India Cookbook: by Pushpesh Pant
Pant’s encyclopedia of 1000 recipes is a beautifully designed mammoth of a cookbook reminiscent of 1970s style whose pages, in lightweight, pastel-coloured paper, are as light as curry leaves. So it was published in October last year, well, it’s taken me a while to prowl through. And it’s a truly exciting book. Not only is the photography excellent in its simplicity, Pant has included dishes from Kashmir and Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu. Ignoring the purple prose (a shade of aubergine on cardamom green paper), plaudits for regional specialities such as bitter gourd curry with fried coconut from Kerala to one of my mum’s favourite breakfast recipes – upama – or savoury semolina.
Of course, when Anirudh Arora, head chef of Moti Mahal in London’s Covent Garden, and one of the book’s guest editors offers to cook you some of the recipes, why do I need labour myself? Arora, with other London chefs such as Tamarind’s Alfred Prasad and the Cinnamon Club’s Vivek Singh, has showcased some of his own establishment’s fineries in the book.
So, inside Moti Mahal’s kitchen, we tasted one particular corker, the titari – tandoor-grilled guinea fowl marinated in royal cumin, fresh garlic and smoked red chillies which was excellent, slidey soft and pungent.
Chef needlessly apologized for his ‘strong Indian accent” and showed us his clamper grill and both gas fired and charcoal fired tandoors out of which came the excellent guinea fowl.
The paturee, again, namechecked in the book, were pan-fried crab cakes with tiger prawns wrapped in a banana leaf. These were flavoursome little sausages, oddly tasting of lemongrass though we witnessed Arora make them with not a bulb in sight. I also loved the kararee bhyein, fried lotus stems with peanuts and coriander Punjabi style – a real revelation and moreish enough to treat like crisps.
While on the subject of Indian cookery books, I want to mention an ambitious number whose budget probably didn’t match Phaidon’s yet nevertheless is a long-reaching grasp into the henna-ed extremities of Indian regional cooking.
Regional Cooking of India by Mridula Baljekar may not look as exceptional as Pant’s book, after all, we’re surely done with soft focus food photography aren’t we? But its inclusion of simple but unusual dishes needing few spices is commendable. Even I can make the rainbow trout in lemon and mustard marinade or golden yam cubes with spinach. Her range of 80 dishes is wide and probably easier than Pant’s for the beginner of Indian cookery. The sooner we British wake up to the staggering variety of India’s regional cuisine, the better by a long shot.