Table scraps 

The Vij and I

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The Vij’s Indian Cuisine cookbook changed my life.

A big statement for a single, 205-paged book now dog-eared, post-it plastered and food splattered.

Amongst the 90 plus recipes, somewhere between mastering simple masalas and Vij’s Holy Grail of marinated lamb popsicles, I discovered my inner cook.

My graveyard of burnt pots was finally banished to the dark corners of cardboard boxes, packing away my shame of warped frying pans and melted, mangled plastic utensils.

There would be no more fire detectors blaring with such familiarity I’ve become immune to their screams. No more flooded kitchen floors with a defrosting turkey bucketed in a sink. No more weekly refreshers on how to use the fire extinguisher strategically placed an arm’s length from the oven — I noticed this was installed after I moved in.

I now can cook and look my landlord in the eye and say with 100 per cent absolute certainty that I will not burn the place down.

Forget the mystery of the Taj Mahal, the residence of the Dalai Lama, the sacred waters of the Ganges.

For me, the real secret of India is Vij’s guidance on producing outstanding Indian cuisine from cover to cover even in the kitchens of the most cooking challenged. I read. I cooked. I discovered God’s gift to the microwave fallen — the oven timer.

Yes it is second cousin to the fire alarm; only this warning comes before the fire trucks pull up to your house.

Between learning how to use a timer and a recipe book that steps you through dishes literally minute by minute, I am now cooking with such confidence that I’ve had a number of friends over to sample Vij’s dishes and they’ve all lived to talk about it and even applaud it.

Before my head won’t make it through the kitchen door, the step-by-step instruction of the Vij’s Cook Book deserves all the credit. Vij’s partner, Meern Dhalwala, was a sympathetic writer when creating the book, remembering her days of novice Indian cooking where cutting and sautéing was the sum total of her culinary knowledge. Like her, I knew nothing about spices and layering, unlike her failing and succeeding over a stove for 11 years, the cook book fast tracks the reader through mastering complex flavours in the flip of a page turn.

The cooking challenged will love the informative but brief introductions to the nuances of Indian kitchens and ingredients. Learn how to make ghee, tomato broth and other supporting acts for the star attractions. Chances are you might have troubles finding moong dal, but the book will give you ingredients’ other aliases: dal, mung or lentil.

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