Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "A House For Happy Mothers" by Amulya Malladi, Served Up with Sambhar (South Indian Pigeon Pea & Vegetable Stew) + a Book Giveaway!

Today's TLC Book Tour stop has us journeying all the way to India to A House For Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi. Accompanying my review of this brand-new novel from a favorite author is a simple, comforting Sambhar, a South-Indian pigeon pea and vegetable stew recipe from Madhur Jaffrey, inspired by my reading. If that isn't enough to help you over the Wednesday hump, you'll find a giveaway for a chance to win a copy of this book at the bottom of the post. 

Publisher's Blurb:

A stunning new novel—full of wit and warmth—from the bestselling author of The Mango Season.

In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs—a loving husband, a career, and a home—but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much—raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads—but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset—her womb—to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.
Together, the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world—and renewed hope to each other.

Paperback: 314 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (June 1, 2016)

My Review:

I am a fan of Amulya Malladi--especially her Serving Crazy with Curry and The Mango Season, so I was thrilled that she had a new book coming out (finally). Malladi has an ability to create compelling characters and her books often include the clashes that come from cultural and generational differences--which I always find interesting. A House For Happy Mothers tackles the tough subject of the surrogacy trade ("womb for rent") in India--where foreigners, often American, come to India to arrange for surrogate mothers to carry their babies for significantly less than it would cost to do the same in the States. The women who serve as surrogates do so for the money--a larger amount than their families can earn in years--but a small amount in comparison to the sums that the clinics and doctors that arrange the transactions get. It's a practice fraught with controversy due to the exploitation that can/does result. In fact regulations were recently put in place to ban foreign surrogacy clients in India (although surrogacy is still legal for heterosexual couples in India) and clinics quickly began working around it by sending Indian surrogates to other countries to give birth. (This is an interesting article if you want more background.) I have friends who several years ago went through several options to have a child, including hiring a gestational/IVF surrogate in India, before unsuccessful attempts there led them back to the states where they were finally successful with a traditional surrogacy, so I find the subject and morality around it fascinating. 

A House for Happy Mothers introduces two main characters--Priya, the only child of an Indian mother and a Caucasian father, born and raised in America, married for love to Madhu--an Americanized Indian national, and living comfortably in the Silicon Valley. Then there is Asha, born to a poor family in Southern India, married by arrangement to Pratap--a painter, constantly struggling to find enough work to support their family of four, living in their small village hut. These women could not be more different in personality, temperament, and socioeconomic status, but what brings them together is their desperation. Priya is desperate to have a child and to make a family for Madhu and Asha is desperate to earn enough money to send her young gifted son to a good school. Does that desperation make it acceptable for Priya and her husband to pay for the use of Asha's womb? Does it make it acceptable for Asha and Pratap to sell it? It's a complicated issue and Malludi does a good job of telling their stories, the reasons and the feelings behind their choices, and how they each deal with the situation without pushing or preaching about it. The characters and their reactions feel real--Asha, Priya, their families, and the women we meet in snippets from the surrogacy message board that Priya posts on and the surrogates at the Happy Mothers House that Asha stays at during the last four months of the pregnancy. (Unfortunately we learn that there are actually not many happy mothers at A House For Happy Mothers.) None of the characters are perfect but it is easy to feel for them and hope for a positive outcome for the women involved.

I imagine that this book might be tough for some to read--especially for those having  experience with fertility challenges but, regardless of your experience or feelings on the subject, A House For Happy Mothers is a book that will make you think about the issues  as well as the people behind them. It's touching, a not altogether happy read because of the empathy and emotions it brings forth, but absorbing and ultimately hopeful.


Author Notes: Amulya Malladi is the author of six novels, including The Sound of Language and The Mango Season. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. When she’s not writing, she works as a marketing executive for a global medical device company. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children. Connect with Amulya on her website, blog, Facebook or Twitter


Food Inspiration: 

Before I get into the food inspiration from A House For Happy Mothers, I need to give Amulya Malladi a shout out for being the author that got me into pairing books with food many, many, moons ago. Back in 2008 when I was about a month into blogging, I came across a post that lead me to a monthly virtual book club that paired books with food and the first book was Malladi's Serving Crazy with Curry. (You can check out my Baked Fish in a Spiced Broth and my REALLY BAD photos from the early days here.) At the end of the day, that book club was not very welcoming for some reason and it only lasted for one and a half rounds (although I made dishes for the first three books) before fizzling out. But, it inspired me and I hooked up with a couple of other bloggers for what came to be Cook the Books--the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club I helped found and have co-hosted for the past almost eight years. Then I joined up with TLC Book Tours where Lisa and Trish allow me to pair books and recipes to my heart's (and my reading schedule's) content. ;-) 

