by Julie Sahni
2002: Oxmoor House ISBN-13: 978-0848725907
This book is one of a several in the Williams-Sonoma ‘Savoring…’ series, all of which are beautiful to look at and pleasures to read. This, as are the others, is part travelogue, part culinary atlas and, as such is as much of a coffee-table book as it is a regular cookery publication…
Content and Organization
The book is organized according to the function of a dish – snack, desert, main course, etc. – and there are 134 recipes, each with an accompanying illustration. There is a general introduction to Indian cuisine at the beginning of the book and this is continued in more depth at the outset of each section, often featuring some personal recollections and observations by the author. There are also many ‘sidebars’ and additional pieces scattered throughout the text that introduce the reader to some interesting aspect of Indian food or culture, and all of this is richly and lavishly supplemented scores of photographs illustrating Indian life. Finally, in the end-pages, there is a glossary covering the spices and foodstuffs unique to the cuisines of the sub-continent.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as being a ‘fluff’ piece that is more about the photography than it is the food but, in fact, the recipes are very well chosen and consist of a lot more than just the standard Indian restaurant fare. I particularly like that the author has taken pains to select dishes from all around the continent and to indicate their origin as well as provide some interesting background information for each.
The photographs of each dish are all very beautiful but this is not merely a function of the photographer’s skill as it is clear that the author has taken great pains to produce food that ‘plates’ attractively. Even a well-prepared Indian feast, such as one might see laid out in a buffet, can often present as a bland range of ‘browns’ … red-browns, green-browns, and yellow-browns, to be sure … but a lot of Indian food can still be a bit visually uninteresting sometimes. In this book, however, every single dish is richly and vibrantly colored, all with beautiful contrasts and hues. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, speaks to the expertise of Ms. Sahni.
On a couple of occasions, I have had some less than perfect results following the recipes in this book (the ‘Nimboo Bhat’, comes to mind), but these were exceptions to the rule and it is quite possible that the fault lay with me rather than the recipe as she designed it. Ms. Sahni writes very clearly, and though she doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing technique, the recipes are all, for the most part, very easy to follow.
This is not the sort of book I would recommend as an introduction to Indian cooking. It is a celebration of Indian food rather than a manual of technique and does not, in fairness, pretend to be anything else. However, for those with a well-rounded library of Indian cuisine already this makes a fantastic addition. It is not impossible that one might learn a thing or two from Ms. Sahni, of course, but this is more a book to just sit down and enjoy…