“The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook” by Preeti Mistry and Sarah Henry (with photos by Alanna Hale; Running Press), was released on Oct. 31. It’s a bit of a funny time for a restaurant cookbook to be coming out when just weeks ago we learned that Juhu Beach Club the restaurant is closing.
Mistry has said in the press that there will be a new version, she just can’t talk about it yet, but in chapter six of the book, she offers one clue, by saying: “In many ways, four years into the restaurant, I feel like I’ve only just cracked the surface of what we can do. Food is an evolving thing. You can’t be static or stagnant with your menu. I’ve got a larger, long-term vision. Stay tuned.”
In the meantime, though, the cookbook is a great stand-in for when the Temescal restaurant will shut its doors. Of course the cookbook won’t offer the ease of sitting down and having the dishes made for you, but for those adept in the kitchen, the book will make it possible for fans of the restaurant to bring a little Juhu juju (sorry, couldn’t resist) into their homes.
At first glance, this book comes across almost as much memoir, though it doesn’t advertise itself as such. In addition to the recipes, we learn a lot about Mistry herself: how she was a tomboy as a child; her complicated relationship with India; her family’s background in London, Uganda, India and Ohio; her 20-plus-year-long relationship with now wife Ann Nadeau; how hiring people of color and creating community for them and queer people like herself is nearly as important to her as putting out great food; her television appearances; and that she likes to say fuck. She likes to say it, a lot, in fact.
That is not a bad thing, though. In this era of blogging, in which most authors use a recipe as a jumping off point to talk about any number of things personal and profane, cookbooks are almost expected to have personality, especially if the chef writing it has such a big one as does Mistry. In short, it would be a waste if her cookbook did not use her to its best advantage as this one does.
The chapter “Failing Up” at the end is the most interesting, as it begins with Mistry’s appearance on Top Chef in 2009 — spoiler alert — for those who didn’t watch, it didn’t go well; she was eliminated on the third episode. But with her appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in 2016, she redeems herself. What a difference seven years make.
“I like to joke that if there was an award handed out years later for the person who bridged the greatest chasm between how poorly they did on their season of Top Chef and how well they did in their actual career, I might take that honor,” she writes, as Bourdain described her food as “unassuming but utterly delicious… the food is both familiar and uniquely her own.”
It also traces her career path from culinary school to fine dining kitchen to tech company kitchen. What makes this section so compelling is that Mistry isn’t afraid to share her insecurity and self-doubt — and she is plagued with both just as so many young people are — whether it was when the cameras were rolling, as a person of color in culinary school or elsewhere. And as these things go, she only really found her own culinary point of view after Top Chef. Of course it’s assumed that she’s made it since then; we wouldn’t be interested in her cookbook or her food if she hadn’t, but it’s still refreshing when people feel they can be so real. And kudos to Henry for making Mistry’s voice sound so authentic and well, real, as well.
For those considering buying the book, here’s what you need to know: It seems to have nearly every recipe that’s ever been offered at the restaurant. For those who have eaten there, they’ll know right away what that means, but for those who haven’t, this is not your typical Indian repertoire. I thought I knew a thing or two about Indian food before I went to Juhu Beach Club, and yet I found most of Mistry’s dishes brand new to me. There are no recipes for saag paneer, for example, to be found.
One fun thing about reading a book that is so local, not only do we get the local references, but we can source our ingredients from where the chef does. Mistry gets most of her spices from the bulk section at Vik’s Chaat and Market, for example.
“Spices are the soul of Juhu Beach Club,” she writes. “Our clipboard listing all the masala recipes on our menu? That’s the keys to the kingdom right there.”
The bad part is that many of her dishes are made up of numerous components; so that, for example, when making one of her sliders, known as pavs, you’ll have to toast and grind your own spice blend, make the pickled onions, a slaw, the chicken and a cilantro chutney, which can quickly become an all-day project for one little sandwich.
