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Travelling Diva – Recipes From Around The World : A Review, and Vegetable Balls (Dumplings) With Tamarind Glaze

Posted Jan 09 2012 12:00am

he title of my blog and the recipes here, in my virtual kitchen, pretty much sums up the nature of what I cook in my real kitchen. We eat vegetarian food, Indian a lot of the time, but are pretty eclectic in our food tastes so I like exploring and cooking vegetarian food from across the world.
So when Hachette Books Publishing (India) recently sent me Ritu Dalmia’s new book, Travelling Diva- Recipes From Around The World , I was interested to see what recipes the she had put together in this one. Her previous book Italian Khana, was all about Italian cuisine which she and her restaurants are known for.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a nice variety of recipes from around the world, including a couple of Indian ones. The book has over 120 recipes, some accompanied by photographs, and also tips on techniques and time saving shortcuts.. Many of the recipes are vegetarian, and most of the non-vegetarian ones are easily adapted to a vegetarian style of cooking.

The recipes are short yet well explained and most of them have a short ingredient list and do not need a lot of preparation or time to put together. Ritu Dalmia also provides ideas for adaptations/ variations possible for many of the recipes.
This cookbook is more than just a collection of well put together. With each chapter and the each recipe in it, Ritu shares a personal side of her passion for the food she cooks as well as an introduction to how the recipe came about, or her memories connected to that recipe. For example her recipe for Spaghetti Puttanesca (yes, there’s a bit of Italian in this book too) starts with a story of how on a trip to Italy, there was a particular Indian gentleman who would insist on opening a jar of  Indian mango pickles at every restaurant they ate because he felt Italian food just didn’t work for his palate. And how the pungent smell of mustard oil in that pickle overpowered the aroma of truffles at a particular restaurant was well-known for, resulting in half the diners leaving the restaurant which then kicked them out! The book starts with an introduction where the author talks about her love for all food Italian and how she slowly started discovering other cuisines on her travels. The first chapter, My Perfect Kitchen, deals with how to stock one’s kitchen and pantry so that cooking becomes a pleasure. The second chapter, Basic Recipes, deals with stocks, sauces and marinades used in/ with the various recipes in the book. “Sole Food, Soul Food” has recipes for comfort food and one-dish meals, “More For The Merry” gives you recipes for fun finger food to serve at casual parties and lavish buffets, “The Morning After” has great recipes for brunch and picnics, “Table For Two” deals with cooking for special people and special occasions, and “After Hours” has some nice recipes for snacks. The recipes include Potato And Onion Roesti (Switzerland), Lime And Mint Risotto (Italy), Bhindi Bhojpuri (India), Cold Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Rarebit (England), Fellah Kofte (Turkey), Spring Onion Pancakes (China),  Kugelhopf (Austria), Almond Gazpacho (Spain), Orange Chocolate Pots (France), to name a few. Ritu Dalmia’s love for Italian is obvious from the number of Italian recipes in this book. The book ends with a list of eateries in various countries which the author personally recommends and a list of stores in the bigger cities of India where you could source many of the more unusual and exotic food items used in her recipes. Apart from the usual “Index”, she also provides a categorisation of all the recipes in the book according to type, such as Soups, Starters, Accompaniments, Desserts, etc to make meal planning easier. On the whole I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to go beyond everyday routine cooking, but is looking for a variety of easy-to-cook recipes that are a little different from the usual. I would have preferred to see some more photographs accompanying the recipes, and someone interested in food photography I expected to see photographs of a better quality in book like this. As a home cook for whom Ritu Dalmia has intended this book, I found it falling short in a couple of areas though. Nowhere does the book seem to tell me how many people the recipes serve. I would appreciate knowing if I would need to double a particular recipe or not when cooking for company especially. I’m not sure how many home cooks in India own kitchen scales or use them. I have kitchen scales but find it easier to use cup/ spoon/ volume measurements so I would have appreciated those measurements as well with the weight measurements for ingredients. And lastly, this one would be from all those cooks who do not live in any of the biggr cities of India. Ingredients like Phyllo dough, mushrooms like porcini and shiitake, couscous, cheeses like Camembert, fresh Mozarella, Feta, Halloumi and Philadelphia cream cheese, salad greens like rocket are mostly available only in the larger Indiancities and quite expensive at that. While I understand that substituting for these would mean loss of authenticity, it would have been nice if Ritu Dalmia had suggested possible locally available substitutes for such ingredients.

About The Author:
One of India’s better known chefs and restaurateurs, Ritu Dalmia is also the host of two popular cooking shows on Indian television. Her award winning restaurants - Diva, Café Diva and Latitude 28 in New Delhi as well as the café at the Italian Cultural Centre are known for their excellent food and service.

  Though I had marked a few recipes to try out from the book, a busy start to the new year meant I had the time to try out only 2 of them. One was the “Bhindi Bhojpuri” which was okra strips coated with chickpea flour (besan) and spices and the fried till crisp. I have never cooked okra this way and we really liked it. This can be made ahead of time and served with tea or coffee or even on the side as part of a main meal. The other one was the “Vegetable Balls With Tamarind Glaze”. The original recipe (Chicken Balls) uses chicken and Ritu Dalmia suggests substitutions this with vegetables cooked so they retain a little crunch for texture. I used shredded cabbage and grated carrots and potatoes along with some soya flakes (TVP) to make my vegetable balls. These tamarind glazed balls are somewhat reminiscent of the Vegetable Manchurian but have nice tang from the tamarind are much healthier as they’re steamed cooked.

The author introduces this recipe by saying “If you ask me where exactly I ate this dish first I cannot tell you because, honestly, I cannot remember. However it has become a favourite in my restaurants over the years and has evolved into a really tasty and innovative dish. I just love the way the tartness of the tamarind combines with the gentle soothing aroma of the sesame oil to make it a fabulous comfort food – but with a special zing to it!”
Vegetable Balls/ Dumplings With Tamarind Glaze (adapted from the Travelling Diva )
For the dumplings:
50 gm coriander leaves, chopped 20 gm garlic, finely chopped 300 gm mixed vegetables, finely chopped/ shredded (carrot, cabbage, potatoes) 1 tsp Thai green curry paste (optional) 1 egg, beaten A pinch of cornflour Soy sauce to season Salt to taste Pepper to taste 
For the sauce:
50 gm seasame oil or olive oil 100 gm spring onion 30 gm garlic, vertically sliced 200 gm pak choi 100 gm Chinese celery, chopped Soy sauce to season Salt to taste Pepper to taste 50 gm tamarind paste 20 gm sesame seeds 

For the dumplings:
Mix together all the ingredients for the dumplings. You can use cabbage, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans and peas. Form little balls with your hands. Steam or boil them for 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked. The dumplings should be firm and become white in colour. It is better for them to be undercooked then overcooked as they will cook again in the sauce. Also the vegetables need to be cooked yet retain their crunch.
For the sauce:
Heat the oil in a wok over a high flame. Add the chopped spring onions, garlic and the rest of vegetables and cook on high heat for 1 minute. Season with soy sauce and pepper. Soy sauce is salty, so do not add sauce until you have tasted it. Add the tamarind paste and a little water. This will give it a good consistency. Mix well for a minute or so. Add the cooked vegetable dumplings and toss them for a minute in the sauce so they absorb the flavours. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve. If you want to add some colour to the dish, garnish with chopped spring onions.
This recipe makes about 12 balls, each the size of a large walnut. This hosuld serve about 3 to 4 people.

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