India with Passion by Manju Malhi
|India with Passion by Manju Malhi|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A superb introduction to Indian cookery by TV chef Manju Malhi. There's delicious food and wonderful photography by Jason Lowe. It's highly recommended by the bookbag.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: October 2004|
|Publisher: Mitchell Beazley|
|External links: Author's website|
We've been eating rather well recently and it's all because of Manju Malhi's Book India with Passion. A little while ago Manju emailed me and asked if I would like a copy of her latest book. As always, all reviews on Bookbag are entirely independent and trustworthy. There's no such thing as a free lunch here! Manju even agreed to let me have a second copy to use as a competition prize.
Like most home cooks I had a curry recipe and that was the extent of my so-called Indian cookery. When I thought about Indian food what came to mind were hot, strong and spicy flavours which lacked subtlety. I also thought that Indian food was the same throughout the sub-continent. I was only a few pages into the book before I realised how wrong I had been.
Manju spent considerable time in India researching the food cooked and eaten by Indians in their own homes, in restaurants and from street stalls. The book divides India into four regions - the points of the compass - and looks at how the cuisine of the region is influenced by climate, geography, religion and history. The introductions to each region are brief, to-the-point and interesting. They provide, if you like, a taster for the recipes to come with background information on some of the more unusual ingredients.
I've always thought of India as a hot country but the north has a much milder climate and the cuisine reflects this. There's more use of cream and dairy products than you'll find further south and the dishes are hearty and warming. The first recipe I cooked was Raan. That's a leg of lamb marinated in yoghurt and spices and then roasted in the oven. With it we had aloo gobhi - seasoned potato and cauliflower. I was surprised by the delicacy of the seasoning - and I do mean that it was delicate, rather than that it was under seasoned.
I've been cooking for a family for more years than I care to remember, so I rarely weigh out most ingredients. I did so with these recipes as I wanted to guage what size of helpings the book would deliver. They're perfectly judged. The aloo gobhi is intended to feed two to three people and it gave two good helpings and sufficient for me to have a lunch-time snack the next day.
Throughout the book I've found that the lists of ingredients are far from daunting and for the first two recipes I had all the necessary spices in the store cupboard. I even managed to follow the instructions to make my own garam masala. Helpfully, any ingredients for which a separate recipe is provided are printed in italics and I've followed several of these links.
Our favourite recipe so far is for murgh tandoori - a whole tandoori chicken. It's delicious hot or cold - we had it hot one evening and cold in sandwiches the next day. Once again I had all the spices I needed and this is set to become a regular in the Magee household.
Southern India produces some of the hottest and most exotic dishes as the hot food helps to cool the body. As there are Hindu communities in the region it's renowned for vegetarian dishes. Cooking is traditionally done in oil rather than ghee and the cuisine is lighter than in the north and food is frequently boiled or steamed. Because of the proximity of the coastline there are a lot of fish dishes and our favourite here is meen molee - a fish curry cooked in coconut. I can make it in the time that it takes to cook the accompanying basmati chawal - plain basmati rice. It's certainly faster than even thinking about a takeaway!
Another quick dish which we're determined to repeat is mangalorean chicken, using chicken breasts and a good helping of black pepper. It also has garlic - but then so does most Indian cuisine. If you don't like garlic then this is probably not the book for you, unfortunately.
East Indian cuisine is strongly influenced by the area around Kolkata. It's the monsoon coast and there are innumerable rivers, ponds and lakes teeming with fish. Some of these fish are similar to fish with which we are familiar. Manju is not precious about using the absolutely authentic ingredients - the aim of the book is to make Indian cuisine accessible to the westerner rather than to distance it - and readily-available substitutes are frequently suggested.
I made begun bhaja - fried aubergine - for lunch one day. It's very simple and uses only one spice - turmeric. Served with a tomato sauce it made a good lunch on a warm day. There is a recipe for potatoes and aubergine in tomato sauce but this takes a little longer to make. It's a good evening meal with plain basmati rice though.
The west has the most varied cuisine in the sub-continent, from the Gujarati light vegetarian meals to the Parsees' rich and spicy cuisine. In Goa there are strong Portuguese influences. The word 'vindaloo' came from Portugal - it was originally vinh d'alho, garlic-flavoured wine vinegar. I noticed more use of peanuts in the western cuisine. I made the Sukhi Bhaji - a dry vegetable curry, and they did add to the flavour. As they are sprinkled over the dish after cooking they could be omitted if anyone has problems with peanuts.
There's one dish which I'm determined to try soon and that's Kaalvan or Marathi salmon curry. I'm going to have to get some tamarind concentrate though and it's not stocked in my local supermarket. Most ingredients in the book are readily available, even out in the Yorkshire Dales and I would imagine that most of the rest could be obtained from a large supermarket.
I'm not a fan of many pictures in a cookery book, but the photography in this book is exceptional. Jason Lowe is the man responsible and it's his work at its best - I was admiring some of his photography in the Observer a few weeks ago. Many of the pictures were shot on location in India and the pictures of recipe dishes were shot in a studio. If I have a minor quibble here it's that there's nothing to indicate where the pictures were taken or what they represent. It's probably self-explanatory so far as the dishes are concerned, but I've shown some of the location pictures to other people and the response has always been the same - "Wow! Where is it?"
This book has been a wonderful introduction to Indian food. All the food that I've made so far has tasted good and the recipes have been easy to follow. Even an inexperienced cook should have no difficulty and the equipment used is of the type found in the average kitchen. If you have experience of cooking Indian food there's depth in the recipes and plenty of new ones to try.
I'm going to leave you with a final thought to make you drool - masala doodh. That's chilli hot chocolate. Dark chocolate and drinking chocolate powder are melted in cream and milk and then spices are whisked in and it's served sprinkled with chilli flakes. The recipe says that it serves two, but it doesn't. Well, not if I'm in on my own!
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I have just bought now it's come down in price, and I agree with you on the photos - they are superb, worth the tenner I spent even for those.
I tried a few things and they were all good.
But I have to say that I found this book less usable than for example my plain Madhur Jaffrey curry book, mostly because of the regional setup, which is good for reading and inspiration, but which makes it a bit of a pain finding things. I like all my potato dishes together, not in 4 different places of the book! I KNOW there is an index, but still...
My other complaints are purely to do with what we eat and what I cook (and what we don't eat and I don't cook), which is that I personally would have liked to see fewer fish and *significantly* fewer sweet recipes (that is because my family members think that milk based/custardy-like deserts are totally revolting) and more dals and meat curries.
Still, there is enough there for a lot of cooking anyway :-)
I'm glad you're enjoying it, Magda. I've had the book for about eighteen months now and it's one of the few that remains permanently in the kitchen as opposed to the bookcase in the dining room. We're the opposite of your family - we adore Manju's fish recipes and would consume custard deserts by the gallon if left to our own devices!
I understand what you mean about the 'regional' nature of the book, but I enjoyed all the background so much that I found it didn't matter.