I am often put off by cookbook titles that include the word ‘classic’. That term sometimes indicates that the dishes are going to be over-fussy and will be relying on rare and costly ingredients for impact. One has visions of the kitchens of Versailles bustling with portly and ill-tempered chefs presiding over an army of downtrodden kitchen menials and each one of those babysitting larks tongues or poking a pot of peacock porridge. If one is considering Indian cuisine the vision is even more intimidating. Will there be a ‘classic’ and indispensible kitchen gadget (probably in brass and exquisitely wrought) to purchase? Perhaps those unfamiliar spices demand a trip to a charmingly exotic gully in Delhi – although one could try the internet.
Fear none of the above scenarios, dear reader. Manju Malhi presents her Classic Indian Recipes and they are written with the modern home cook in mind. Yes, they are ‘classic’ but that word could be replaced with ‘I have heard of those’ or ‘familiar restaurant’ and equally apt ‘easily made in Twickenham’ (reader substitutes his/her own address). Lots here to excite and encourage domestic gods or goddesses who have hitherto been a bit shy in the presence of a green chilli.
Manju is an Indian but she is also a West London lass, so has an insight into the anxieties of Europeans who would like to make traditional Indian food but have felt themselves incapable. There is no magic formula to preparing striking samosas or amazing aloo gobhi. All you need is a recipe and a bit of confidence. There are no mysterious cooking techniques to master, no additional kitchen equipment needed (assuming you already have a hob) and once you have amassed a collection of half a dozen or so spices you will be ready to tackle all the recipes listed here.
These are simple recipes to follow and they encompass some of my personal favourite dishes. The Sweet Lemon Pickle will be a flavourful garnish to many of the other dishes listed. Anything that only has to be prepared once every 8 months is bound to be popular with all of us with a passion for good food but who have little time. The ubiquitous coriander and mint chutneys are also here and they will be your essential condiments.
I love dal (lentils) in all its forms. Dal Makhani is a perennial restaurant item, as its rich, spiced silkiness is deeply comforting. It’s rather calorific but a little goes a long way. Simple to make at home and the process can be speeded if one has access to a pressure cooker. It seems that every housewife of Indian descent has at least one and perhaps two of these practical contraptions. You’ll manage very well with just your regular pots, though.
Indian sweets and desserts are overlooked by many other Indian cookbooks, but here Manju offers a creditable selection that takes us from the relatively healthy yoghurt-based Shrikhand to the sweet that I’d fight you for – Doodh ki Barfi. You might not recognise the name but think of those Indian sweetshops with their piles of cubed and sugary delights. You can now make these chez vous for a fraction of the price of the commercial varieties. I would add a little cardamom for extra flavour.
My pick of the book is a recipe for a vegetable which is delicious served alongside almost anything. It would work well as a nibble with drinks and the only drawback is that you will never be able to make enough. It’s Bhindi Jaipuri and it’s addictive. Okra is about as popular in urban legend as broccoli but this is a must-try dish. The coated and fried okra are transformed into vibrant and crunchy morsels. Moreish – but feel noble: they are vegetables and one of your 5-a-day.
Classic Indian Recipes by Manju Malhi is great value for money and a solid introduction to Indian cooking.
Classic Indian Recipes
Author: Manju Malhi
Published by: Hamlyn
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018