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A Compendium on Indian Cuisine

By: Praba Iyer Email By: Praba Iyer
January 2011
A Compendium on Indian Cuisine Pushpesh Pant is a man of many talents. He is a Professor at JNU New Delhi, a regular columnist for many Indian national newspapers, and a radio and TV show host on travel and food. He has several cook books to his credit, including Food Path: Along the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata, Hindu Soul Recipes, Buddhist Peace Recipes and more. His new cook book has 1000 recipes, collected over two decades of his travels all over India. The recipes come from Master Chefs and home cooks, which Mr. Pant says he has edited, tested, and collated into this collection.

The cover of the book is innovative. It looks like the outside print of a bag of rice or atta (wheat flour), with the weight of the book (1.5 kilograms!) printed on the side. With 816 pages, it feels like a Webster’s Dictionary. The inside graphics of old Indian street art and posters is a nice touch. Photos of dishes with clearly marked English names and page number of the recipe is very helpful. Icons for spice level for each recipe and photos make the content useful.

The brief history of Indian food is a must–read. I found it comprehensive and thorough. The section of dishes from well-known Indian chefs like Suvir Saran, Vikram Vij, Miraj-ul-Haque, Joy Kapur and others is an added bonus.

There’s no better way to evaluate a cook book than simply trying out a whole range of recipes. And that is exactly what I set out to do. I cooked over 20 recipes and served them to family and friends. The Kuzhi Paniyaram—Rice Dumplings from Chettinad (pg. 133) was a huge hit at a party. The Vendakai Igguru—Spicy Fried Okra (pg. 248) was devoured by my okra-hating teen. Some dishes like the Vendakkai Pulusu—Okra (pg. 247), Artikai Podi—Green Banana Fry (pg. 346), Dal Ki Kima—Mung Beans (pg. 577), and Dal Makhni—Black Lentil (pg. 583) were delicious.

However, some recipes fell short. The Baghare Baigan (pg. 250) needed an extra tablespoon of tamarind concentrate for the flavor to emerge. The Phool Gobi (pg. 258) was bland and needed more flavor even for a non-Indian palette. The Hara Mahi Tikka (pg. 171) improved a lot after I left the fish pieces in the marinade for a few more hours for the flavors to seep in and then grilled them.

Overall I had more hits than misses. While the book was easy to navigate, I would recommend a page with sample menus to guide newbies to Indian cuisine, so they can quickly get started.

I would have liked to see better reference checks on the regional names of the dishes, especially dishes from South India. While the dishes were authentic to the region, their names were not. For instance, Artikai Podi (pg. 346) should have been Vazhakkai Podimas. Since this book caters to not just Westerners but also to Indian Americans, correct regional names of dishes do matter.

I also wish the publishing house had paid more attention to paper quality. I had to place the book away from my primary cooking area in the kitchen, on a book stand while preparing the dishes, as I was quite concerned about soiling the pages. The paper will absorb all oils and spices, smudging the recipes. Most cookbooks in the United States use glossy paper that can be wiped off if spills happen. Given the price of this book, there is no room for the poor quality and printing errors.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed cooking the dishes, and can’t wait to try out more. It is a treasure of authentic recipes, especially Awadhi and Hyderabadi cuisines. This book is a valuable addition to both experienced and novice cooks. For non-Indians, The India Cookbook will entice your palette with a journey through India without leaving your kitchen. Enjoy!

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com

Masoor Ki Chutney
This is an Awadh recipe

1 Tablespoon oil
4 Tablespoons whole masoor (rinsed and drained)
6 dried red chillies
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
½ cup tamarind extract
2 inch piece of dried coconut
½ teaspoon garlic paste
Salt to taste
For Tempering
1 tsp oil

6 curry leaves
2 dried chilies
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 onion chopped fine

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the dal and fry for 1-2 minutes, and set aside. Add red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and asafetida and stir fry for a minute or until seeds splutter. Remove and transfer to a blender. Add dal, tamarind extract, coconut, garlic paste, season with salt and process until ground. Transfer to a serving bowl. Heat oil for tempering in a frying pan, add curry leaves, dry red chilies,
Pineapple Sherbet
This is great punch bowl drink for ladies’ lunches and barbeque parties.

¾ cups of lemon juice
1 ½ cups of orange juice
½ cup of sugar
6 canned pineapple slices chopped
4 ¼ cups of club soda
4 ¼ cups of ginger ale
Mix lemon juice, orange juice and sugar together in a bowl, then cover and place in a refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, then add the pineapple, club soda, and ginger ale and mix. Serve in a punch bowl with ice.

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