September 24, 2010

This Book Got Me Started

Started with Indian cooking, that is.   All the recipes I made during my first three-day adventure in Indian cooking came from the same cookbook.  Following is a review of that book.

Easy Indian Cookbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Deliciously Easy Indian Food at Home by Manju Malhi
216 pages, spiral bound   

One of the blurbs on the back cover of the book reads "Genuine Indian food made easy so you can experience and enjoy the real thing in your own home."  I'd say that description is a pretty good one.  The recipes are clearly written and pretty straight-forward in terms of technique, and none of the required ingredients are difficult to find if one has access to a good Indian or Asian grocery, or simply a wide range of spices via Penzey's or some similar source.

The book begins with a basic discussion of typically Indian ingredients and techniques, then moves on to some simple, basic recipes for making Indian breads, chutneys, spice mixes and rice.   Overall, this section of the book is pretty good, but it isn't without problems.  As I mentioned yesterday, I found the Naan recipe to be a disappointment, but the rest of these basic recipes have worked out just fine.  Also, I think the discussion of Indian ingredients and cooking techniques could have benefited a lot from some illustrations. 

After getting the basic stuff out of the way, the author moves on to the real core of the book:  A wide selection of recipes, divided up between snacks and appetizers, vegetarian, meat and poultry, seafood, side dishes and desserts.  the book ends with a discussion of what dishes one might wish to serve together for specific sorts of situations (box lunch, romantic dinner for two, cocktail party, family meal, etc.). 

I should note that I own a different printing of this book than the one pictured above.  Apparently there are several printings of the book on the market, some (like mine) softcover, others spiral-bound.   The one pictured above includes a CD of traditional Indian music.  I've not heard the music, so I can't comment on it, but I doubt it takes anything away from the quality of the recipes (which is probably what most potential buyers really care about), and I suppose it might add some nice atmosphere to one's dining experience.   The printing I bought doesn't appear to be available anywhere online (I got it the remainder/bargain section of a bookstore), but I'm pretty certain the different versions of the book are identical in terms of content (same page count, same format, etc.).  

To date, I have prepared approximately 1/4 of the recipes in this book.  There are a lot of recipes for dishes that will be familiar to anyone with even a modest knowledge of Indian cuisine.  These include standard Indian restaurant fare like Vegetable Samosas, Rogan Josh, Chicken Korma, Mattar Paneer and some versions of Biryani (meat or vegetables cooked along with rice), as well as some less typical choices, such as Tandoori-Style Trout.  Based on my experience, the recipes are of variable quality, but the vast majority of the ones I've prepared have fallen in the very-good-to-excellent range (4 to 5 stars, by the ranking Juli and I use around the house).  Some of our favorites have included an Indian Tomato Soup, Channa Masala (chickpea curry), the Bhuna Dal and Tandoori Chicken Bites (both pictured above), Shrimp with Garlic and Chili, and Pork Vindaloo.  We've revisited some of those recipes already, and there are still a lot of recipes in the book I look forward to making.

Although we haven't found this book to fall within the "every recipe is a winner" category, the hit/miss ratio is still quite good.  I've used this book a lot, and I consider it a very good choice for someone new to Indian cooking.

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