with Peas and Dill, that worked well together as a relatively light dinner.

Fish Fillets in a Curry Sauce ("Curry" dar Macchi)
Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking"
Serves 4-5)

2 lbs thick fish fillets
2 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
5 Tbsp bread crumbs
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup good curry powder
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Arrange a shelf in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to its highest temperature.

Spread out the fish in a baking dish. Combine the milk, salt, pepper, cayenne, and turmeric in a pitcher and pour over the fish. set aside for 15 minutes. (
Use this time to get all the remaining ingredients measured and chopped.) Then lift the fish out of the milk and dust both sides with the bread crumbs, patting them on so that they adhere. Reserve the milk. Now put the fish in a shallow baking dish lined with aluminum foil. Dot with 2 Tbsp of the butter and bake for 15 minutes.

While the fish bakes, set the milk to heat, but do not boil it. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. When it has melted and is bubbling, put in the curry powder. Stir for a minute. Now put in the flour. Stir for about 2 minutes. It should keep bubbling.

Take the saucepan off the heat and, using a whisk, beat in the hot milk. Now put the saucepan on medium-high heat and stir with the whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Boil for a minute, whisking all the time. Add the cilantro and lemon juice. Stir to mix them in.

Put the fish on a serving plate or on individual plates. Pour the sauce over the top and serve immediately. Extra sauce, if there is any, may be served on the side.

Simply Grilled Tomatoes (Grilled Timatar)
Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking"
Serves 2-4)

5 1 1/4-to-1 1/2-lb tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
a generous pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp butter or olive oil (

Preheat the grill or broiler.

Cut the tomatoes in halves crosswise.Sprinkle the salt, black pepper, garam masala, cumin, and cayenne over the cut surfaces and rub the spices in. Sprinkle the lemon juice on top and rub that in as well. Place under the hot grill, about 4 inches from the heat source and grill until the top is browned and the tomatoes are slightly limp. Dot with butter or dribble some oil over the top if you like.

Rice with Peas and Dill (Matar Aur Sooay Ka Pullao)
Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking"
Serves 5-6)

2 cups basmati rice
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 small onion (
4 oz), peeled and cut into half rings
1 or 2 tsp salt, to taste
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill or 1 1/2 Tbsp dried dill
2 3/4 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas, cooked for 2 minutes in boiling water

Put the rice in a bowl and wash in several changes of water. drain and leave in a strainer set over a bowl.

Put the oil in a heavy saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cloves and cardamom pods. Stir for a few seconds. Put in the onion. Stir until the onion is brown. Put in the rice, 1 tsp salt, garam masala, and dill. Stir for a minute. Now put in the stock and the second tsp of salt if needed, and bring to a boil. Cover very tightly, turn the heat to very, very low, and cook for 20 minutes. Put in the peas. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. Stir gently before serving.

Notes/Results: Everything was delicious and fairly quick and easy to prepare. For the fish, I used a local opah (moon fish), which cooked up perfectly tender and went well with the slightly spicy curry sauce. Instead of using dairy milk, I used almond milk to soak the fish and make the sauce and it worked just fine. The local tomatoes, already sweet and juicy, had an excellent flavor with the spice mixture grilled on top. For the rice dish I used fresh dill from my herb garden, and the rice was lightly-spiced, moist and very tasty; a great side dish for any meal. I would make all of these recipes again.

The deadline for this Cook The Books selection is this Friday, 9/24. I will be rounding up all the entries soon after to put forward to a judge to picking a winning dish that best represents the book. BTW--I am very excited to announce our esteemed judge for this round--Ann from Split Pear-sonality - A Cooking Journey . Ann, knows her Indian cuisine and belongs to another great virtual foodie book club, This Book Makes Me Cook . That group read "Climbing The Mango Trees" back in January, so in the spirit of a foodie book club exchange program, we thought she would be a perfect judge!

If you love foodie books and want to join in our Cook the Books fun but missed this deadline, our next selection will be " Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany " by Bill Buford and being hosted by the lovely Johanna. Check out the CTB site for more details.
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