There are myriad Indian cookbooks available to the European reader. Most of them are good, some of them are magnificent but all of them have something to offer. The problem is that so many of them present much the same thing. Curry-house favourites, standard restaurant items and homemade versions of your regular takeaway. Regional Cooking of India, however, entices the reader with much more varied fare.
Mridula Baljekar is a food consultant, restaurant consultant, author, and she has been away from the UK food TV screens for too long. She had her own cooking series on Carlton a few years ago and many of us wonder why she is not now presenting Indian cooking programmes on the UK food network.
Regional Cooking of India is the latest in a line of books from Ms Baljekar. It’s a large-format tome with a wealth of pictures of finished dishes, but also step-by-step shots which will be a comfort to the less-confident home chef. 350 photographs make this either a coffee table book to cook from or a cookbook to grace the aforementioned furniture.
Many of us are avid collectors of cookbooks but there is always that duplication of recipes. This book presents so much that is new. Dishes that I have not come across in other recipe books and in fact have not eaten in restaurants. Having said that, there is nothing here to incite horror at the hob in a European kitchen. Mridula writes with the home cook in mind. She does not expect you to own a tandoor (although I have heard you can find plans on the internet for such things using big terracotta flower pots) and she even suggests an alternative for the traditional idli maker: use your grandmother’s egg-poacher!
There are 80 recipes here to tempt you to the kitchen and indeed to India. Each region is considered and Mridula guides you through the culinary culture of these diverse areas. Six chapters cover north, south, east and west, with north-east and central India added for good measure. It’s a huge country with varied climate and geography. Coastal regions with their array of seafood dishes, and mountains with lamb. Marvellous vegetables everywhere, and sweets that are a bit more impressive than those found in UK restaurants.
Prawn Rissoles are from the west, and these would make a delicious main course, or smaller versions could be made to go with drinks. Several regions offer dishes that would work in this fashion – stuffed savouries with contrasting tastes and textures: Meat-Filled Potato Cakes from Eastern India, and Stuffed Meat Patties from South India are both flexible recipes. Baby Corn Fritters could also enhance a canapé tray. My Indian friends have given the smartest of drinks parties with finger foods like these, which put cheese straws and twiglets to shame – vibrant flavours from small dishes which are both tempting and moreish.
If you want a dish to impress then you can’t do better than using Mridula’s recipe for Nawabi Raan, royal-style marinated leg of lamb. It’s not a difficult dish for even a novice to undertake. The aroma of spices and roasting meat will fill your home. I know that estate agents always advise sellers to brew coffee or make bread when expecting potential house-buyers, but I think this lamb could get the deal done quicker.
There are many other dishes here deserving of a mention, including Spicy Stuffed Bananas from West India, which are new to me. A simple dish and economic, a great departure for vegetarians who will appreciate the stylish presentation of dark banana skins and savoury filling. A good standby, using lots of store-cupboard ingredients. Spicy Scrambled Eggs make a much more exciting breakfast than cornflakes – attractive and simple to prepare even with only one eye open.
Mridula Baljekar is a many-faceted consummate professional. One would expect a fascinating book full of inspiring and different recipes and that’s exactly what this is. Even those of us who have shelves liberally garnished with Indian cookbooks will want to find a space for Regional Cooking of India. It’s a joy.
Asian cookbook review: Regional cooking of India
Author: Mridula Baljekar
Published by: Aquamarine
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018