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Cooking Delights of the Maharajas: A Royal Treat

When one hears the word “Royal”, every word that follows it automatically somehow turns brighter, grander and more opulent. For a food-lover, it might be flashing images of royal meals be it grand platters or thaalis of rich and masterfully created delicacies or liveried staff bringing out courses after courses of the finest gourmet meals in silver platters. Cooking is and was a fine art to even the royal families of those times and  they were true patrons and sophisticated gourmands who took their meals pretty seriously, be it their daily meal or lavish banquets designed to impress and awe. Royal cooks of those days were nothing short of artists who created rich, elaborate dishes that had to please and appease the jaded palates of their employers and guests who were exposed to grand meals on a daily basis. This competitive work space had to be kept active with creativity and expertise, and the recipes that made an impression were closely guarded and in many cases, passed down father to son, as an exclusive legacy.

But time claims all and many exclusive techniques and recipes disappeared with the fall of kingdoms, modernisation, and newer generations of these cooks seeking out other lucrative fields to work in. In this context, to the relief of the many gourmands and food aficionados everywhere, one Maharaja who was also an excellent chef and lover of food, decided to do something to preserve the rich heritage of the delicacies he grew up enjoying. Cooking delights of the Maharajas, written by Digvijaya Singh,  former ruler of Sailana, a princely state in Madhya Pradesh. He painstakingly collected and compiled exotic recipes of bygone eras from authentic royal households like the Nizams of Hyderabad and Kashmir and the Begum of Bhopal.

In times like these where one cannot find truly authentic royal fare, this book is truly a priceless treasure. Every recipe is a true voyage back in time, with beautiful glimpses into the painstaking and elaborate processes and sophisticated methods that would go into any given royal meal. The richness, the unique diversity in ingredients and the exquisite order of addition of these ingredients is what kicks these dishes up an imperial notch.

The contents are divided into Meat, Chicken, Fish, Game, Rice and Allied, Vegetable and Sweet dishes. There are glossy, coloured images provided for most of the recipes. Variety, creativity and complexity of techniques can be seen in every recipe. Rich starts sounding like an understatement when you come across the recipes like Musallam Badam Piste or Sewain Pulao. These recipes are long and detailed, but result in a truly rewarding final product that is delicate, yet multi dimensional when it comes to textures and flavours. Shikaar or hunting was one of the greatest pastimes of the kings. And that love you will see in the red-meat preparations that is spread over more than half the pages of this book. For the true game-meat lovers there are detailed recipes for the preparation of rabbit and wild boar (pork) and a 5 ingredient recipe for Jungli Maans, in addition to a comprehensive subsection on game meat preparations.

For the less adventurous, there is an exquisite collection of unique recipes that suits every palate like the easily digested Be masale ka korma (korma sans spices) or the wildly elaborate and rich Do Peeaza Borani ( delicately seasoned keema stuffed carrots, which are then deep fried.)

It was very interesting to note the usage of oven and refined flour (unmistakeable western influences) in the recipes of Sasranga and Malgoba respectively. Malai ki biryani, Lehasun pulao and Aam ka Pulao are worth mentioning while Mutanjan pulao, claimed to be the oldest and grandest of pulaos takes the crown. Unique ingredients that are quite uncommon in supermarkets these days like, Kantola (spiny gourd), Goolar (wild figs), Palash/ Tesun flowers or even the commonly discarded mango seed become deliciously exotic in the hands of the royal cooks. Their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking can be seen in Ghosht ka Halwa, Ande ka Halwa and Gulab ki kheer. Yogurt and its versatility is appreciated as kababs, halwa, bhajiyas and even in a pickled (achaari) makeover. In molecular gastronomy, foam is used extensively but it blows the mind to know that the same technique was used back then in recipes like Nimish.

From a home-cook point of view, every one of the unique and complex recipes are worth a try, even though the cooking times and detailed steps might look daunting at first. Most recipes average between 2-3 hours in the making and with highly perishable items like nut-pastes, meats and cream, might not exactly last more than a day.  It is definitely not a beginners cookbook, but more in the lines of a brilliantly compiled history textbook purposed to educate, and refer back. Every recipe nailed will give one a tasty bite of history and glimpses of rich, diverse heritage in its essence.

Cooking delights of the Maharajas is not your average cookbook. It exudes a higher class, a wisdom, an appreciation for the finer things in life, a very sophisticated taste and pedigree from the moment you turn the first page and that feeling lasts even after you have put it down. Strongly recommended for every lover of Indian Cuisine and history buff.

