Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India
by Madhur Jaffrey
297 pages; Hard cover; 36 Black and White Photographs
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY 2006
Reviewed by Robyn Eori for Good Cooking, Inc. December 2006

The review---

Although not actually a cookbook, Climbing the Mango Trees does include 32 of Madhur Jaffrey’s family recipes. For such a short collection I think Ms. Jaffrey did a wonderful job of including several different styles of Indian cooking. The recipes include appetizers, main dishes, vegetables, breads, and even a few chutneys.

The main body of the book is the fascinating tale of Madhur Jaffrey’s childhood and family history, told in such a way as to evoke in the reader all of the seductive sights, sounds, and smells of India herself.

As for the recipes, many of them are easy enough for a beginner to execute successfully. More accomplished cooks will also find new dishes to try. I decided to make a few dishes that I felt would balance each other and come together as a complete meal.


Savory Biscuits Studded with cumin Seeds
Bimla’s Chicken Curry
Grandmother’s Cauliflower with Cheese
Puffed Spiced Breads with Fenugreek
Fresh Limeade

All of the recipes I tried turned out very well and were relatively easy to make, although I would caution those not familiar with Indian cooking to try one or two dishes at a time so as not to be overwhelmed. I particularly liked the combination of the warm cumin flavored biscuits (page 289) with the brightness of the fresh limeade (page 294). The cauliflower with cheese (page 262) was a nice change from the usual, as was the spiced bread (page 278). Bimla’s Chicken Curry (page 256) benefited from some additional cooking time which helped to mellow the sauce.

Overall I was happy with the results and am looking forward to trying more of the recipes.

Savory Biscuits Studded with Cumin Seeds (A Kind of Mutthri)
Makes 24

My grandmother always had an enormous tin of mutthris, savory cookies, tucked away in the storeroom next to our kitchen. We ate them with the sweet, hot-and-sour ginger-mango chutney that she also stored close by. It was one of our favorite snack foods to have at teatime.

Over the years I have come up with my own variation of the traditional recipe. Instead of using ajowan seeds, which taste rather like thyme, I use cumin seeds, and I make my mutthris much thinner. My grandchildren just love them this way.

1 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), plus a little more for rubbing
Olive or peanut oil for deep-frying

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the cumin seeds and mix them in. Rub in the ghee. Slowly add about 5 tablespoons water, gather the flour together, and make a ball. You are aiming for a stiff dough. Knead very briefly, form into a ball again, and rub it with a little ghee. Put the ball in a plastic bag and set it aside for 30 minutes.

Knead the dough again until it is smooth, and divide into 3 parts. Keep two covered while you work with the third. Roll it out as thin as possible, about 1/16 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut out 3-inch rounds. Prod the cookies with a fork and spread out on a tray. Make all the cookies this way.

Pour about 1 inch oil into a frying pan and set over medium-low heat. Give th oil 7-10 minutes to heat up. When it is hot, put in as many as the pan can hold easily and fry them, turningnow and then, until they are golden on both sides. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and let then drain on paper towels. Make all the mutthris this way. When they have drained and cooled thoroughly, store them in a cookie tin or a ziplock plastic bag. They will last at least a week.

Fresh Limeade (Neebu ka Sharbat)
Makes 1 tall glass

Indian limes are juicy and small. Use whatever limes you can find.

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tablespoons superfine sugar
3/4 cup water, plain or fizzy
Ice cubes
Mix the lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Let the sugar dissolve completely. Pour into a tall glass. Pour in the water, either plain or fizzy, and add a few ice cubes. Stir.

Everyday Cauliflower (Roz ki Gobi)
Server 4

This is one of the ways our cauliflower was often cooked at home. I use a 2-pound head of cauliflower that yields about 7 cups of florets. When cutting the florets, make sure that each piece has a head about 1/2 inches wide, has a stem, and is about the same in length, or longer, as the width at the top.

6 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
7 cups delicate cauliflower florets
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground amchoor (green mango powder) or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Generous pinch of ground asafetida
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
one 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very fine julienne strips (cut into very thin slices first, then stack the slices and cut into fine strips)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh green chilies (optional)

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and set over medium heat. When it is hot, put in all the cauliflower florets. Stir and fry them until they turn reddish in spots. Remove them with a slotted spoon and spread them out on a platter lined with paper towels.

