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The new book by chef Floyd Cardoz carries the intriguing title of “Flavorwalla.” Native of Mumbai, India, Flavorwalla is Mr. Cardoz’s self-applied nickname.
“Walla is a merchant of a specific item or someone who is knowledgeable about a trade,” he writes. “I’m the Flavorwalla because I have made my mark as a creator of bold, exciting food with balanced layers of flavors and textures that play off each other.” Flavor is what you’ll find in his recipes; flavor jumps off the pages.
It’s the second book from the chef of the now-closed Tabla in New York City, also a four-time Beard Award nominee and winner of “Top Chef Masters: Season 3.”
Make no mistake, there are Indian dishes here, but this is not an Indian cookbook. He writes: “My food (like my life) is a fusion of many different cuisines and cultures, with subtle Indian accents.”
Mr. Cardoz wrote the book because his friends and family had been asking for recipes. To have a record, and for his sons, he recreated dishes, writing the recipes down, concentrating on food cooked at home.
He loves cooking for his family. It shows them he cares, he says. “This last year, I’ve been home for dinner each night. If I were home all day, I’d cook all three meals. I like to share my time, my passion and my soul with them in every way.”
While this is a book by a chef, with co-author Marah Stets, it’s not a “chefy” cookbook. Recipes don’t include a trillion ingredients or numerous sub-recipes. They’re accessible, even with their sophisticated array of spices and chiles. The photos display attainable food, not restaurant-glossy shots.
I cooked my way through a half-dozen dishes with delicious results and there are more on my must-make list. Two I’m really keen to try are Chicken Tagine with Olives, Chickpeas and Pine Nuts and Shrimp Curry with Cauliflower.
A useful section at the front of the book discusses spices. Mr. Cardoz grinds his own (in most cases) in an electric coffee grinder. He details the flavors and properties of each, giving a tour of his spice cupboard. He categorizes some spices into warming or cooling spices. Ones such as cinnamon and ginger “are typically used more liberally during the colder weather.” Cooling spices — such as chilies and fennel — can help you to cool off. That’s useful in countries with hot climates.
Indian food is generally thought of as curry, made with “curry powder,” a blend of spices. But it’s not used in real Indian dishes. “Spices should be ground fresh, otherwise they lose potency,” he says. The spice blend should be specific to the dish. “Most commercial curry powders are a mix of who knows what. You can make your own so easily.”
So what is a curry? “It's a sauce with spice,” he says, of the origins of the term, which now also means the completed dish: Eggplant curry, goat curry, and so on. “There are thousands of curries. Different colors, different complexities, some made with tamarind, some with vinegar, some with lentils, others with tomatoes. They’re eaten with rice, with bread.”
He’s also passionate about gardening. In the front of his house he grows flowers. Dahlias and zinnias he loves. Vegetables are relegated to the sides of the house. “My wife doesn’t let me plant tomatoes in the front.”
His vegetable garden includes potatoes, chiles, cucumbers, beets, peas, garlic, mustard greens and various herbs. Asparagus had a tough year. Each season he tries a new heirloom tomato; last year it was ‘Rutgers,’ and a different vegetable. This season he’ll be growing edamame.
When we spoke, he’d been making late preparations to catch a plane for India, leaving the next day. He’s opened a restaurant in Mumbai called Bombay Canteen and he’s opening a new restaurant in New York City called Paowalla or bread-seller. Pao is the Portuguese word for bread, adopted into Indian culture. It will emphasize dishes he's learned about through his travels and be “casual, modern Indian, looking at things people have not seen, but have been around for years.”
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mmmrubin
Grilled Chicken Skewers
Chef Cardoz writes, “If the weather is lousy, a grill pan on the stove can stand in for the outside grill.” Serve these super-flavorful skewers as appetizers or the main event.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Minced zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon (remove citrus zest with vegetable peeler and chop finely with knife)
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, finely ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut lengthwise into 3 pieces, 12 strips total
Canola oil for the grill
2 limes cut into wedges, for serving
6 to 12 metal or soaked bamboo skewers
In Ziploc bag, put oil, shallots, garlic, rosemary, lime zest and juice, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Seal bag and shake to blend. Add chicken, seal bag, squeezing out air, and massage to thoroughly coat chicken. Marinate in refrigerator at least 6 but no more than 24 hours.
If grilling outside, heat grill to medium-high. If cooking outside, reserve marinade; if cooking inside, discard it. Thread 1 or 2 chicken strips onto each skewer. Season with salt and let stand at room temperature until grill is ready. Or heat a stovetop grill pan.
Oil grill or pan. Place skewers on grill and brush on some marinade; discard remaining marinade. Grill skewers until they release easily and are well marked, about 4 minutes. Flip them over and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve.
Makes 6 servings
— Adapted from “Flavorwalla: Big Flavor. Bold Spices. A New Way to Cook the Foods you Love” by Floyd Cardoz (Artisan, 2016, $29.95)
Romaine-Cucumber Salad with Lime and Thai Chile
Chef Cardoz adapted this from a salad a Thai cook made for “family dinner” when he worked at Lespinasse. It became a favorite of his family’s as well. Mine too, though it’s one huge salad. Use a little less romaine and cucumber for a smaller family. He adds leftover steak, chicken or fish to make a main dish. Serrano chiles can substitute for Thai chilies.
2 tablespoons canola oil
Juice of 1 large lime
1½ tablespoons fish sauce or minced anchovies
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 fresh Thai chile, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 hothouse or 3 Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise, sliced into thin half-moons (3 cups)
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2 romaine hearts, cut crosswise into strips
1 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
1/2 cup mint leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In salad bowl, whisk oil, lime juice, fish sauce, ginger, chile and sugar. Mix in red onion, cucumbers and radishes. Let stand at room temperature 10 to 20 minutes.
Add romaine, cilantro and mint and toss gently to coat with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
— Adapted from “Flavorwalla: Big Flavor. Bold Spices. A New Way to Cook the Foods You Love” by Floyd Cardoz. (Artisan, April 5, 2016, $29.95)