In A House For Happy Mothers, food is not the focus but it is certainly there in both Silicon Valley and Southern India. There is of course an emphasis on Indian cuisine like South Indian-style breakfasts of idlis, dosas, and vadas with sambhar, fried curd rice  and vegetable curry. Priya first learned about the surrogacy programs in India at a South Indian cooking class where she wanted to learn to make sambhar and coconut chutney that Madhur would drool over and wanted to ace the dosa, the "holy grail of South Indian cooking." Asha wants to have money to be able to "buy the vegetables they wanted--not just potatoes," and there is mango dal, potato fry and yogurt with thick slices of mango for daughter Mohini's second birthday and then a more plentiful meal of fried okra curry sambhar, pulao rice, payasam, and a pink cake for her third birthday. There are mentions of  fresh chakli (warm, savory treats made with graham flour and fried to a crisp in peanut oil), kachori, samosas, roti, and (my favorite dish when I ate met/poultry) butter chicken. For on-Indian fare there is coq au vin, chocolate soufflé and beef bourguignon, mini Mars bars, and catered-in sushi with inside-out crispy shrimp maki. Americanized Madhu cooks--making a breakfast of Spanish omelet with spicy tomato salsa, yogurt with muesli, and fruit salad, and a dinner of duck à l'orange.

Since sambhar (aka sambar), a lentil-based stew or chowder with a tamarind-based broth, was mentioned several times in the book and was a common dish eaten by both families, I decided to make it as my book-inspired recipe. I found a few different recipes while looking through my Indian cookbooks but I ended up with the simple version I found in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian with sliced shallots and thinly-sliced carrot 'sticks.' Jaffrey has a recipe in the book for the sambar powder but says you can easily use store-bought powder and since I was headed to the Indian market for the fresh curry leaves, split pigeon peas, and tamarind paste anyway, I decided to take the easy route and purchase a packet of the powder.

Jaffrey says, “The sambars of southern India have certain things in common. They are soupy stews, made with toovar dal and seasoned with a fiery spice mixture called sambar powder, which happens to contain, among other things, fried and ground split peas and split beans. Generally they are sour and hot, the sourness contributed frequently by tamarind paste, though tomatoes may also be used. Other than that, the sky is the limit. Almost any vegetable from eggplant and radishes to kohlrabi may be added. This particular sambar is quite a simple one in which sliced shallots and carrot sticks are lightly sautéed before being added to the cooked split peas."

Toovar Dal with Sliced Shallots and Carrots (Sambar)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp peanut or canola oil (I used coconut oil)
4 medium shallots, peeled and cut into long, thin slivers
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1 batch of pigeon peas, cooked according to the recipe below
2 Tbsp sambar powder
2 Tbsp thick tamarind paste (or 1 1/2  Tbsp fresh lemon juice + a pinch of sugar)
salt, to taste, if needed
(I added 1 cup frozen green peas)
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 dried hot red chile
10 fresh curry leaves (if unavailable, use fresh basil leaves for a different but interesting substitute)

Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium frying pan and set over medium heat. When hot, put in the shallots and carrot, stir and sauté until they just start to brown. Add the cooked toovar dal, sambar powder, and tamarind paste, stir and bring to a simmer. (Add Peas and) Simmer gently on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until carrot is tender. Taste for salt and add if needed.

Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, put in the mustard seeds and as soon as they begin to pop (a matter of seconds), put in the dried chile. When the chile darkens, add the curry leaves and stir once.  Pour the oil over the toovar dal and stir to mix.
Jaffrey says that. “In India, these split peas are always cooked with the addition of a little turmeric. Salt is added at the very end."

Basic Recipe for Hulled and Split Pigeon Peas (Toovar Dal)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
(Serves 4)

1 cup hulled and split pigeon peas (toovar dal), picked over, washed in several changes of water, and drained
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt or to taste

Put split peas and 4 cups of water  in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil, watching carefully to prevent boiling over and skimming off any froth that rises to the top.

