October 12, 2010

Good Things Sometimes Come in Plain Packages

I own a fair number of cookbooks, but one of the ones I turn to most often is one that I almost didn't notice at all. It's a good cookbook that deserves more attention, but neither the cover nor the title really jumps forward to grab the reader's attention.

The cookbook in question is Pamela Clark's New Curries, pictured below. The title, while getting points for accuracy,  isn't exactly dynamic. Heck, the title font doesn't even include capital letters. The front and back covers are adequate enough, but not so interesting as to really draw the eye; the front cover depicts a colorful Vietnamese beef and green bean curry in a plain white bowl, while the back cover depicts a Thai shrimp curry. Both look tasty enough, but neither picture is anything special, certainly nothing that rises above the food photography standard to cookbook illustrations.

New Curries by Pamela Clark
paperback, Fall River Press (2010 edition)

There's not even much in the way of cover copy... no blurbs or description, nothing at all but the title and a listing of nations, the cuisines of which are represented in the book: India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The author's name doesn't even appear on the cover (though it is listed on the book's spine).

I first encountered this book on a remainder table at one of the big book stores.  The table was covered with stacks of different books, and this was one of them.  The first time I looked at the table, I don't think New Curries actually registered with me, even though I love curries.  Another book - an Asian cookbook of some sort, I think - had caught my eye, and I spent some time flipping through that before deciding it wasn't different enough from ones I already owned to justify the purchase.  While replacing the book I'd decided not to buy, I finally noticed New Curries.  I'm sure glad I did. 
In writing New Curries, the author's stated mission was to introduce people who were perhaps familiar only with Indian and Thai curries - and even then only with the standard restaurant dishes - to a wider range of curries reflecting a wider range of cuisines and cooking traditions.   In addition to the nations listed on the cover, this book also features curries from Kenya, Trinidad and Nepal.   The various recipes feature a wide range of ingredients, and produce dishes of widely different flavor, aroma, texture and presentation.  As such, I think Ms. Clark succeeded admirably in her goal.

As cookbooks go, New Curries is pretty straightforward.  After a brief, general discussion of curries, mostly consisting of different ingredients used in curries, the author goes right into the recipes, which are divided into sections for seafood, chicken, beef, lamb and pork and vegetarian curries, plus a section on how to make various standard curry mixes and pastes and some of the sorts of rice, chutneys and so forth that often accompany curry dishes.  The book closes out with a brief but fairly good glossary.  Each of the curries is accompanied by a full-page illustration.  The recipes are written out very clearly.  Each is accompanied by information regarding nutrition, prep time and so forth, and most also feature a brief side-bar providing information on the culture represented by the dish, how it's usually served or how else to use some of the ingredients. 

You might have noticed in the photo above that my copy of this book is tabbed in several places.  Each of these tabs indicates a dish I plan to try.  New Curries isn't a very long book - 128 pages - so the number of tabs should give you some idea how many great recipes are in this book.

I've already made several of the recipes in New Curries.  I've enjoyed each of them so far, though some more than others.  Stand-outs so far have been the Kenyan chicken curry, the butternut and green bean curry and the Malaysian lamb curry.   I've not yet tried any recipes from this book that I'd suggest readers avoid, though there are a few that I'll probably customize somewhat next time I cook them.  Most, though, are fine as-is.

The only negative comment I have about New Curries is that the book itself is very poorly bound.  The cover is almost completely detached already, and a few pages are getting loose.  I'll probably have to hole-punch this book and transfer it to a small ring binder in the near future.

If you like curries and would like to experiment with the wide range of curries produced by different cultures, I recommend you give New Curries a try.  It may not look that impressive on first glance, but if you actually make some of the recipes, you'll find the old saying really is true:  You can't judge a book by its cover.

No comments:

Post a Comment