PROS: The book is written to give easy directions to teach not only recipes, but also techniques that can be carried over to all types of cooking. The flavors are daring, but easily accessible at the same time.
CONS: If you want to make truly authentic Indian recipes, this might not be the book for you. This book has Indian flavors and Indian dishes, but it is not a cookbook to teach you to cook as if you would in an Indian kitchen.
I won this cookbook through The Taste Space nearly a year ago. During that time this book has been sitting on my bookshelf, untouched. I don’t really know why. I love Indian food. But regardless, maybe it’s good it sat there unused. Because now I get to share the review with you.
I don’t know who knows this, but some years ago I went to India. It was an eyeopening experience on many levels. Beyond the things I saw and did, I ate many good foods and was exposed to flavors that I wasn’t aware of before, specifically chai masala and masala dosa.
When I first opened this cookbook I was skeptical. The recipes didn’t appear to be authentically Indian. But I went with it and loved it. The book has exposed me to even more flavors.
Iyer shares his story about what this cookbook is about and why he wrote it. When he arrived in the US from India he was dismayed at the lack of flavors of the food. Granted, he was eating in the dorm cafeteria… And if his experience was at all like mine, I’m not surprised there was lack of flavor. But Iyer mixed curry powder and red chili flakes into his foods. He had to learn to make the authentic tastes of his homeland without access to all the spices he had at home. And that’s what this cookbook does. It teaches you to make Indian food with the spices available in your local grocery store. While in the past I’ve lived in places with Indian markets, I don’t anymore. So it’s nice to be able to recreate Indian dishes without an Indian grocer around.
The book is more than just a cookbook though. This book is designed to teach technique as well – not just list a recipe. Each chapter in the book is set up with the easier recipe first followed by the harder recipes, in level of skill level. Each recipe teaches a technique. While I didn’t make any recipes out of the Basics section, Iyer provides recipes for rice (which I cheat at and use a rice cooker,) paneer (which I want to make!!,) and two spice mixes. Also, some of the recipes in this book “unfold.” What do I mean? Well, some of the recipes pull out into bigger pages, so you can see the instructions step-by-step with photographs to demonstrate.
I randomly picked four recipes out of the book – but will make many more in the future I’m sure. Funny enough, two of the recipes I made (the soup and the fish) are actually listed together on a suggested menu in the back of the book. It’s suggested that the fish and soup be served with a beet salad with mango slices and ice cream for desert.
Red Lentil Dal p. 207
This delicious lentil dal was packed with Indian flavors. My lentils didn’t come out as creamy as the one’s Iyer has a photograph in the book nor as soupy, but it was perfectly how I loved it. I wish I had followed the rest of the suggestion, to searve with toasted baguette. Granted… I had served it over rice, so that would have been a lot of carbs. But it does sound good, doesn’t it? This dish which is also called Adraki Masoor Dal didn’t take very long to make, yet still had a great kick of flavor in it. This recipe also taught me the difference between red lentils and brown lentils (though I admit I used brown lentils because that’s all I could find.)
Panfried Fennel Tilapia p. 177
Also called Macher Saunf, this is unlike anything I’ve had ever before. Yes, I’ve had tilapia before. And yes, I’ve made crusted and fried tilapia before, but the flavors in this dish were so amazing. It didn’t fit the traditional Indian food I’m familiar with. But according to Iyer, this dish is eaten at tea time in Calcutta alongside a cup of black tea with milk, spice, and sugar mixed in. That takes me back to my trip to India and how much I loved the chai masala. Anyway, being served with mashed potatoes isn’t Indian at all, but I don’t regret it for a second. The tilapia was breaded with nuts and fennel. The recipe called for almonds, but due to Matt’s allergies I used pecans instead. The flavors were wonderful. The fish was perfectly flaky. I have a feeling this dish will be made in my house over and over.
Potato Leek Soup p. 146
This soup came out a lot thicker than I thought it would – andI put some weird bread things I made on top of it, which should have been left off because of the carb overload. But regardless, the flavors of this soup were delicious. Iyer explains that this soup is similar to the French vichyssoise but with Indian flair. My texture didn’t get to vichyssoise status, but the flavors were on point. It was kind of weird eating green potato soup, but that’s thanks to the serrano and the cilantro. The pepper added some heat, but it was not overpowering in the slightest.
The Slumdog Martini p. 301
When I was in India there wasn’t alcohol anywhere. It surprised me to see this recipe in this cookbook, but from my experience with the book, I did learn that not everything is entirely authentic. Based on one of my favorite movies, Slumdog Millionaire, “this muddled concoction [which] combines north India’s favorite [flavors],” comes together in this drink. I didn’t have the most appropriate glasses to serve this in. Note to self: buy glasses for drinking alcohol. But uh.. I couldn’t drink it anyway. It was too spicy. I should have used maybe half of the serrano… But it actually hurt me. :X
Overall: I’m really glad I won this book and I’m really glad I finally decided to cook out of it. While not an authentic Indian cookbook (I have a different cookbook for that purpose,) this book is a great resource for a way to make Indian food without the added expense of specialty ingredients and being able to easily enjoy Indian food in American life. This book is going to stop hiding on my shelf and be a book I reach for with much more frequency.