"Truly a treasure! In The Bombay Cafe cookbook, Neela Paniz evokes the same warmth, vibrance, and uniquely exquisite flavors that distinguish her West L.A. restaurant." -Julie Sahni, author of Classic Indian Cooking
As a child growing up in Bombay, Neela Paniz would sometimes wander down to the kitchen-drawn by fragrant aromas-to see what her mother's inspired cook, Chandan, had in store for her family that day. He would lift a few lids and allow her peek, give her a taste or two, then send her on her way, happily anticipating the next meal. "It was impossible to not to grow up loving food around Chandan," she says now, "In many ways, I feel that he is the inspiration behind my Santa Monica restaurant, The Bombay Cafe."
The Bombay Cafe may have been inspired by Chandan's traditional Indian cooking, but it is defined by Paniz's own innovations and personal style. She has taken full advantage of fresh ingredients not readily available in the India of her childhood (such as seafood, and irrigated vegetable crops) to create light, clear tastes and forward-looking dishes. Her new cookbook, The Bombay Cafe, chronicles her techniques and delicious signature recipes.
Traditional Indian cuisine is based on practicality and an appreciation for fresh spices. For economic and religious reasons, meat is only a supplementary ingredient in most meals, while combinations of lentils and rice provide complete proteins. Lack of water makes irrigated crops such as lettuce impossible, but "common" vegetables such as cauliflower are used to stunning effect in dishes such as "Cauliflower with Ginger and Green Chiles." The scarcity of refrigeration makes seafood hard to come by, but free range chickens provide meat so tender and flavorful that it is considered a delicacy. Paniz is unimpressed with large farm-raised American chickens, and sometimes uses Cornish hens as a substitute in dishes such as "Grilled Marinated Chicken with Mint Chutney and Lime-Cilantro Onions" or Cornish Hens with Dried Mango Powder."
For all its classic traditions, Indian cooking has never been static. At the Bombay Cafe Paniz defies the stereotypes of rich, heavy Indian dishes. She focuses on vegetables and seafood in her entrees. While almost all Indian vegetable dishes begin the cooking process the same way-by flavoring heated cooking oil with spices-Paniz says, "I find that using oil with a light hand keeps the flavors brighter and lighter, so I have developed a simple technique: I tilt the pan to form a pool for the spices to sauté in, which allows me to use less oil than more traditional cooks do." Her "California Tandori Salad" is one of her most popular dishes, and her desserts-lighter versions of Indian classics as well as her own creations-include homemade sorbets and ice creams, made from mangoes, lime, mint, lemon and ginger.
In addition to recipes for vegetables, poultry, seafood, and meat, The Bombay Cafe, features a section on starters and desserts, as well as a glossary, mail-order sources, and a primer of basics. "Chandan taught me to pay attention to detail," says Paniz, "In this book I pass along a few indispensable tips, basic guidelines, and master recipes, but once one becomes accustomed to the flavors and methods, it's very easy to improvise. I see so many wonderful non-Indian foods around me and I love to incorporate the best of them into my cooking. Almost any meal can be given an Indian twist-and made all the better for it."
Chef and co-owner of Los Angeles's renowned Bombay Cafe, Neela Paniz is a member of the American Institute of Wine and Food; a guest chef at cooking schools nationally; and a board member of the Los Angeles chapter of Les Dames D'Escoffier, the Southern California Culinary Guild, and the International Association of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. She lives with husband and two children in Los Angeles.
The Bombay Cafe
By Neela Paniz
Ten Speed Press
272 pages, two-color
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created January 1999
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