The Cooking Chronicles: “Vij’s At Home”

One of my coworkers was absolutely raving about the cookbook Vij’s At Home, authored by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala, proprietors of the wildly successful Indian eatery Vij’s in Vancouver. She gave it perhaps the ultimate compliment: “If I could only choose one cookbook to use for the rest of my life, it would be this one.”

Vij's at Home

A few weeks ago, I came upon a copy of Vij’s At Home at the library while browsing its shelves, so I borrowed it to see if it was indeed worthy of such high praise. On first glance, it might be. It features long narrative sections that read like part of a memoir, while the recipe preambles are insightful, instead of an afterthought like in other cookbooks I’ve come across. As a whole, the recipes feel personal, and as my coworker remarked, one wouldn’t feel out of place curling up on the couch with this cookbook.

I’ve only had the chance to try three dishes from the book so far – I’ll either have to renew it to the limit or buy myself a copy to make the other recipes I’ve marked!

Spicy Peas and Mashed Potato Toasted Sandwiches and Spicy Cauliflower “Steak”

I haven’t yet made samosas from scratch, but maybe I won’t ever have to, given simpler alternatives with similar flavours like the spicy peas and mashed potato sandwiches exist! It was a pretty simple recipe – we boiled Greens, Eggs and Ham pixie potatoes (perfect given their yielding skins that meant no peeling required), mashed them up, then combined it with peas and onions that had been cooked with spices. Spread inside toasted ciabatta buns with a little yogurt-based Indian dressing, it was a little messy to eat, but worth every bite. We had lots of leftovers, which heated up well in a toaster oven.

Samosa Sandwiches and Cauliflower Steak

Spicy peas and mashed potato sandwiches and cauliflower steak

We served the sandwiches with spicy cauliflower “steak”. I cut a head of Riverbend Gardens cauliflower into large sections, and simmered it in a tomato masala (the recipe recommends crushed tomatoes, but I found hand-mashed diced tomatoes worked just as well). The cauliflower cooked perfectly, and was enhanced by the sweet-spicy flavours of the sauce. This was a dish that definitely improves with time – the masala was even better two days later.

Mushroom Medley in Potato Curry

Though I would like to say that serving the mushroom medley as a curry on rice was a deliberate decision, that would be a lie – it was more of an accidental assumption. Reading through the preamble, one gathers that the “medley” is a soup, and not a traditional curry, but given the recommended accompaniment was rice, I figured it was just a loose suggestion.

We added a package of firm tofu to round make the dish a meal, and found it to be a good textural addition. More mushrooms would have been fine as well (like a small variety basket from MoNa), and Mack and I both noted that we would have preferred to have kept the potatoes in diced form, instead of lightly mashed – it didn’t exactly thicken the base as we thought it might have.

Mushroom Medley

Mushroom medley

Serving it on rice tempered the spice a little, though the buttermilk gave it a distinctly light creaminess that balanced it nicely. The next day, we enjoyed it as a soup proper – it was actually quite oily on top, as the overnight chill did not treat the broth’s cohesiveness well. So unlike the previous two dishes, this one is best consumed in one sitting.

Have you tried Vij’s at Home? Are there other recipes you would recommend from the book?

5 thoughts on “The Cooking Chronicles: “Vij’s At Home”

  1. I don’t normally cook heavily from cookbooks, but I am going to have to borrow this book. I’ve heard quite a lot about Vij’s (as soon as people realise I cook Indian food, they ask me if I’ve been to Vij’s :))
    so I am quite keen to know what the fuss is all about.

    Thanks for the review, Sharon. Would you call this book a collection of ‘authentic’ recipes, or have they been scaled down for the Western palate?

  2. Michelle – I’m the opposite from you (a bit of a cookbook junkie :). Vij’s is definitely worth a visit, if only to experience the “hype” yourself!

    Regarding your question – I have to say I’m not sure. Most of the Indian food I’ve been exposed to in my life comes from restaurants which have scaled their spices and flavours back. So to that end, the two recipes I tried weren’t overwhelming to my palate. I’d be interested to hear your perspective if you give the cookbook a try!

  3. If you want to try Vij’s cuisine but without having to wait in line, right next to it is Rangoli. It serves dishes similar to Vij’s but without that line. Very little in terms of compromise, as Rangoli is owned by Vij as well.

  4. I have been cooking Indian food for around 40 years, and Vij’s recipes are my favourites. The best things I’ve tried are his Short Ribs with Cinnamon and Wine, Lamb with Cinnamon, and family Chicken Curry (very similar to the recipe from Time-Life’s Food of the World series, but with more spices). His lamb popsicles are famous. So, I guess I think he’s best with animal protein dishes – but that may just be my personal taste.

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