Hari Pulapaka, who gained culinary renown as the chef and owner of Cress restaurant in DeLand, has released his second cookbook, “Dreaming In Spice: A Sinfully Vegetarian Odyssey,” a sequel, of sorts, to his 2018 book “Dreaming In Spice.”
Actually, cookbook is only a partial description; it is also part memoir and philosophical guide. Indeed the first recipe doesn’t appear until page 73, with the ingredient list and methodology for making a garam masala. But 250 recipes follow, not only from Pulapaka’s native India but also dishes from around the world. (The book is published by Pulapaka’s company, Global Cooking School, LLC.)
As you can gather from the subtitle, this book is dedicated to vegetarian cooking, though what makes it sinful is not immediately clear. It seems to me that for a devout vegetarian the consumption of meat would be the sin.
And I’m not sure that slipping in some animal protein would upset the author. As he writes in one of the opening chapters: “To me, dishes are templates. Recipes are important and necessary, but they are rooted in templates. This is the single most significant intersection between my mathematician brain and my chef brain: the ability to use the abstraction as a guiding principle in my creativity.”
As he alludes, Pulapaka is also a full-time tenured professor of mathematics at Stetson University. For several years, he amazingly juggled his academic career with co-owning and operating, along with his wife, Jenneffer, the critically acclaimed Cress, often as the sole working in the kitchen. Earlier this year, Pulapaka sold a majority interest in the restaurant and stepped away from the day-to-day operations.
Jenneffer, who also has a day job as a full-time podiatric surgeon, remains as the co-owner and director of the restaurant’s wine program. She also, no doubt, served as an inspiration for this book as a longtime “true vegetarian,” as her husband describes her in the dedication. (She also wrote a chapter on wine included in the book.)
Pulapaka acknowledges that, especially in this country, a book devoted to vegetarian cuisine might be a bit of a hard sell. He writes, “In fact, I believe labeling a dish as vegetarian immediately raises the back hairs of certain people to the point where they won’t even try it.”
But he challenges cooks to explore the intricacies of spices, vegetables and textures from other non-meat ingredients to create dishes so complex – in flavors rather than execution – that meat isn’t missed. As an example, Pulapaka showed me how to make the okra masala (found on page 363) in this episode of Scott’s Kitchen and convinced me that I should be cooking more vegetarian dishes at home.
Growing up in Mumbai surely informed Pulapaka’s spice sensibilities, and the Indian recipes are some of the more intriguing ones in the book. But as one might expect from the publisher’s name, the recipes really are global. So you’ll find a Mumbai sandwich a couple of pages away from a sloppy joe or a croque Madame. And shepherd’s pie, pierogi and mofongo are as natural inclusions as the many curries.
Most recipes include personal notes from Pulapaka’s culinary journey – once an educator, always an educator – and ingredient lists and instructions are clear and concise.
“Dreaming In Spice: A Sinfully Vegetarian Odyssey” would make a nice gift for anyone who enjoys cooking.
"Dreaming In Spice: A Sinfully Vegetarian Odyssey"; $33.50; Global Cooking School, LLC; 390 pp.