No other cuisine frightens me more in the kitchen than Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating it, but preparing it from scratch is a whole other thing!
So, I’ve been putting off the idea of cooking Indian food at home forever… Until recently, when PEPR Publicity offered me a review copy of India Cookbook.
Like Barney Stinson would say, challenge accepted!
India Cookbook isn’t like your typical cookbook because the author, Pushpesh Pant, is an academic who has spent the last 20 years researching and traveling the gastronomic regions of India to compile this remarkable culinary bible.
India Cookbook shares with us, the secrets behind Indian home cooking and features over 1000 recipes and 200 colour photographs and illustrations.
The first 18 pages of the book is dedicated to the history, influences, techniques and tastes of each region, covering Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi, Awadh, Bengal, Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, The Western Coast, and tribal food from Trans-Himalayan Region and The North and Northeast.
It is an enlightening read which really showcases the diversity of Indian cuisine, and more importantly seduces you with its exquisite descriptions.
Fill each night with delicious adventure and keep this cookbook on the bedside!
By now, I think I have managed to skim through each of the 800 or so pages of this mammoth cookbook, a handful of times; but what I get out of it each time, is always different. Just so much has been condensed into this collection – the culture, the thousand of authentic family recipes and the striking photos.
As you will see in the following pictures, each section is colour-coded and grouped into categories of spices, mixtures and pastes; pickles, chutneys and raitas; snacks and appetisers (with sub-categories for vegetables, fish and seafood, and meat), main dishes (also with the same sub-categories as appetisers), pulses, breads, rice, desserts, drinks and guest chefs.
I also love that each recipe details its origin, preparation time, cooking time and serves, so there are no nasty surprises if you’re game enough to tackle one of the more complex recipes.
The steps in each recipe are reassuring and easy-to-follow despite an absence of commentary.
Still, it is so comprehensive, it probably is, the only Indian cookbook I’ll ever need.
So I guess by now you are wondering what I ended up attempting to cook from this marvelous cookbook?
First up is a spice mixture called Chaat Masala which originates from Punjab/Delhi. It has a distinctive pungency to it, and is hot and tangy in taste.
Chaat masala is commonly used to flavour lots of street food snacks as well as salads, fruit salads, fruit juices, and some curries.
Adapted from India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant
Makes 500g of spice mix
75g cumin seeds
70g black peppercorns
5 tablespoons black salt
35g dry mint leaves
3 teaspoons ajwain seeds
2 teaspoons asafoetida
1 teaspoon tartaric acid or citric acid
150g amchoor (mango powder)
3½ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons ground ginger
4 tablespoons chilli powder
Put all ingredients, except the last 4 ingredients in a mortar and pound with a pestle, or grind in a spice grinder, to make a fine powder.
Transfer to a clean, dry bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Sieve and store in a sterilized, dry, airtight container.
Some of the ingredients forming the chaat masala may sound really foreign but they should be easily sourced from any local Indian grocery store or specialty spice stores such as Herbie’s Spices.
I ended up using it in a crispy okra salad as well, and now have a jar of it handy.
As you’re about to see, an aromatic salad dressing can be made by simply combining 1 – 2 teaspoons of chaat masala with a squeeze of lemon juice!
Recipe by guest chef Suvir Saran, from India Cookbook
15 minutes preparation time
5 – 7 minutes per batch cooking time
Corn oil, for deep-frying
700g okra, stems removed and thinly sliced lengthways
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
3 small or 1 large tomato, cored, de-seeded and thinly sliced
Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
1½ teaspoons Chaat Masala
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Heat 5cm of oil in a large heavy-based pan to 180°C or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds.
Add one-third of the okra and fry for about 5 – 7 minutes until browned and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining okra, making sure the oil temperature comes back to 180°C before frying additional batches.
Toss okra in a large bowl with the onion, tomato, coriander, lemon juice, chaat masala and salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
This salad is so simple to make and is seriously stunning to eat. It is sweet, sour, hot and texturally exciting. I managed to eat 2 serves in one go. Oops!
I heart the versatility the chaat masala offers! (And the fact that it was surprisingly stress-free to source ingredients for, and make)
And another recipe which really intrigued me was this carrot dessert. Like this recipe, a lot of other Indian sweets are milk-based so it was interesting seeing how a savoury vegetable like carrot can be used to produce a sweet rich pudding!
Adapted from India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant
2 hours preparation time plus cooling time
1 hour cooking time
1.4 litre milk
1kg carrots, grated
1 teaspoon ground green cardamom
10 – 15 slivered almonds
10 pistachio nuts, blanched and crushed
20 – 25 raisins
To make the khoya, put the 400ml milk in a wok or deep heavy-based pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring every 5 minutes until the milk is reduced by half.
Stirring constantly and continually scraping in the dried layer of milk that sticks to the sides of the pan, continue to cook until reduced to a mashed potato consistency.
Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool then spoon the paste into a clean piece of muslin, place in the sink, and weigh down with something heavy and leave to drain for about 1 hour. The resulting solid should be refrigerated until later use.
Now bring the remaining 1L milk to the boil in another large, heavy-based pan, add the grated carrots and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 25 minutes, or until the carrots are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the sugar and cook for another 20 – 25 minutes until it dissolves and the milk is completely absorbed.
Add the ghee and stir-fry for 5 minutes, then add the ground cardamom and stir.
Turn out onto a serving plate and decorate with the grated khoya, almonds, pistachio nuts and raisins.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
While you may be put off by the preparation time, the result is fragrant, rich, moist and delicately sweet, and is definitely well worth it.
Now with 3 Indian recipes under my belt, I may be ready to cook up the bataer masaledar (stuffed quails in spicy sauce) which requires 1 hour preparation time plus standing time and 1 hour cooking time, and not to mention, the 30+ ingredients!
But on another note, overall, India Cookbook is a wonderfully detailed document of popular and lesser-known recipes, suitable for beginners, experts and all.
Published by Phaidon Press
Publication date: 1 November 2010
JENIUS received a review copy of India Cookbook with special thanks to PEPR Publicity.