About the Book
The key to the best vegetarian food of the Tamil world is home-style cooking. Prema Srinivasan leads us to that world with her Pure Vegetarian cookbook, a guide which will have cooks and foodies perking up their ears and cleansing their palates in anticipation.
If you thought rasams, sambhars and idlis summed up the cuisine of the area, Srinivasan points you to the countless variations on such dishes-and others. The more than hundred recipes in this book offer up ways, inftuenced by region, community, or simply, the seasons, to put the best platters on the table. They showcase the wide variety and infinite inventiveness of the Tamil kitchen. Lesser-known dishes, featuring specific types of grains, and an awesome array of chutneys and pickles, are also lovingly included.
Each section is accompanied by anecdotal explanations of the history and culture around the recipe, and by beautifully illustrated plates showing the ingredients, the utensils, the presentation, and of course, the food itself, each in relation to the rest. This book is a much-needed addition to the library of any discerning gourmet, or anyone with an interest in the food and culture of Tamil India.
About the Author
Prema Srinivasan was brought up in a traditional South Indian family. From an early age, she learned to appreciate culinary heritage. Later on, she developed an interest in 'the origins of food. As she learned to cook, she developed her variations of a healthy vegetarian diet, balanced according to Ayurvedic principles. Recognizing that food cultures are in a dynamic process of evolution, Srinivasan took a keen interest in incorporating some of the trans-regional and international influences that are compatible with the traditional core of South Indian vegetarian cuisine in our cosmopolitan age.
There are so many cookbooks but the reasons for writing this one are distinctive. First of all, this text, along with its accompanying recipes and explanations, documents the history of a vegetarian food sensibility that was nurtured in an orthodox home, bound by traditions. Second, it records the regional cuisines of India and several international delicacies that fit more generally into a satvik vegetarian ethos- satvik meaning the quality of purity and goodness.
Beginning my experiences in the kitchen as a young girl of seventeen who could make only one dish, uppumii, and that too through sheer instinct and memory, I grew to delight in the amazing and unlimited variety of 'pure vegetarian' dishes from around the world, particularly influenced by the vegetarian cuisine of Italy and that of the Chinese Buddhist temples. These non-Indian culinary traditions also assign an important place to vegetables that form an indispensable part of the daily menu of pure vegetarians.
The use of condiments and the methods of South Indian cuisine are common to the Srivaisnava, Smarta and Madhwa traditions of the southern Indian states, with a few regional variations for taste and innovation. This sensibility, the belief in a pure vegetarian ethos is not unique to these communities alone. Many individual families, whole groups from Rajapalayarn, Tondaimandalam and kongunadu follow rigorous vegetarian principles by choice. Wealthy and cultured, the Arya Vaisyas who originated from Andhra and settled down in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are strict vegetarians. What is more, their cooks are also from pure vegetarian communities. This tradition of pure vegetarian belongs to all these groups and to the many others that one may not be aware of.
Central to all these cuisines is the code of yama, to eat in moderation, and niyama which is ahimsa or non-violence, which means not to hurt any living thing, a code laid down by Vedic seers. Another important belief that is common not only to these groups but to the whole of India, is the vital requirement to share one's food with others.
Given the historical importance of Jaina religion in South India vegetarian cuisine of the type discussed in this book, was well-known and widespread in multiple communities and linguistic contexts even if not universal at different points in time. Even in present-day practice, where food of this type competes for space in modern India with multiple regional and international cuisines, these recipes and their variants are familiar not just to the particular community in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, but also to other communities. For this reason, we should not make the mistake of communalizing this cuisine. Rather, we should see it as a significant form that travels across religious communities, historical periods, and geographical space.
South Indian society, in the decades running up to India's independence in the 20th century, was a composite whole. The Madras Presidency-as it was known then-comprised areas of Tamil Nadu, Andhra, I<erala, and two districts of Orissa. Knit by the free exchange of language, culture, and cuisine, that formative moment was a time of great understanding and harmony across this region.
Living in Madras, as it was called then, many of us were familiar with the customs of all the southern states. Friends and neighbours were from all the regions, and there was friendship and a mutual cordiality amongst all of us, when state-wide divisions had not yet emerged to separate us.
Language was not a barrier for understanding stories or music. Carnatic (South Indian classical) music was also commonly known and appreciated all over the south. This commonality made it easy for us to enjoy the stories from the puranas and the epics told by the famous harikatha exponents Banni Bai and Saraswati Bai who would speak and sing in a mixture of Tamil, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu. The powerful stories and cultural performances moulded our thoughts and influenced our conduct. Cooks from Andhra and Mysore were brought specially to cook for weddings. Dishes from those areas were liked and accepted as one's own. The New Year's Day of these two regions, Yugadi, and Kerala's Visu were celebrated with as much fervour as Tamil New Year's Day.
As many more began to travel to other parts of India for the sake of work, and some worked for long years in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta or Ahmedabad, and even as far north as Kashmir, the culinary delicacies of those places became familiar by being brought back to us and slowly became part of our menu, even appearing daily as 'tiffin' or as special dishes for various occasions.
Towards the end of the century, the pan-Indian circle of cuisine was complete. North Indian cooks came to dominate many wedding menus as their preparations were considered to be specifically suited to a guest list that showed a wide mix of communities and regions. It has become a pattern now to serve the standard South Indian menu for the morning with the variations showing up only in the sweets, while the evening wedding reception has dishes from all corners of India.
Newer influences are now entering the 'authentic' cuisine that I started out knowing. Cooking methods, too, are, today, being influenced by Euro-American and East Asian techniques of food preparation. Drastically, food has come to be associated with the word 'fast', a method that seems to have swept across the country, so much so, that we do not seem to know-let alone understand-the subtleties of flavours and tastes within Indian regional cooking. The tongue accommodates what is given to it, and over a period of time, all discrimination is lost. What can we expect from a society that now eats standing up?!
This book is an attempt to preserve some of the old recipes and the gentler ways of cooking in times now past. The recipes in the book represent satvik vegetarian cooking from South India, panning across communities and regions. Some recipes have had their origin in other parts of India but their popularity and usage in the south stretches back more than 150 years. These dishes now form an accepted part of the daily menu in many South Indian homes.
Many of the recipes in the book are easy to prepare and have been experimented with and enjoyed by family and friends at my home. Quite a number of these recipes can be tried out successfully even by a first- time cook while a few others are more complex and may therefore require more effort and practice.
I hope that my efforts will attract the attention and interest of contemporary readers as well as all those who wish to acquaint them- selves with a pure but diverse vegetarian cuisine, a cuisine that is both traditional and personalized.
Identity and Culinary Tradition
Tal king of Vessels
Weights and Measurements
Pacchadis and Salads
Dais and Gojju
Kulambu and Sambhar
Chutneys and Tugaiyals
Podis and Ready-Made Powders
Miscellaneous Cooking Tips
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