Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi

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Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi

Buy Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Cookery
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An experienced cook will find lots to enjoy in the book and CD package, but it's aimed at someone with little experince of Indian food. It covers the basics, a good selection of recipes and then gives menus complete with timings. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 216 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Duncan Baird Publishers
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1844835836

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Have you ever thought that you'd like to make good Indian food but you don't really know where to start? Have you ever worried about over-spicing or under-spicing your dishes? Have you ever wondered what foods work well together and which don't? If you have, this third book from Manju Malhi will provide all the answers.

Indian cuisine is perfume for the nose, relish for the lips, nourishment for the body and nectar for the soul.

Even an experienced cook will get quite a lot from Easy Indian Cookbook but it works best as a book for someone who would like to learn from scratch. There's an excellent section on 'The Basics' – the ingredients with which you might not be entirely familiar and the herbs, spices and flavourings you'll be using. Generally you get some details about where they come from, which foods they accompany and how they affect flavour. The nuts, pulses and other store cupboard ingredients might sound unusual but most if not all are available from the larger supermarkets.

There are only a few techniques you'll need to acquire with the most important being the dry roasting and frying of spices which does intensify the flavour of a dish. Once you understand these points you're ready to move on to some basic recipes. These are the ones that you'll be using time and time again – the chutneys, curry pastes, chapatis and rices which accompany just about every Indian meal.

With that solid grounding you're now ready to look at the individual recipes. For each one you're told either how many people it will feed or how many items are produced, how long the preparation will take and the cooking time. If chilling time is needed then you'll be told that too, so no more starting a recipe and then finding that it's going to take too long. This is my third Indian cookbook from Manju and I know from experience that when she says that a recipe will feed four people it will do just that. They won't be mean helpings – they'll be satisfying helpings for an average adult. I've also found all her timings reliable too. Each recipe is contained in a double-page spread with one page devoted to a picture of the finished dish.

We begin, as might be expected, with starters and snacks. You'll find the old favourites such as samosas there but there are some delicious recipes such as the cumin and coriander potato patties (which are lightened by the addition of peas) or the lentil soup which are slightly more unusual. The tomato soup might sound run of the mill but it has a real kick which is welcome on a cold day.

These days many more people are vegetarian or are at least prepared to accept that a meal without meat or fish is still a meal. Of the eleven recipes there are a couple such as potatoes with cauliflower and buttery spinach and potatoes which I would see as accompaniments rather than meals in themselves but there are some gems in there. I think the chickpea curry meets the criteria for being vegan and the inclusion of tea darkens the gravy. It's tangy and served with chapatis makes a satisfying meal. There's a recipe for vegetable dhansak which I think I could live on if push came to shove.

If I have one minor quibble about this book it's that it's not always clear when you move from one section to the next. The photographs move from one side of the double-page spread to the other and the heading (in rather small print) at the top of the page changes but I was still brought up short when my mind was still on vegetables and found myself reading a chicken recipe. It is a minor quibble though and I would doubtless have found a double page spread to announce a new chapter even more annoying.

That first chicken recipe is chicken tikka masala – said to be the world's most popular Indian dish, but which originated in the UK. It's delightful and far better than most of the versions you'll get from the takeaway or some Indian restaurants. Preparation and cooking time is short but you will need two hours for the chicken to marinate. If you're looking for a mild curry then you can do no better than the creamy chicken curry.

I've always loved Manju's approach to lamb. She has the balance of seasoning exactly right, bringing out rather than masking the flavour. Her lamb meatballs are garnished with cream and almonds and it's recommended that they're served with naan, but I served them with basmati rice successfully. The rogan josh is a more robust dish but beware – it sits on the hob for forty minutes and the aroma will have you drooling. There are a couple of pork recipes too.

If I had to say which of Manju's recipes are my favourites I would unhesitatingly say that the fish are the best. It's here that her delicate balance of spicing comes into its own. A heavy hand can blow the fish away. You must try white fish in tomato curry which uses just a few basic spices and takes only half an hour from start to eating. Here it's served with potatoes and cauliflower and it's one of those perfect meals that leaves you smiling. Also recommended from this section is spiced white fish cooked in coconut.

You'll be familiar with a lot of the side dishes such as the balti potatoes but it's worth experimenting with some of the more unusual (at least to western tastes). Tempered red lentils are richer then you might think and smoked aubergine is good enough to eat on its own. If you're tired of serving peas then try them infused with cumin which you can serve hot, cold or at room temperature. They're good in a lunch box too.

The section headed Sweet Things is a combination of what I would describe as sweets and puddings. I was a little nervous when I made the chickpea petit fours as I couldn't imagine what they would taste like, but they're nutty and quite rich even without the optional addition of almonds. Of the sweets my favourite was the coconut treats, which disappeared very quickly. Of what I would describe as puddings the cardamom ice cream has a subtle flavour but it is rich. If you remember semolina pudding from your school days (and it's usually without affection) then you're in for a pleasant surprise as Manju's recipe contains banana, pistachio nuts and cardamom.

The recipe section rounds off with a couple of drinks. I would imagine that you're now thinking that this book is rather good value, but there's more – and for me it was quite probably the most valuable part of the book.

Western meals tend to be divided into courses and there's an obsession with pigeonholing food but Indian meals consist of several dishes all served at once and it was here that I really felt that I needed guidance. What goes with what? What's too much or too little? Manju gives twelve menu plans ranging from a simple lunch, through various other lunches with family and friends to dinners (from simple through to party) and finally there's a drinks party. Each menu has a suitable range of dishes with accompanying photos. Timings are set out for you and there are even some short cuts if you need to save a little time. Follow these and you can have a fool-proof Indian meal for whatever occasion you wish.

The book itself has been carefully thought out too. It's spiral bound so it will lie flat. It will even stand up and stay open at the right page. There are flaps that you can fold in if you're following more than one recipe at once and tucked in at the back there's a CD of traditional Indian music.

Now, what more could you ask for?

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Since the day I read Manju's first book it hasn't left that shelf in the kitchen where the favourite books live. It's inspirational, but for another book of quick and simple recipes, some with eastern flavours, we can recommend The 30-Minute Cook (The Best of the World's Quick Cooking) by Nigel Slater.

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Buy Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi at Amazon.com.


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