Confused about what to eat? How to pair foods that boost your health? How to make vegetables taste yum? These are three very pertinent questions — especially in today’s zoonotic diseases compromised era — that form the crux of this engaging cookbook by Archana Doshi.

As one of the earliest inhabitants of India’s burgeoning food blogging space, the author has been a flag-bearer for both vegetarian and healthy cooking since 2007, with her eponymous ‘Archana’s Kitchen’ website and subsequent YouTube channel.

With this latest offering of hers, Doshi seeks to provide “the perfect meal planner with 30 such menus comprising over 150 recipes that span various regional Indian cuisines”. Though there is a heavy inclination towards South Indian cooking. A genre that, I personally believe, expertly lends itself to a healthy, all-vegetarian diet.

Down to basics

Just as I also believe that to be a good writer, one must be a voracious reader, Doshi too subscribes to the notion that one must love to eat, and more importantly to feed others, to be a good cook. I particularly liked what she says about there having been not a day when she has cooked a meal and not licked her own plate clean!

This love for food shines through brilliantly in myriad ways throughout the book. It comes across in her rather constant emphasis on mindful eating practices and maintaining a proper balanced diet, while still making food look beautiful and appealing. Her attention to detail manifests in an entire chapter dedicated to setting up a pantry with all the essentials in place, be they utensils or provisions. A subsection on the ‘Katori Diet’ for portion control highlights a truly genius idea of eating just enough - not more, not less.

Unusual suspects!

Given the country’s wide array of vegetarian preparations, with several regional and even inter-regional variants, this book taps into that space very effectively. Recipes for dishes I had never even heard of, leave alone eaten, make their presence all through the book’s 188 pages. Take for example the Tamil cuisine comfort food dish of nellikai (amla) rasam (pg.22) or the banana stem vazhaithandu poriyal (pg.118).

There are also entire meal plans focussing on dishes from Gujarat’s Kathiawadi community like the eggplant ringna no olo (pg.39) and the kadhi-adjacent khatta mag (pg.38). Being from Maharashtra, I was utterly fascinated to find out that dishes like the classic Thanjavur kathirikai rasavangi (pg.46) is an adaptation from Marathi cuisine. Which the author tells us was very popular in the Thanjavur Kingdom between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Doshi imbues her book with invaluable tips like using a grooved paniyaram pan (pg.9) to make healthier versions of fried koftas and tikkis. Or amping up the nutrition value of a paneer masala by adding carrots to the tomato puree (pg.29).

Sour tastes

As much as I liked the book and found it an asset to my newfound vegetarian cooking repertoire, I did have a few issues with it. The food images which have been taken by the author herself leave a lot to be desired. To begin with, I felt that they were extremely static, devoid of proper colour scaling and flat in appearance.

The food styling, too, was a sore point for me. In that, almost every picture was taken from the same angle. And using the same metallic one thali, three katoris flatware set up. Even decor elements like the embroidered/ brocade/ silk fabrics could be found in the exact same spot i.e. either the top right or the top left of the plate. Variety is, after all, the spice of life!

But that’s still got nothing on the fact that her recipe for lemon rice (pg.97) is missing the all-important lemon/lime juice in its ingredient list. Yes, I checked at least 10 times for the errant (I rechecked even while writing this) ingredient to no avail.

Now, while one might say that it’s quite an obvious ingredient to add, let me just say that from personal experience, the quantity of acid added to any dish is very, very important. A little more here or less there will make a big difference to the overall alchemy. And lemon or more aptly lime here, is the very axis around which this dish generally pivots. I rest my case.

But barring that rather glaring omission, this book is a kitchen shelf must-have. And something I’ll surely be going back to whenever I feel like indulging my healthier, Indian vegetarian food predilections.

30 Meal Plans from Archana’s Kitchen 

Archana Doshi

Harper Collins India

188 pages; Rs 399

(A wearer of many hats in the food and travel space, Mumbai-based Raul Dias is a food-travel writer, a restaurant reviewer and a food consultant)

Check out the book on Amazon here