Madhur Jaffrey Will Make Your Garden Meaningful


Jaffreycookbook Here is my latest Kirkus post…and we are giving away two copies of the amazing cookbook to the right to the two best comments.

It’s a simple truth: Vegetable gardeners need great cookbooks.  If you’re adventuresome in your planting, the most valuable thing in the world is a cookbook that can help you turn that into adventure on the plate.

My favorites are the Indian cookbooks written by the Indian-born writer and actress Madhur Jaffrey. Many of Jaffrey’s dishes are delicious stews, yet the vegetables somehow remain brightly flavored within even highly spiced curries.

The taste of Jaffrey’s food is miraculously rich and garden-fresh at the same time.  I spoke with Jaffrey in April and learned that for her, too, cooking and gardening are completely intertwined.

 MO:  Why are your cookbooks are so rewarding for gardeners?

MJ: India is a nation of great vegetables, totally seasonal, really local, with so much variety.  So Indians eat a lot of vegetables.  Meat is only a small part of the meal.  And don’t forget, one-third of the country is vegetarian.  It’s so much a part of our history.  India has the best vegetarian food in the world.

MO: Your latest cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, includes photos of a lovely country garden.

MJ: What you see in the book—down to the plates, cups and saucers—is actually my house in upstate New York.

When I started working on the garden, it was nothing.  A house in field.  I began with flowers.  But as I’ve gotten older, I have developed the same passion for the vegetable garden as my father had–my father grew all our vegetables.

The vegetable garden began with a fenced 20 by 20 plot. It was too small, so I turned it into a berry patch.  Then I made an enclosed garden just for vegetables, 30 by 30.  That was not big enough, either, because I wanted to grow corn.  But not sweet corn, instead the maize that we used to roast on a fire in India.

Nobody grows it, or they grow it for putting up at Halloween, and it was difficult to find the seeds.  So Alice Waters sent me maize seeds.  It was so delicious that I ate all the maize, such stupidity, and didn’t save the seeds.  And I didn’t have the guts to ask Alice to send them again!  Eventually, I built another plot just for maize.

MO:  I usually find your recipes pretty efficient. I can make a single meat and vegetable dish in 45 minutes, which makes your cookbooks well suited to weeknight cooking.  But your latest cookbook speeds up the process even more.  It seems to be an answer to people who say they don’t have time to cook, yet it’s all fresh.  It steers clear of that hideous Sandra Lee “semi-homemade” factory food territory.

MJ: People say Indian food takes time to make. Well, every county has dishes that take two days to cook.  But people also cook simpler dishes, and that it is the way I cook for everyday life. 

Over time, I have also worked out techniques to simplify recipes.  For example, with a curry, I used to brown everything in order on the stove, the onions, the spices, the meat, and it took time.  Now, I just put all the spices and seasonings on the meat, let it marinate, and then bake it in the oven, so it all browns together.  It takes less time for the same results.

MO: Do you plant any specifically Indian varieties of vegetables?

MJ: They don’t always do well in my climate.  I planted winged beans last year, but I’ve given up—they were such stubby little things.

Don’t tell Customs, but I do bring back seeds when I travel.  For example, I have planted an Indian cucumber that is pencil-sized and slightly curly.  I brought back seeds from Barbados for a chili that is like a habanero without the heat.  It has a delicious aroma.

MO:  One of the things I like about your cookbooks is the suggested accompaniments at the top of the recipes.  The surprising thing is that you’ll often recommend mixing traditional American fare with Indian dishes.

MJ: I cook everything and I grow what I love.  It all goes with everything else.  Anything people say should not be done—probably should be.


  1. My partner Daniel lived in London for many years, and loves curries. But as a provincial American, I am very nervous about cooking them! I would love a good cookbook that would put my fears to rest, and allow me to use up veg from my garden in the bargain! Please pick me – Daniel will be thrilled, and I’ll get over my curry cooking reluctance!

  2. I have two Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks and have never been disappointed by any of the recipes. This book is a must for my collection.

