PURE VEGETARIAN’ : PREMA SRINIVASAN : WESTLAND : PAGES 328 : PRICE RS 695/-‘
There are vegetarian cookbooks galore. One might ask whether there is a need for yet another one. But then this book is unique. It occupies a niche in the cookbook market. It is more than a cookbook. It goes back to the roots of vegetarian cooking, traces its history from the Vedic period and how it has evolved over thousands of years. The word ‘Pure’ in the title of the book stands for ‘Saatvik’ food based on Aayurvedic principles and abundant in ‘praana’, the universal life force. It is the diet of yogis devised for the evolution of the higher consciousness. Food that nourishes the body and the soul.
It is a large-format paperback book, a bit intimidating by size, but subdued in presentation and yet its pictures some colourful which stand out while others in green which could have been better, containing a goldmine of information drawn richly from our Vedic heritage. Food is an important part of our culture. Offering food to the Gods before eating it in moderation is ‘de rigueur’ and part of our culture. The book is a compelling read and a vegetarian foodie’s delight. Mrs Prema Srinivasan has adopted a cerebral approach in introducing traditional cooking to modern readers and besides laying out more than 100 recipes which are easy to follow and prepare has not left untouched the other ‘accoutrement’ that go with cooking - the traditional utensils and appliances, and the fine blending of spices that produce the right aroma and flavour. Not restricting herself to Indian traditions alone, the author has introduced the readers to Italian and Buddhist cuisines as they too place emphasis on the use of pure vegetables.
Gourmands like me can literally take an epicurean journey through the vegetarian cuisine of South India by going through this book. After the initial chapters on the culinary tradition and the author’s beginnings, the subsequent chapters pictorially describe the traditional vessels used in cooking, how weights and measurements are very important to maintain consistency of taste, and the pre-cooking processes. Quoting from the Upanishads, the author focuses on the spirituality of food and the special and sacred food offerings of the famous Vishnu temples in South India. The next chapter is all about rice. It was a revelation to read how temples distributed cooked food to the community, the nearly 2 lakh varieties of rice grown in our country, the order of serving food and the ‘sadrasas’ (six tastes) which makes eating of cooked vegetables with spices a pleasurable experience while it tickles our tastebuds. Pacchadis and salads, dals and gojju, the plethora of vegetables, kuzhambu and saambaar, the effervescent rasam and its varieties, the different mouth-watering sweets- each of these get a full chapter. Then comes the iconic South Indian tiffins which include idli, the different varieties of dosai, vadai, uppuma, aapam etc, There is a very interesting chapter on regional vegetarian cuisines - Rajapalaayam, Todaimandala Mudaliyaar, Kongunaadu and Udupi. I found the chapter on the experience of paan-eating heavenly. Separate chapters are devoted to the accompaniments to the main courses like chutneys and tugaiyals, pickles and podis which make them so much more enjoyable to eat. The irresistible trademark South Indian ‘ kapi ’(cofffe) is the ‘finale’. Mrs Prema Srinivasan refers to it as ‘nectar of the Gods’. She explains how ‘degree coffee’ (rated as excellent) is made using the coffee filter. All these chapters makes the book very exceptional .
Mrs Prema Srinivasan carries with her the rich traditions of Brahmin culture, intellectualism, spirituality, and philosophy of life. She shows her open and absorbing mind and her willingness to assimilate those styles of food which though alien are consistent and compatible with vegetarian cooking. The book has been painstakingly researched and draws its contents from various authentic sources. It is a marvelous contribution to the genre of cookbooks and will always provide reference and authenticity to the serious reader and practitioner.