Minneapolis-based chef, author, and cooking instructor Raghavan Iyer came out with “660 Curries” in 2008, his third book and a stupendous feat, a text-only trove of surprisingly varied, clear recipes that I still use regularly.
I was excited to learn that “Indian Cooking Unfolded: A Master Class in Indian Cooking With 100 Easy Recipes Using 10 Ingredients or Less,” streamlined for user-friendliness in American home kitchens, was in the works.
The new book’s format uses a handful of recipes that literally fold out into a spread to showcase step-by-step photography (a feature that’s more and more popular in today’s cookbooks). Combined with Iyer’s unusually vivid prose style, the overall effect is like having a kitchen GPS; it’s almost impossible to fail. We tested a cornucopia of sides, starches, and mains, and — apart from a few sour faces from the young ones when I forgot to dial down the heat — it was a parade of hits.
Poppadums, the ubiquitous lentil wafers of India, are fun to make if you haven’t before. You simply pass them over an open burner till they blister and bubble. We ate them with Iyer’s chili-spiked onions, which, except for the chilies, is pretty much identical to pico de gallo. Naan, the Indian flatbread, is so effortless to make (you don’t even need yeast) that it’s practically a must any time you happen to have the grill on anyway.
Mustard and almond crab cakes are held together with egg and ground almonds for a delicate texture that stands in contrast to the bright kick of dry mustard. Baked samosas with phyllo dough spring to life with a homemade garam masala, crumbled spinach, and paneer, folded like mini flags and baked. They’re easy enough to make as an appetizer even on a weekday, and tasty enough to eat several as a meal.
Proteins tend to be either simple or speedy. Pan-fried fillets of tilapia are mild, with an almondy coat whispering of fennel and mustard. Curry powder is nothing to be ashamed of, it turns out, when it pairs with ginger and garlic for results like Iyer’s Ultimate Chicken Curry. It’ll take you beyond the 10-ingredient limit if you make the powder yourself, but it’s a 5-minute effort that’s worthwhile if you have a spice grinder.
Grilled baby back ribs are probably the last thing you’d expect from an Indian cookbook, but I swear they are the best I’ve ever had (and I have eaten a lot of ribs). These are lightly shellacked, rather than sauced, with an intoxicating blend of tamarind, cumin, and maple. They outshone the sweet-scented pilaf (bay, cinnamon, cloves) I made as an accompaniment, but to be fair, I think they would have outshone just about anything.
The smallest gestures ignite Iyer’s sides, giving each a star turn. Turmeric hash browns are thrillingly crisp on the outside from a long, well-guarded sojourn in cast iron. A green bean dish provided a “Finally!” moment, the vegetable exploding with the flavors of lime, mustard, nutmeg, and almonds. Toasted coconut makes the sweetness of fresh corn in a salad sing, while crispy okra fries are the sort of food you can’t stop eating. Quartered lengthwise for slenderness and gilded with a chickpea flour batter, the okra is great with store-bought tamarind-date chutney, though go ahead and reach for the ketchup. And they are unexpectedly slime-free (the secret is to keep the okra, cutting board, and knife perfectly dry during prep).
A few recipes — citrusy cabbage, chickpea curry, cauliflower and peas — were overshadowed by the rest. They’re more on the order of weekday work-
In a kitchen bookcase, I keep the 50 or so books I cook from regularly. It’s full. But “Indian Cooking Unfolded” is so genial and persuasive, I’ll have to make room for one more.