One of the perks of being a journalist is that publishers keep sending you books for review. Sadly, many of them are unreadable, let alone reviewable. But there is one category where I look forward to receiving new books: food.
So here is my list of the best books I have received recently.
My First Kitchen
By now, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing Vikas Khanna cannot do. His movie The Last Colour has won rave reviews all over the world. And his research into the forgotten foods of India (including the North East) will always be remembered.
In all this, we sometimes forget that Vikas is a chef. He has written many terrific books but the one I recommend is My First Kitchen because it is aimed at the amateur chef. The aim is to teach you to cook like a professional with just five ingredients and the recipes are fool-proof and easy to follow.
My Sweet Kitchen: Vineet Bhatia
Vineet invented much of what we know as modern Indian cuisine and he was the first chef to create new-style Indian desserts including his famous chocolate samosa. This book has the recipes for unusual desserts using traditional Indian flavours. These range from his version of the corn kheer from Indore served with popcorn ice cream to a brilliant take on the Shahi Tukda.
The Travelling Belly: Kalyan Karmakar
This is not a recipe book. Kalyan is India’s best food blogger and this account of his travels through India’s cities is compulsively readable — plus it will make you hungry. I loved the Calcutta and Mumbai chapters the most.
Season by Nik Sharma
Nik lives in California where he writes a weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle and runs the award-winning blog A Brown Table. This book is directed at people who are not overly familiar with Indian food, which means that the recipes are clear and precise and easy-to-follow.
Nik has some really good twists on Indian flavours. As he says “changing one ingredient can radically alter the flavour of something.” And indeed it can, as in his steak recipe which has garam masala, coriander seeds and melted ghee and his pork chops with chaat masala.
Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan
Maunika grew up in Mumbai and now lives in London where she is a private chef and a cookery writer. I find her astonishingly perceptive and thoughtful when it comes to Indian food; qualities that shine through in this book. The recipes are from all over India and range from North Indian Nalli Ghost to Beef Chilli Fry from Kerala but the ones I love the most are her Mumbai dishes (Ragda Pattice for instance) and she has the definitive recipe for a Bombay Sandwich.
Tiffin by Sonal Ved
This is an astonishingly ambitious book. It collects 500 recipes from every corner of India, collates them and reproduces them with exact quantities for all the ingredients. Whether you are a professional chef or an enthusiastic amateur, Tiffin is remarkably useful. Ved is a food writer rather than a full-time chef so she knows how to put a book together. It is brilliantly produced with wonderful pictures and great design.
If you are looking for one food book to hand out as a gift this Christmas/New Year, this is the book.
Saffron and Pearls by Doreen Hassan
The cuisine of Hyderabad is fast disappearing — even in Hyderabad. Restaurants specialise in various kinds of Manchurian and a good biryani is hard to find even at the better known restaurants. My guess is that in Lucknow, the great haute cuisine dishes had reached the general populace while in Hyderabad, the nobility ate differently from the man in the street. So, while you can eat well quite easily in Lucknow, the great meals in Hyderabad can only be had at private homes.
Doreen Hassan’s lovely book is partly a memoir of the old days but it also has authentic recipes for every famous Hyderabadi dish, plus some family variations of classics (including a Shepherd’s Pie).
The Lucknow Cookbook: Chand Sur and Sunita Kohli
What makes Lucknow cuisine so special? I have two theories. The first is that it is a city where Hindu and Muslim traditions blended so well that the cuisine that resulted captured the best of both culinary cultures. The other is that the Lucknow of the old days was the centre of an extraordinarily refined, elegant and cultured tradition. Cuisine was just one expression of that tradition.
This wonderful book is based on the recipes collected (and cooked) by Chand Sur who arrive in Lucknow after Partition and made it her home. The recipes are great but I liked the book most for its evocation of a bygone era.
These are not books sent to me for review but books I have bought myself and enjoyed.
The Roads and Kingdom series: Malt Goulding
There are three books, all by Matt Goulding (with collaborators ) that focus on three different countries. I got into the series with Rice, Noodle, Fish, the only book I have read that perfectly describes the Japanese attitudes to food. The next one I read was Grape, Olive, Pig which covered Spain. And this year Goulding published Pasta, Pane, Vino about Italy.
All three are extraordinary books because they tell stories about cities, dishes and people and try and capture the mood and the philosophy behind the food rather than merely offer a guide to the food of each country. (Though each book is packed with information.)
Buy the physical books: they are beautifully designed. I downloaded Rice, Noodle, Fish on my Kindle and then went out and bought a physical copy anyway because half the charm is in the photos and graphics.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
This was massively praised by all reviewers when it came out last year but I guess it will get a new surge of sales because Nosrat has done a four episode Netflix series based on it.
Nosrat is a young American chef of Iranian descent who argues that all cooking amounts to just four things: the salt, acid, fat and heat of the title.
Apart from explaining the theories, which make a lot of sense, Nosrat includes many recipes including some very good ones for the basics of all cookery.
NB: this has very little to do with the TV show so buy it only if you are interested in becoming a better cook.
Everyday Love by Sharmila Ribeiro
As Ribeiro says, she wrote this book as a mother who had brought up three kids. Her generation grew up eating home cooked food. But today in a world of fast and packaged foods, kids are apt to eat unhealthily. So her book contains simple, healthy recipes for pretty much every dish that kids are likely to ask for.
How can you not love a book that covers everything from Chinese Fried Rice to Strawberry Muffins (made with fresh strawberries, of course) to Dahi Puri to Chocolate Covered Marie biscuits.
It’s self published which must have seemed a daring thing to do. But since publishing it, she has won the Gourmand Award and has ridden the global trends against junk and processed food. You may still have difficulty finding it but look for the book on Amazon or her website www.sharmilacooksforkids.com
I imagine a lot of adults might find the recipes useful too!
First Published: Nov 14, 2018 10:01 IST