660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer – review

cookbook reviews 660 Curries - The Gateway to Indian Cooking Yes, I knew that a book of some 660 curries was winging its way to me but I had no concept of what a book of those aforementioned curries might look like. This is a seriously big book that cuts no corners and skimps not a jot of detail, advice, background or explanation.

The author Raghavan Iyer is a US-based Indian chef and educator. Both those disciplines place him ideally for writing this Curry Bible, this Subcontinental Encyclopaedia, this Master Work of Spicy Delight. I don’t mean to rename Raghavan’s book but it should have a title that more accurately reflects the breadth of the topic.

To tackle a cookbook of this size might be a daunting prospect, especially for the novice cook. Don’t let that put you off. Raghavan gently takes your hand and leads you through every element of spice selection, paste grinding, frying, grilling and simmering. He doesn’t assume that you have a familiar and close relationship with your kitchen; you’ll not be confronted by recipes that are anything other than simple.

660 Curries offers every conceivable curry for every possible occasion. Raghavan’s recipes for pastes and spice blends are impressive. These take just a few minutes to prepare but add a taste of true authenticity to dishes. Spices are readily available in stores or by mail order.

Every recipe ever devised

The recipes will tempt both meat eaters and vegetarians. Every meat has its chapter and each vegetable has numerous possibilities. I love lentils and beans, and I thought I had acquired a reasonable repertoire of dishes but this book must contain every recipe ever devised. There are many with which I am familiar, such as Moong Masoor Dal (Red and Yellow Lentils) and Teen Taal Dal (Creamy Black Lentils) but that’s a fraction of the Legume Curries listed.

Chicken is popular among non-vegetarian Indians and it was amusing to find Chicken Tikka Masala. Yes, they say it’s Britain’s National dish. Raghavan points out that it was concocted entirely for Europeans, but is delicious when made well. I guess we can still call it an authentic Indian dish because it was originally cooked by authentic Indians.

The chapter entitled Curry Cohorts is as important as the Curry chapters. The Cohorts are those indispensible side dishes or accompaniments. Rice is the obvious candidate, and Raghavan describes 10 alternatives to the plain boiled that tends to be the norm. There are plenty of breads including traditional roti, as well as hearty Mutter Kachoris (Flaky Breads stuffed with Spicy Green Peas).

An Indian meal isn’t quite complete without an array of other items to nibble. Papads (or papadoms) can be used instead of bread with a curry or served as an appetiser with some chutney or relish. Kachumber is a fresh Indian “salsa” comprising chopped cucumber, tomato and onion. It is tangy and light and is amazing with fish. Nimboo Ka Achar is a lime pickle and one of the most popular preserves. Raghavan has an easy version that will add a tang to curries and breads but also to European cheeses such as cheddar.

Research and penmanship set this book apart

660 Curries – The Gateway to Indian Cooking departs from the savoury theme just long enough to tempt you with Mango Cardamom Cheesecake. This is unmistakably Indian. Well, OK, cheesecakes aren’t normally considered to be an Indian invention, but the addition of cardamom gives the impression that cheesecakes might well have been first devised in a classy restaurant kitchen in Mumbai. A sprinkle of fresh pomegranate seeds, and you have a stunning and exotic dessert.

It’s been my pleasure (mostly) to review hundreds of recipe books and they have been well written and informative, but 660 Curries has a place in my top 10 books reviewed to date. Raghavan has an easy style of writing which is engaging and full of wry humour. I spend half my life eating Indian food and reading Indian recipes; 660 Curries – The Gateway to Indian Cooking has held my attention, introduced me to new dishes and encouraged me to learn more. This is one of the largest tomes to cross my desk (kitchen worktop on trestles) but the quality of research and penmanship are what sets this book apart. Raghavan Iyer is a remarkable ambassador for Indian food. Amazing value for money.

Asian cookbook review: 660 Curries – The Gateway to Indian Cooking
Author: Raghavan Iyer
Published by: Workman Publishing
Price: $ 22.95US
ISBN 978-0-7611-3787-0


Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018


Read reviews of more Indian cookbooks here