Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Great New Mystery Series with Wonderful Characters, an Exotic Setting and Terrific Food

I have been enjoying Tarquin Hall's wonderful mystery series featuring Vish Puri, a portly but vain, bombastic but decent-hearted, Punjabi detective in modern Delhi. (His mother, Mummy-ji, also knows a thing or two about sleuthing, but is careful not to let her hidebound son know about her own investigations until they are all neatly sewn up.) Vish pampers his containers of blisteringly hot pepper plants, surreptitiously avoids his doctor's advice to avoid rich foods and is the head of a crack team of undercover associates which all have Vish-supplied nicknames: Tubelight (a morning-averse safecracker and car thief), Face Cream (a beautiful female mistress of disguise), Door Stop (the extremely lazy office boy), Handbrake (Vish's chauffeur), and Flush (an electronics and computer whiz who was the first to have a flush toilet in his village).

The books have humorous dialogue and Hall helpfully supplies glossaries at the end of each novel to explain all the unfamiliar words. I found that it was easy to tune my reading "ear" to the rhythm of Delhi-speak, or Dilli. Tarquin's plots offer a great introduction to the history and culture of modern Delhi and each book delves into a mystery that explains one or more social issues, from the caste system to the lingering effects of Partition on Indian-Pakistani relations.

The series is now up to four wonderful books, and Tarquin Hall will hopefully continue to entertain me and many other readers with the foibles of our flawed detective with future installments. My favorite book so far is the the third novel,  The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. While the titular dish is something I do plan to try, I was actually intrigued by Chicken Frankies, a street food dish that Puri scarfs down throughout the series. I originally thought he was just inhaling chicken frankfurters, but after reading about them over and over in the books, a quick Internet search revealed that a Chicken Frankie is a roti slathered with spicy chicken bits, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and hot peppers and then rolled up to be eaten out of hand.

Chicken Frankies are marvelously flavorful things, but they are not the most caloric food item in the world, so I do wonder why he is badgered by his wife Rumpi about eating them. He is on the rotund side, and he does seem to deserve her nickname for him, Chubby, gauging by his Alfred Hitchcock-like profile on each of the hardcover dust jackets.

Here's our version in a gluten-free roti. Dan makes these handmade rotis in a variation of this stove-top pizza crust recipe using 1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan) and 1/2 cup white rice flour for the Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Mix called for in the original recipe. I actually prefer my Chicken Frankies roti-less, with the filling ingredients served over over basmati rice, but Dan must have Vish's favorite snack in the traditional manner.

There are many Chicken Frankie recipes out there, but the variation I like the best is to cut up some chicken breast into small cubes and slow cook it in tomatoes that have been simmered with browned garlic, fresh ginger, coriander, cumin, chili powder and garam masala. You then lay your spiced chicken along one side of the roti, add some diced fresh onions, hot peppers, parsley, cilantro and other seasonings (I threw in some very un-Indian sour cream in there, which Vish would find horrendous, being a good Hindu). Then roll up and eat. Don't forget the napkins!

I am linking this post to Novel Food, a blog event at Briciole, which rounds up posts about food inspired by participants' reading selections. Please consider adding your own entry to this round of Novel Food, which ends June 23rd.


Alicia Foodycat said...

That sounds delicious!

Debra Eliotseats said...

I would have thought of hot dogs as well! LOL Love this kind of native street food. Good choice and this sounds like a great read.

librariane said...

Roti is on my list of things to make! I already have a great naan recipe, so it shouldn't be hard to make the leap.

I'll have to look this book series up--it sounds fun.

Simona Carini said...

What a fun post, Rachel. I had not heard about this mystery series and will look for it. And also for me the recipe was a surprise: I like that you prepare the chicken and then people can eat it in different ways. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.

Deb in Hawaii said...

I remember that you posted about this series before. Like then, you have me tempted to seek it out--it sounds so fun. Your Chicken Frankie does look like the perfect street food, ready for a busy crime fighter to grab. ;-) Great entry for this round of Novel Food.

librariane said...

Just wanted to report that my husband and I listened to the first book in the series on a recent road trip--I'm hooked! Thanks for highlighting this book.