Add the turmeric and stir once. Cover partially, turn heat down to low, and cook very gently for 1 hour, or until the beans are tender. (Older beans may take up to 1 1/2 hours.) Add salt and stir to mix. Set aside to use in the Sambar recipe. 

Notes/Results: I'm not going to say that this is the prettiest of curries. The bright yellow of the cooked toovar dal quickly becomes a drab brown color with the addition of the sambar powder and tamarind paste, but the flavor is excellent. It's a great mix of savory, spicy and slightly sour. I was worried how spicy the sambar powder would be--apparently there is a big variety of heat levels in the packaged sambars, but the one I bought at my local Indian market was a good level of spice for me--enough heat to feel the warmth but not a full-on burning of the mouth. ;-) My sambar wasn't as soupy as I expected from the description--the split pigeon peas cooked quickly and made the mixture pretty thick. For a pop of color in all the brown and because I am fond of green peas in curry, I added some frozen peas to the mix. The added peas and serving it in a bright red bowl help it look a bit more attractive I think. Served with plain basmati rice, this is a satisfying but not to heavy meal. I will happily make it or a  variation again. 

I'm linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post. 

***Book Giveaway!***

The publisher has generously offered a copy of A House For Happy Mothers to one of my readers as part of this TLC Blog Tour. (Open to US/Canada addresses)

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me either what your homey comfort dish is or why you would like to win a copy of A House For Happy Mothers.

There are a couple of other optional ways to get entries: 1) Tweet about this giveaway (you can do this once per day if you like) or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) and/or Author Amulya Malladi (@amulyamalladi)
on Twitter. (Note: You can still get free entries even if you already follow me or Amulya Malladi  on Twitter.)

This giveaway runs until 6/15/16. Good Luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Note: A review copy of "A House For Happy Mothers" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. My favorite homey comfort dish is Caldo De Res. It is a Mexican beef soup that has lots of veggies in it including cabbage. You cook it pretty much all day so that it's so juicy and tender. It always bring comfort and speaks love especially in the cold winter months.

    1. Soup is always a favorite comfort dish for me Kelly. ;-)

  2. Having had my own fertility issues this will likely be a difficult read for me but it still sounds so very good.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. Thanks for having me on the tour Heather It is a book/subject that brings up lots of emotions for sure.

  3. I love chicken curry, or anything with curry really. I don't think I've ever heard of sambar powder before.

    1. I am a huge curry fan too Vicki.

      I was not that familiar with sambars or the sambar powder either but I found recipes for both the stew and the powder online and in a few of my Indian cookbooks (it's interesting because in addition to the spices, there is ground up dried pulses/lentil in the powder) and when I went to the Indian grocery store there were about 5 different brands of the powder to choose from.

  4. I just listened to a discussion of this book and thought it sounded fascinating so I'm pleased to see that you enjoyed it. I like that all the characters are pictured as flawed yet still have many positive attributes. I think with so much emotion involved in surrogacy and infertility in general no decision can be easy or perfectly clean and this sounds like an interesting perspective on an issue that I really haven't heard that much about.

    1. Thanks Katherine! I read a couple of reviews that felt she didn't go deep enough into the issues but I didn't mind that and enjoyed reading about the different perspectives of the characters in the book. I think you are right--there are no easy decisions but a very interesting topic.

  5. Nice you have an Indian grocery store over there. That recipe sounds like a good one for my pigeon peas, and curry leaves. Will probably have to sub the sambar powder with curry powder. I do that too with green peas. Keep a bag in the freezer and add it into anything that needs that zap of fresh green veg.

    The book sounds like a read I'd like to check out. I haven't read any of her books as yet.

    1. Yes Claudia, I don't get there often but it's a good place to stock up on ingredients. There are recipes for sambar powder online if you want to try to make it or let me know if you want to try it and I can easily send some over to you. ;-)

  6. The concept of the womb-for-rent sounds intriguing to me. I'm going to look for this book.

    1. It is an interesting subject Diane. Hope you like the book.

  7. Sambar is osmething I haven't heard of before. Might need to go and have a look in the Asian supermarkets and see if I can find it.

    1. If you can't Marg there are lots of recipes for it online.

  8. I love Indian food -- although I don't make it very often. And how fun that this was the author who got you into the book and food pairing kick. Sorry I was late getting here this week -- we were out of town.

  9. My favourite comfort food is spaghetti. It always makes me think of my mother.


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