  3. Forget the book. Send me Madhur Jaffrey. At the end of a long day of garden maintenance I am too tired to cook. My closest cook is leaning heavily towards retirement now that her main diner is gone. I can only hope this year’s vegetable garden will re-inspire her.

  4. Does she give any hints on how to grow bitter gourd in a Zone 4 garden? Or commercial sources for Indian maize seeds?

    I will admit, I used to live in S. Asia, so I am very comfortable with the spices and cooking techniques (last night for dinner had Rahar dal with coconut milk, curry leaves, garlic, and spices, along with a radish curry), but I always love new recipes, especially if they use ingredients I can grow here in the north!

    (My curry leaf plant is from Logees and on the windowsill, but I have already killed one)

  5. Great interview and I love how she said she combined the cooking processes. My daughter Zora made a goal her senior year in high school, to prepare many of the recipes in Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking cookbook (highly recommended to us by an Indian friend). What fun we had enjoying those meals! I bought two more books for her at Christmas but it’d be great to add this one to the collection!

  6. Growing up in the deep South, I helped grow and (mostly) ate lots of vegetables from the time I was old enough to walk and talk. When I got older, married and moved to the “city” (Nashville, TN) I found the most wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant. I was amazed to see how so many of the dishes, while uniquely Indian, could be “Southern” as well – carrot halwa, for instance, could be a “carrot surprise” at a Southern diner – there’s nothing in there that Southerners don’t eat and they’d probably think it was their idea first. The same can be seen with the okra and tomato dishes – they’d be right at home in my Grandmother’s kitchen, and again, she’d never believe they were traditional Indian fare.

    Food connects us all in ways we don’t really understand – and as I get older and try new things, I am so thankful for growing up in those gardens and learning about veggies – only to re-learn 20 years later!

  7. I have a couple of Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbooks and several of her recipes have become family favorites. I thought when I retired I would spend more time cooking (I love to cook) but I find retirement has brought more community involvement which often requires cooking, but no more time. Lots of vegetarians in our area so this book would be a treasure in my kitchen.

  8. My husband is a full time fruit/vegetable farmer and it’s just sad that I don’t have a decent cookbook. This one sounds wonderful!

  9. Thirty years ago Indian restaurants were few and far between, but as the 70’s and 80’s progressed (especially in the SF Bay Area, where I lived at the time), we came to know and love Indian cuisine. We started to cook it ourselves, and Madhur Jaffrey was with us every step of the way, bless her heart. We tried all of her recipes in the NY Times; I especially remember how helpful it was when she had suggestions for where to find the more exotic Indian ingredients, and what to substitute if we couldn’t find them, or have them at hand.

    Fast forward to my small, rural Oregon town in the present day–no Indian restaurants here, and the most exotic part of the grocery store is labelled “Oriental Food” (3 types of soy sauce, sesame oil, some noodles and those Japanese rice candies that you can eat with the wrapper on). Let’s just say that we draw heavily on our past to make the dishes we crave, and fresh ingredients from the garden seem to blur all cultural lines. I’d love to have Jaffrey’s latest!

  10. I’ve been a fan of Madhur Jaffrey since her “Far Eastern Cookery” came across my desk many years ago. Her recipe for Stir-Fried Green Beans with Pork and Chilies” (Page 188) is a tradition at our house. We always make it when we harvest green beans. (And other times of the year, as well. It’s that good.) We have never made a recipe of hers that we didn’t like.

  11. Love your backhanded *snap* to Sandra Lee (who is now your First Girlfriend, I believe). While I watch her SemiHomemade show with fascinated revulsion, the poor girl deserves some credit, having arisen from a career advertising window treatments at trade shows. Plus, you know she’s not as evil, controlling and downright beeyotchy as the Pole-turned-über-WASP Martha.

  12. Ah, Madhur Jaffrey! More than 20 years ago I was hooked on her TV series on the Beeb in the UK and I have her book from back then, it might be the original “MJ’s Indian Cooking”. Of the many cookbooks on my shelves it is one of maybe 3 that I go back to time and time again for great food. I love the immersive nature of cooking Indian, the smell of certain spices that totally tell you that you’re cooking Indian and nothing else, the colors, the new ingredients and, of course, the eating. She really demystified Indian cooking for me, making it a staple in my own house and allowing me to share what until then had been only an occasional treat.