Turn off the heat under the frying pan and remove all but i tablespoon of the oil.

Put the drained florets in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, and amchoor over the top. Toss gently to mix. Taste for balance of flavors, making adjustments if needed.

Set the frying pan with its 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. When it is hot, put in the asafetida, and a second later the cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for 10 seconds. Now put in all the ginger shreds and stir for 30 seconds. Put in all the cauliflower and stir gently to mix. Add a generous sprinkling of water, cover, and turn the heat down very, very low. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, or until the cauliflower is just done and all the flavors have blended. Sprinkle the cilantro and green chilies, if desired, over the top. Toss and serve.

Puffed Spiced Breads with Fenugreek (Methi wali Bedvi)
Makes 12

In our family, we ate these bedvis with potato curries and pickles for breakfast on Sundays. Usually, one person rolled the breads while another fried them, keeping up a steady rhythm until all the dough had been used up. The breads cook fast, taking less than a minute each, so it is a good idea to have everything ready and then cook them just before you sit down to eat. My daughters used to help me, but now even my grandchildren join in the rolling, almost fighting each other to wield the rolling pin. I still do not allow them to come near the hot oil. They are allowed to watch from a safe distance.

Bedvis are best when they are just fried. If you wish to eat them somewhat later, stack them one on top of the other (they will deflate, but no matter) and keep them well covered. Do not refrigerate them. Serve them at room temperature or wrap them in a bundle of foil and heat in a medium oven for 10 minutes.

2 cups chapati flour (ata), or a mixture of 1 cup sifted whole wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose, unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or olive oil for the dough, plus more for deep-frying and rubbing on the dough
3 tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi ), well crumbled, dried stalks removed

Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Dust with the coriander, cumin, and cayenne. Mix well. Dribble in the 2 tablespoons oil and rub into the flour. Add the cilantro and rub it well into the flour, letting it release its moisture during this process. Now add the fenugreek and mix thoroughly. Slowly add enough water, a little at a time, so you can gather all the dough together into a ball. You are aiming for a stiff dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until smooth. Form the dough into a ball. Rub the ball with a little oil, then slip it into a ziplock or other plastic bag and leave for 30 minutes.

Bimla's Chicken Curry (DahiMurgh)
Serves 4

This recipe comes from Bimla, who married my cousin Shashi, Saran Bhua's son. The recipe is very like my mother's, only Bimla keeps the sauce thick and clinging to the chicken pieces. It is utterly delicious.

I buy a 3 1/4 pound organic chicken and get the butcher to skin it and cut it into small serving pieces. Legs should be separated into drumsticks and thighs, and each breast should be cut into two pieces.

Serve with rice or phulkas.

3 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
20 medium cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
one 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
8 green cardamom pods
Two 2-inch sticks cinnamon
8 whole cloves
14 whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon Kashmiri red-chili powder (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne plus 1/2 teaspoon of a nice sweet red paprika)

1 medium chicken, preferably organic, skinned, cut, and chopped into small serving pieces, net weight about 2 pounds 10 ounces
1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Put the onions into a blender. Add the garlic and ginger, and blend until you have a smooth paste.
Pour the oil into a large, heavy sauce or frying pan set over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns. Ten seconds later, add the onion paste and the red-chili powder. Now stir-fry for about 10 minutes, turning the heat down to medium if necessary, until the paste has turned a rich golden brown. Whenever It'seems to stick, sprinkle in a little water and stir it in.

Now add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, and stir them in. Again, sprinkle in some water if the sauce sticks to the bottom. When all the chicken has been added, begin to put in the yogurt, a tablespoon at a time, and stir it in just as you did the water. When the sauce sticks, add yogurt and stir it in. Do this this for about 10-12 minutes. When only 1/2 cup of yogurt is left, put it all in and stir it around, Add the salt as well, and stir to mix. Now cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.

Uncover and stir, making sure the sauce is clinging to the chicken.