When I first took India The Cookbook and lifted it up, the first thing that struck me was the weight. Many fat, tome-like cookbooks (and there are many of late) are like poured concrete, making cooking from them a bit of a task and reading them on the couch the equivalent of a six-year-old on your lap.
India is light. Very light. Curiously light. On inner-inspection, I soon noticed this is because of the paper used inside – a blending of lightweight glossy pages for the photos, and the most divine, almost rice paper-like coloured pages for the recipes. And I like it. This book is over 800 pages long and pages even a few gsm thicker would have been nightmarish.
But does this paper lessen the quality of the book? No, it doesn’t. The paper may be thin but it’s not fragile and it’s actually a pleasure to flick. The thicker, glossy pages containing recipe photos give the book the colour and vim all good cookbooks should give their reader – so this blend is as satisfying as a perfectly balanced bouquet garni.
Being that it’s over 800 pages of spicy deliciousness, where on earth do I begin with this book? How about the beginning? The cover, reminiscent of the front of a hessian bag of Indian rice, is just gorgeous and seriously inviting to the reader. The opening matt, rice paper style pages are also stunning, taking India’s flag colours of orange, white and red (well, the orange is sort of more of a red, but then the book was printed in Italy…) and using them most effectively on the stamped ‘labels’ outlining each chapter.
The book is broken into several sections, starting with a brief and fascinating history of Indian food and a section on the rold of Ayurveda in Indian cooking. Ayurveda is a form of Hindu medicine that focuses on the meridians and balance of the body, and matches certain food types to body types. We are also treated to a glorious expedition through the food regions of India and their particularly delicacies, from Kashmir through Punjab and Rajasthan to Agra, Delhi and Bengal.
There are notes on how to eat an Indian meal – perfect for those wanting an authentic experience and also notes on the recipes before we’re launched into spice. And plenty of it. Oh the glory! Here is an entire section dedicated to the machinations and magic of blending spice, making the front part of India alone a must-have resource for lovers of Indian food.
There’s garam masala, kotu podi, karepaku karam and valsadi masala dry blends, but the chapter is also dedicated to other Indian meal accompaniments like pastes (coconut, ginger, fried onion to name a few), paneer (a sort of solid yoghurty cheese) and syrups, all printed on pale green paper.
We then move on to pickles, chutneys and raitas (oh the glory!), now printed on yellow paper, for easy divisional reference, and the variety on offer is astounding, from savoury to sweet. Next is a section on snacks and appetisers from skewered pumpkin to onion fritters and fried lentil dumplings. Yes, samosas are here – and you couldn’t get them more authentic.
In main dishes, we’re treated to a boggling variety of dishes, many of which are vegetarian, so those who baulk at the idea of sinking their teeth into a chop will be in vege heaven. There are hundreds of recipes here, but suffice to say your classic vindaloos and tandooris are present, among many other amazing treats – many most of us have never heard before. This is Indian cooking at its most authentic, that’s for sure, and author Pant has done an incredible job of cataloguing this collection. It’s probably true when the publisher says this is the only Indian cookbook you would ever need.
Not all recipes show photographs, but a nice, hand-picked selection appears throughout the chapters, to break up the colour-coded pages. The photos are authentically styled and studded with their lovely price-sticker labels and will undoubtedly make your mouth water, most especially the sections dedicated to breads (hallelujah! there’s naan, poori, paratha, roti, bhakri, phulka, chapaati and more) and desserts, which will stun you with their diversity – rice flour dumplings in sweet milk, syrup-soaked pancakes, pistachio ice cream, puddings, biscuits, yoghurts, drinks, tea – it’s all here. Rice dishes are also covered from sweet to savoury.
Rounding our this culinary and very spicy masterpiece is a Guest Chefs section featuring signature dishes from some of the best Indian chefs from around the world, a detailed glossary will keep you fully prepped and the very clever directory listing where to buy more elusive Indian ingredients, will keep you fully stocked.
Mouthwatering. I’m off to rustle up some dahl.
Title: India The Cookbook
Author: Pushpesh Pant
Publication Date: 25/10/2010