An acquaintance gave me this book, Cooking with Olive Oil. I was rather surprised. No, in truth I was shocked.
The title ‘Cooking with Olive Oil’ explains just what this book is about. Europeans, and especially those fortunate enough to live an olive-pit’s throw from the Mediterranean have used this “green gold” for millennia. It has been widely promoted as a healthy food, natural and delicious. Yes, olive oil and I have been on nodding terms for several decades.
So, OK, it was not the olive oil that stunned me but rather my acquaintance. Sanjeev Kapoor is perhaps the most celebrated and recognised face in India. He can hardly walk a few yards even in England without being recognised, his hand pumped, a snap for the album taken, and even his feet touched by those who admire the most-viewed chef on the planet. Sanjeev Kapoor has penned a book on, obviously, cooking with olive oil, but this is Indian food cooked with olive oil and that is tantamount to a revolution!
So many people in the UK complain that Indian food in restaurants is too heavy and oily. That has changed over the last years, and now we have many fine Indian restaurants which replicate traditional home cooking and authentic fare. Those gloopy and oil-drenched “curries” are still with us but they are fewer these days. The best Indian food is often found in homes and the insertion of olive oil into the kitchen larder adds to the appeal of this great and classic cuisine.
So is this still “classic” Indian food? Well, yes indeed. A cuisine must live and evolve. We think of Indian dishes as being chilli-hot with good use being made of potatoes and tomatoes. But those ingredients are not indigenous to the Subcontinent – they arrived with the discovery of the New World. Amazing food should never be limited by anything other than good taste and imagination. Olive oil is a natural and healthful addition to the regular battery of Indian ingredients.
Part of the inspiration for this book came from Sanjeev’s own home cook, a lady of fairly advanced years who used some bottles of olive oil just because they were there. Her endorsement must be taken seriously as she is, after all, the chef to a chef. The family had been unaware that they had been enjoying olive oil in place of the regular choice for a while. I guess that was the most convincing of blind tastings.
This book is full of tempting Indian dishes that have been adapted take advantage of the positive qualities of olive oil. Several recipes also include the olives themselves, to offer an intriguing and unique fusion. Carrot, Raisin and Black Olive Salad is reminiscent of those North African side dishes found along the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Corn Bhel with Tomato and Olives has its origins in the snack culture of India.
My pick of the book is Punjabi Kadhi. These are spicy and aromatic pakoras dressed with a yoghurt-based sauce. The dumplings are deep-fried in olive oil but, cooked at the right temperature, these will absorb hardly any oil, making this a delicious and guilt-free meal. That’s dinner this evening, chez nous.
Cooking with Olive Oil by Sanjeev Kapoor will appeal to all of us, and particularly to those who have health or weight issues. A simple replacement of olive oil for your habitual medium is a 21st century departure, but it’s a healthy choice rather than a trendy fad. No flavour is diminished and the olive oil will not be noticed, even by the purists, in those hearty and flavourful dishes.
Cooking with Olive Oil
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan Ltd
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018