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Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni (William Morrow: $22.50, 511 pages).

December 22, 1985|BARBARA HANSEN

Indian vegetarian food is slowly moving into Los Angeles, where it should find a receptive audience among health food advocates and others who want to concentrate on grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, rice and milk products such as yogurt. A few Indian restaurants here offer only vegetarian dishes, whereas others incorporate a vegetarian section into menus that include meat. Sahni works both sides of the fence, so to speak. She is executive chef of two Indian restaurants in New York City and has written a previous book that dealt with the entire range of Indian cooking.

As Sahni points out, religious requirements are behind Indian vegetarianism, some so extreme as to eliminate vegetables such as garlic and onions that are associated with the preparation of meats. Indian vegetarian dishes, however, are not merely the best that one can have in the absence of meat. They are delicious, flavorful and varied so that one eats them by choice, even when meats are permitted. Their quality is such that ". . . an Indian vegetarian never feels deprived psychologically or culinarily," Sahni writes.

Los Angeles has a number of Indian markets that stock mango powder, ajwain, sambaar powder, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and other unusual seasonings that Sahni explains in a long glossary of ingredients. The food itself is lively, full of flavor and exotic, at least to Western tastes, and far more attractive than the pallid dishes often suggested to Western vegetarians.

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