The host of TV's Top Chef, Lakshmi puts her own culinary skills to the test in this glossy, cosmopolitan cookbook ‘Easy Exotic’. Here, in vibrant colors, are her own palate-shaping memories in the form of recipes and short but highly personal essays. Like Nigella Lawson, Lakshmi's sex appeal is part of her draw as a food personality, and this collection obliges with adorable family photos as well as glamour shots of the model/ actress nibbling on her creations.
For those who came in late, Padma Lakshmi is an award-winning cookbook author, an internationally renowned actress and model, and the host of Bravo TV's highly acclaimed Top Chef. She is the author of Easy Exotic, and former host of Padma's Passport and Planet Food on the Food Network and she lives in New York City.
Personally, I got this book just to "know Padma better." Now I am not much of a fan of Padma, but curiosity got the better of me, not to mention the pictures. I had heard of her from the gossip pages as Salman Rushdie's girlfriend not to mention the gorgeous travel show she had hosted with National Geographic and Food Finds. Whatever said, she does such a great job of making herself alluring, dating prominent men, having a TV show, talking about her rise to fashion fame... Now, who doesn’t want to know her better?
This is a cookbook, not a biography. She offers many recipes, which are delicious and gathered from her travels. Nonetheless, the recipes are healthy, low in cholesterol and fat as well. To top it all, most, if not all the recipes can be prepared in less than thirty minutes and is perfect for the busy, health-conscious cook. In fact this is perfect for anyone who wants cooking to be fast, fun, healthy, and delicious.
The global cuisine runs the gamut from a Southeast Asian-style Warm Peanut Salad with Tomato,
Provencale Tomato-Potato Stew, Baked Swordfish with Tomato and Basil, Rani Rice Pilaf, Coconut Chicken, Penne all' Arrabbiata, Cilantro to Persian Chicken Soup with Omani Lemon and Dill to fried chicken battered with Rice Krispies. Kerala Crab Cakes and Pineapple and Pomegranate Crumble are among the fusion dishes that blend cuisines with intriguing results.
Personally speaking, this isn't a bad cookbook but it isn't the greatest one either, if you don't buy it you're not missing out on anything except the glossy pictures of Padma. I guess I am being a bit rude here. But if you were to be given a dollar for every time she mentions Daniel and her mom, I would be a millionaire...
Also highlighted throughout are plenty of South Indian classics, reflecting Lakshmi's own heritage. Besides, the book could have done without some of the narratives as they appear rather shallow and it is obvious that it comes from the mind of a model. Take for example, “there I was in a beautiful Chanel gown eating a tuna fish sandwich”. Come on, give me something else, she has to highlight the village mood...
For people who aren't the best cooks but want to make some decent Indian dishes, Padma's book is pretty good for that. The recipes aren't that difficult and the Indian ones which are her specialty are the best in the book. The book is not only accessible to the new cooks but to the more experienced cooks as well. Little wonder that Easy Exotic won not just the adulation of fans, but the 1999 Versailles World Cookbook Fair Award for Best First Cookbook. It established her as a gifted chef and served as the basis for her own show on the TV Food Network, Padma’s Passport.
However, I have my reservations as most of her recipes are available on the food network site for free !
Mentioned below are two recipes from “Easy Exotic”
SAUTÉED CAULIFLOWER WITH ANISE AND CASHEWS
In North India, in a dish called aloo gobi, cauliflower is made with potatoes and cumin. I've replaced the potatoes with cashews and the cumin with anise seeds; it's lighter without the potatoes, and the cashews give it a rich, nutty flavor that pairs well with the anise seeds. The long, dry red chilies give the dish a burst of red color that looks gorgeous on the plate.
2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3 or 4 long dry red chilies
1 cup diced shallots
1-1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
2-1/4 pounds cauliflower, broken up into small florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cashews
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the anise seeds and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
Roughly break up the chilies, add them to the anise seeds, and stir. After 5 minutes, add the shallots, ginger, and cauliflower. Add 1/2 cup of water and the salt, and stir. Cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in the cashews, and cook for an additional 10 minutes or so uncovered, until all the moisture is gone, stirring occasionally. The cauliflower will reduce greatly in size, and should have some charred or brown bits at the edges. The cashews should also be toasted brown. Serve hot.
YELLOW VELVET LENTIL SOUP WITH CUMIN AND DRIED PLUMS
Gujarati food is known for its incredible variety of vegetables, lentils, and fruits. I love the lentil soups, or dal, the best. Gujarati dal has a slightly sweet and hot taste to it. This soup is inspired by the many luscious soups
3 cups orange (masoor) lentils, washed well with warm water and drained
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1-1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
2-1/2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 teaspoons curry powder
Juice of 1 lemon
10 dried plums, pitted, chopped lo bits
1 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
Fill a deep stew pot with the lentils, bay leaf, salt and enough water to cover the ingredients by One inch. Simmer on very low heat for 1 hour.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the cumin seeds. After 2 minutes, add the shallots and ginger, and cook until shallots are glassy. Add the coconut and stir until the coconut is golden brown.
Add all the tomatoes and the curry powder, and sauté on medium heat for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to wilt and lose their shape.
When the mixture forms a cohesive paste, add it to the lentils, stirring over low heat until nicely combined. Remove the bay leaves.
With an immersion blender, pulverize the lentils so that the whole mixture is roughly blended, but not totally liquefied.
Remove the soup from the heat and add the lemon juice, chopped plums, and cilantro. Stir in these final ingredients and serve hot.