by Monisha Bharadwaj
2000, Hippocrene Books, ISBN-13: 978-0781808019
Although this book contains over 200 recipes (as noted on the cover) it is less a cookery book than it is an introduction to the spices and other essential ingredients in Indian cookery. It is very nicely illustrated, provides a lot of interesting information, and is one of the gems of my collection…
Content and Organization
In addition to a short section containing recipes for some common Indian spice blends, there are 93 different ingredients covered in this book. Each is accorded anywhere from 1 to 4 pages and the author discusses the particular ingredient in terms of its taste and appearance, manufacture or growth, tips for buying and storing, and information pertaining to both culinary and medicinal uses. There are recipes included, generally two per ingredient entry, and a lot of very artistically executed photographs.
The organization of the book is generally quite straightforward for the most part but some items seem to have been a bit haphazardly added; Ginger, for example, is included in the vegetable section rather than with the other spices and the herb section, which contains only four entries, really could have been covered under spices as well. Still, this rather idiosyncratic categorization really doesn’t detract from the excellence of the book as a whole, particularly as there is a perfectly adequate index of entries in the end-pages.
The spice section, entitled ‘From the Spice Box’, includes entries for 31 different spices. I have quite a few encyclopedic spice references in my library that provide a far more extensive coverage of spices and herbs but for a book of this nature, the number of entries is quite impressive. Not only are the more common spices included, there are also entries for a number of obscure ones (such as Tirphal, Zedoary, and Black Salt) that will be unfamiliar to most amateur cooks. In addition to the individual spices, there are also six blends covered in the section entitled ‘From the Grinding Stone’ and, while I would have liked to have seen a few more blends covered, I have to admit that this is also a pretty good number as the average Indian cookery book usually only includes recipes for one or two ‘Garam Masalas’ and, perhaps, a generic ‘Curry Powder’ blend or two.
Although this book has a less extensive coverage of spices than other books I own, the general wealth of information and inclusion of many other foodstuffs makes this a very useful reference. It is, I would say, one of the best introductions to the essentials of Indian cookery that I have ever seen and I recommend it to both beginners and more experienced cooks alike…