Not all of her recipes are so component-heavy, though. (And really, things like the pickled onions don’t take much time at all).
Other plusses are that there’s a sizable cocktail section and that once you get used to toasting and grinding your own spice blend — which is pretty much required when making Indian food of any sort — many dishes aren’t all that labor intensive at all.
Short on time, I chose to try out her coconut tamarind curry, which has butternut squash, mushrooms and chard, along with her turmeric lemon rice, which is the standard rice served at the restaurant. My basmati rice turned out perfectly; a beautiful yellow hue (and I used ghee as she suggested rather than oil). The curry was intense; I knew it would be when I saw the ratio of ground spices to one can of coconut milk. And while I used canned tamarind puree, at first it was a bit too sour. We remedied that by adding about an extra half can of coconut milk we had in the freezer, and it moderated the sourness.
This is a boldly-flavored dish; and we really loved how the sourness of the tamarind played off the sweetness of the squash. But some, especially those who are timid of heavily-spiced food — might find this dish a bit too heavy-handed spice-wise.
Not in this house. We look forward to Juhu Beach Club, the next iteration, and are glad to have the book to tide us over until then.
Coconut Tamarind Curry
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1/2 cup neutral oil
1/2 yellow onion, julienned
6 fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 tablespoon serrano chiles, minced
3 tablespoons Tamarind Paste (recipe follows)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 can coconut milk (we use Chaokoh brand)
2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch rainbow chard, julienne
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds and cardamom pods on a sheet pan. Toast them for 5 to 7 minutes until the spices begin to smoke a bit and turn a little brown. Remove the spices from the oven and set them aside to cool. When they are fully cooled, grind them in a spice grinder in batches, until all the spices are fully ground.
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a medium saucepan on medium high. Add the onions, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds and stir. Season with salt. The curry leaves will crackle. When the onions begin to turn translucent—about 3 minutes—add the garlic, ginger, and chiles. In a measuring cup combine the tamarind paste with 3 tablespoons of warm water, and mix to soften and dissolve the paste. Continue stirring the saucepan for about 2 minutes, and then add the ground spice blend and turmeric. Stir the spices into the saucepan and let it all cook for about 2 minutes—the spices will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour in the tamarind and coconut milk and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any sticking spices. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Place the squash in a small saucepan with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain the squash when it is cooked. Heat a large saucepan on medium with the remaining oil. Add the mushrooms, and stir to let the mushrooms brown, for about 3 minutes. Add the chard and squash and stir to lightly wilt the greens. After the greens begin to wilt, add the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with turmeric lemon rice.
Makes 1 quart
2 tamarind blocks
Place the tamarind blocks in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water. Make sure the water covers the blocks fully. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes on low heat, until the tamarind blocks begin to break down and soften; use a spoon to aid this process. Strain the mixture into a sieve and press with a spoon to extract the pulp, leaving the seeds behind. Alternatively, place the mixture in a food mill and hand crank to create the paste. Store the tamarind paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week; for longer storage, transfer to the freezer for up to 3 months.
Turmeric Lemon Rice
3 cups basmati rice
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon neutral oil
Measure the rice into a shallow bowl. Fill the bowl with water to cover by at least 1 inch, and let the rice sit for 20 minutes. Strain the excess water and set it aside. In a medium saucepan combine the turmeric, salt, lemon juice, and oil. (Or substitute ghee for the oil if you’d prefer.) Add the soaked rice and cover it with cold water. The water should come up to about 1 inch from the top of the rice. Stir to dissolve the turmeric, place the saucepan on high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Watch the rice carefully. When the water has evaporated to the level of the surface of the rice, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Let the rice cook untouched for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, uncover and check the rice for doneness. Tilt the pot slightly to see if any excess water remains. If there’s extra water, return the rice to the heat for a few more minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle before serving. Store the rice in the refrigerator and use within 2 days.
Reprinted with permission from The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook © 2017 by Preeti Mistry with Sarah Henry, Running Press