  13. Thanks for the recommendation. I just requested 2 of her books from the library. I can’t wait to try her recipes.

  14. I love indian food and I’m loving my new vegetable garden. I’ve never heard of Madhur Jaffrey, which seems such a shame after reading the interview. Whether I win it or not, I’ll be getting this book. 🙂

  15. I have a couple of Madhur Jaffrey’s books and she is amazing.

    Found it interesting to read her experience trying to grow Indian vegetables. I’ve been on that road myself for the last couple of years and my biggest challenge has been to find good quality seeds that even germinate well.

    I fondly protect and grow curry leaves (3+ years), drumstick (a year) and other vegetables used in Indian cooking. But I have been the most impressed with the variety and quality of Okra seeds available in the US.

  16. When you are cooking with fresh from the garden ingredients it’s so nice to have a cookbook you can rely on for reliably delicious results. Madhur Jaffery’s books can be trusted to make the most of your precious harvest. I would love to win this new book!

  17. I need to plan my menus around vegetables, not meat. Instead of chicken monday, beef tuesday ham wednesday,etc, and working the vegetables in it would be great to have recipes to do it opposite. And if these recipes are as good as they sound, maybe even the meatman will be happy. And healthier.

  18. I am an ayurvedic practitioner, and I think growing the food we cook with leads to healthy digestion, and a healthy state of mind. Ayurveda has allowed me to fall in love with Indian food, and I am growing my first vegetable and herb garden this year! This book looks amazing!

  19. I absolutely love Indian food, and I don’t get out to eat it very often. Within the next month, my new old stove will be delivered after being without a stove/oven and cooking only in the microwave for the last 18 months. (I’m tired of TV dinners.) I would love her cookbook.

  20. I am sad to see customs circumvented. Plant quarantine laws exist to prevent a repeat of what happened to the American chestnut tree, which was once the most important tree in North America, and is now all but extinct.

  21. I’m really confused now. How can you grow curry leaves? I thought curry was a combination of spices like turmeric and chili.

  22. It’s been so long since a new cookbook entered our lives — we’ve become utterly dependent on web-recipes — the impersonal, convenient randomness of Epicurius and Tastespotting.

    But your interview reminds me of the pleasure of holding in one’s wet and greasy hands, a cookbook that introduces a new set of tastes, a distinct personality, a series of meals to try through the changes in seasons. Like a friendship to be savored over the years.

    My garden vegetables long to stretch and express themselves in ever new and re-discovered cuisines. And this gardener wants to honor that desire by mastering the knowledge that Madhur has to offer. Her book would find fertile ground here!

  23. My husband is Bengali and I am always looking for good cookbooks featuring South Asian recipes. I have an old Madhur Jaffrey cookbook (1974 I think)and it is dated but the basics are still there. I’d certainly love to have one of her new cookbooks. Thanks for letting us know about this book.

  24. We’ve used our Madhur Jaffrey cookbook so much that it’s falling apart. Just couldn’t live without it!

    To Emily: curry is indeed a mix of spices, but there is also a ‘Curry Plant,’ Helichrysum italicum. It’s kind of like an artemisia but not at all hardy in cold-winter places.

  25. I once read that the reason that the occasional Indian dinner made at home often doesn’t taste as good as Indian food at a restaurant is because the spices aren’t fresh. (Often quite old!!) So I’ll be taking a look at this cookbook and then taking a look at my spice cabinet. Thanks for this great blog, GardenRanters.

  26. I would love to add a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook to my collection. We have a big veggie garden and try our best to eat seasonally. But six weeks of asparagus every day in the spring can get a little tricky. I’m betting some Indian seasonings and techniques will put a little spice in our lives.

  27. Very lovely introduction to what sounds like an amazing cookbook writer! I write the newsletter for a local CSA, and I’m on the hunt for great produce-heavy cookbooks. Thanks for the tip!

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