Chef Joe Thottungal makes South Indian cooking easy.

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Coconut Lagoon Recipe Book
Photography by Peter Ardito
| Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

For a great primer on South Indian cooking, pick up a copy of Coconut Lagoon by Joe Thottungal, chef-owner of the Ottawa restaurant of the same name. The book celebrates the flavors of his native Kerala, a region known for its spices, chiles, and coconut-filled dishes. In the past, Indian recipes intimidated me with their long ingredient lists and complicated steps. Thottungal knows this and has built in lots of support for home cooks. A glossary helps you navigate the wide world of spices; a resource page makes it easy to track down hard-to-find ingredients; and an index organizes recipes based on dietary requirements. The recipes themselves were simpler than I expected: Other than cutting the slippery fruit, making the Mango Pickle was a snap; Shrimp Mango Curry was super easy and tropically delicious. Even the Kerala-Style Veggie Stew, which has quite a few ingredients, was straightforward. The end result was pure cozy, spicy comfort, and it was so delicious I even impressed myself!