Britspice by Manju Malhi

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Britspice by Manju Malhi

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A book aimed at the novice cook but from which the experienced can gain inspiration. It's a combination of British and Indian cuisine and most meals are ready in under half an hour with no complicated cooking methods or equipment required.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2003
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141006021

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Manju Malhi's parents came to the UK from Bombay in the nineteen-sixties. Her mother worked as a nurse in Harefield Hospital and her father was a textile chemist. They didn't have a great deal of money but they improvised to make good meals and even her father loved to cook. His cooking was influenced by the fact that his mother came from the Punjab. Manju's introduction to cooking came about in an unfortunate way. Bullied at school for being different, she threw herself into cooking.

She was always taught to respect food and not to waste it. I can vouch for this because I've now tried a number of her recipes and the quantities have always been perfect for the number of people she suggests. Whilst working as a voice-over artist her big break came when she beat hundreds of other contestants to secure a guest cookery slot on BBC2's Food and Drink programme, winning because of the simplicity of her recipe.

In 'Britspice' she sets out to dispel some myths about Indian food (and I'll quote these from the book):

  • It's all hot.
  • All Hindus are vegetarian.
  • Curry is made out of curry powder.
  • Indian Food is just curry.

So, does she succeed?

The first thing to say about this book is that it's worth the cover price for the store cupboard and spice list alone. The store cupboard list covers the main foods that you'll want to have available - such things as garlic, ghee, root ginger, oil and onions. There's nothing there that's particularly unusual or hard to get hold of. The spice list covers all the spices used in the book, gives the Indian name as well as the English and tells you where you're likely to be able to get hold of the spice if it's not common. Most importantly, it gives storage instructions and the time within which the spice should be used.

Curry powder used to worry me - not using it, but getting it. Our small, local supermarket didn't always have it, but I don't buy it any more. It is after all only a mixture of other spices and Manju gives recipes for making curry powder, pastes and rubs. They're far better than their commercial counterparts and easy to make. Since I've been doing this I've had a faster turn-over of the individual spices which means that what I'm using is likely to be fresher.

The book is ideal for the novice cook. Instructions are simple and clear and there are no complicated methods of cooking. Most food would be on the table in well under half an hour. It's a book to inspire and build confidence. If I had a son or daughter going to University this autumn I would give them a copy of this book and the main spices and dry ingredients. They would save a fortune in takeaways - and most of the food would arrive more quickly.

It's a homely book. I felt I was there with Manju's Mum, Dad and brother, cooking everything from snacks to feasts. It's not Indian food as such and it's certainly not British but a marvellous combination of the two. Her recipe for a spicy tomato soup uses a can of soup, but I used my own and added the spices. It was wonderful, but better still was the lentil and vegetable soup. I loved this because Manju encourages you to try other vegetable combinations and I made use of the various gluts that I've had from the garden. I've even managed to put some into the freezer for the winter.

I've been ill recently and the clear spicy chicken soup proved a godsend when I had little appetite. The flavour is delicate and warming. It's a "serves two" recipe and whilst I'd like to say that I shared it, I'm afraid I didn't!

Would you like to hear about the most marvellous sandwich filling? How about curried eggs? It's marvellous as a hot dish on toast, but to my mind it's even better when it's been allowed to go cold and is between two slices of the softest white bread. Picnics and packed lunches need never be dull again.

If mashed potatoes bore you, why not try potatoes with dried red chillies? It's very easy to make and Manju recommends serving it with chicken or a meat curry, but we've enjoyed it with smoked haddock and a home-made tomato sauce. It was a substantial and tasty meal that was ready in less than half an hour.

You've guessed that I'm hooked, haven't you? When Manju first told me about Britspice I wondered if it would be my kind of book. It's really aimed at the novice cook and I don't consider myself to be a novice cook. I'd heard about the recipe for baked bean balti and thought this really wouldn't be my sort of thing at all. I was very pleasantly surprised on both counts. There was inspiration in the book and we've branched out to try different foods and different combinations. And, um, baked bean balti is actually rather good!

Photography is by Tara Fisher. Unfortunately I've been spoilt by the photography in India with Passion by the fabled Jason Lowe and the pictures here are not as good - but that would be difficult. My daughter (who lived in Nepal for a number of years) commented that it's very difficult to photograph Asian food, because it's usually about taste rather than looks and presentation, but Tara Fisher produces pictures of food that I felt I wanted to cook and eat. The pictures of finished dishes are all captioned along with the page number of the recipe.

In addition to the very good index (I found everything that I wanted on the first try) there's also a glossary which should answer all your questions.

Manju has succeeded and succeeded well. Some of the food is hot but there were many more delicate flavours than I expected. The range of food isn't limited, with something there from all the major food groups. My curries are much better, with more depth of flavour since I've stopped buying commercial curry powder and whilst there are many curries in the book there are a lot of other things too.

If you'd like to try some of Manju's recipes you'll find some examples on her website.

Buy Britspice by Manju Malhi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Britspice by Manju Malhi at

Buy Britspice by Manju Malhi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Britspice by Manju Malhi at


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Magda said:

You've really sold this on me, Sue. I don't cook curries often now as Katie used to be really picky about eating anything in casserole format, plus now with the baby there was no time. But the 'under half an hour' line sounds great. Everything I cook now is less than half an hour preparation (not necessarily cooking time of course).

I don't consider myslef a novice cook either but this seems very interesting indeed. Now, when I - eventually - go buying my dream Indian cookery book, you persuaded me to choose one of hers, which one then?

Sue said:

As you're not a novice cook, Magda, I think I'd go for India with Passion. Britspice is British/Indian cuisine but India with Passion is Indian food adapted only in the sense that ingredients have been substituted where the originals wouldn't be readily available in the UK. There's a wide range of foods other than curries. I went, in one step, from not having an Indian cookbook to having one which I found indispensible. If you were a novice cook then I'd recommend Britspice as being an ideal way of getting a homemade taste of Indian food.

Yartek said:

Sounds absolutely fantastic, and I think it's fair to say I have my fingers crossed for the competition. I'm a dedicated cooker of Indian recipes, but always looking out for new approaches. I've downloaded a host of Udit Sarkhel's recipes from the web and looking forward to giving them a spin as well...

Clair Pearson said:

I like the way the review incorporates background information about the author as well as the detailed description of the book. It definitely sounds like a book that would be of use to me because of the clear instructions and the variety in the recipes. All in all the review is very thorough and the most useful aspect is that you have tried the recipes in the book.

maudette said:

I like the sound of this book (I want to win one in the competition!!) but I'd like to see a picture of a sample page if that's possible. I'd also like to know the page size and print size. I'm very fussy about my recipe books - they have to be printed clearly enough for me to be able to read the recipe easily without having to fiddle about with reading glasses when I've got sticky fingers.

Sue said:

I'm sure we'd have copyright problems if we produced a sample page, but if it helps, my elderly eyes have no problem with the font - I've seen many worse.

Kim Crispino said:

After reading this review I have finally found a gift I could give my father for christmas. He loves making currys (about the only thing he will cook) - all his own recipes and has a cupboard full of spices, some I have never even heard of. The hotter the better is his motto.