Gulab ki kheer:

50 grams fresh rose petals

2 liters milk

250 grams sugar

Select Edward, Bussarah, or any scented variety of roses. Pluck the petals discarding the stigma, the central portion.

Boil milk along with rose petals (whole), till it reduces to half. Add sugar and boil further till it is of thick consistency. Serve cold.

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5 International Cuisines to try in 2017

New Year is always a good time to start new things and the beginning of a brand new calendar year satisfies that urge to start things just the right way . So safely assuming we are all foodies here, how about making a resolution to try out various cuisines of the world this year? Now while one is mentally running a checklist of all the different cuisines one has tried and tested, let me clarify that the aforementioned trying out has to be carried out in one’s own kitchen.

Committing to a foreign cuisine has to be scary, when one considers the various aspects such as availability of the ingredients, budget, recipes and new/ unfamiliar techniques.  Whereas Market globalization, Internet and Information Age has taken care of the most problematic aspects, the only hurdle to  overcome has to be the budget. Well, cooking in my own kitchen has to be definitely more wallet-friendly than eating out, from my own experience. So, if you are sold on making this resolution your own, lets venture out and get acquainted with a few cuisines.

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1. Chinese: While what we get in the streets and fast food joints might be favored more than the authentic fare, it is no secret that Chinese cuisine features a harmonious, refreshing and very balanced cuisine, in its flavours and textures. Also, Chinese cooking is very similar in ingredients and cooking styles closer to home, in their variety of regional fare and their grand family dinners. If contrasting textures, minimal cooking and freshest ingredients is what makes one happy about their meals, then Chinese cuisine is a must-try. Buddhist monks who were forbidden to eat meat, developed a huge variety of dishes using vegan ingredients like bean curd and wheat gluten to create variety in their meals. So, that means no excuses if you are a vegetarian. Authentic Chinese meals caters to all.
Best Cookbooks to get started:

  1. Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo
  2. The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young
  3. Wei-Chuan series of books on Chinese Cookery.

2. Italian: While the total number of Italian dishes we know can be counted on the fingers of our hand, underrated and insanely delicious items like Pasticcio, Osso Bucco and Fish Soup are lost under demands for Pizza and Pasta. Italian diets are rich in proteins, carbs and vegetables and oodles of heart healthy fats. Also, veggies made Italian style are a great way to refresh your meals and a delicious way to step out of your routine way to cook vegetables.
Best Cookbooks to get started:

  1. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  2. Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali
  3. Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux and Alice Waters.

3. Middle Eastern: The Mediterranean Diet has been approved by foodies, doctors and the diet-conscious alike  as one of the tastiest ways to eat healthy. Though the cuisine feels incomplete without a course of meats, the vegetarian fare offered are too good to pass up. (Think hummus, falafels and pita!) The meals are rich with nuts, beans and whole grains that fills one up and good for health too. Lebanese, Israeli, Iraqi…the list is long and every exotic pick is an equally great start.
Best Cookbooks to get started:

  1. Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
  2. Classic Lebanese Cuisine by Chef Kamal Al-Faqih
  3. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

4. Thai: Imagine taking a walk in a tropical garden. You inhale the warm breeze and pleasntly discover notes of lemongrass, basil, ginger and maybe a hint of coconut milk. That is exactly what Thai cuisine is like! fresh herbs, aromatic spices and rich flavours together gives one the least culture shock when trying on new cuisines. Fresh vegetables, seafood and meat are used in this cuisine. If the beautiful appearances of a well-made Thai meal doesn’t seduce you, the harmonious flavours will!
Best Cookbooks to get started:

  1. Thai Food by David Thompson
  2. Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook by Panurat Poladitmontr
  3. Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode

5. French: Last, but definitely not the least is French Cuisine. Friendships have been broken, families split and spouses in cold war- all over the argument whether French Cuisine reigns the others or not. We might never know, but we can surely try to figure out what the hoopla is all about. Delicate flavours, masterful techniques and distinctive ingredients together make French Cuisine a must in every foodie’s bucket list and a challenge one could proudly take up. Once this challenge is taken up, it is amazing to see how much you learn about cooking with a whole new set of eyes, ears and perception. It won’t be easy for the home chef but it is always reassuring to know that a lot have embarked on this path and have left plenty of notes to the ones following their footsteps.
Best Cookbooks to get started:

  1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking 1 & 2 (click here for Vol II) by Julia Child.
  2. The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller and Deborah Jones
  3. My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz.

And if none of these cuisines hold appeal over the comfort of Indian home-cooked meals, we could always just step out of our homes and look around. We will always find interesting and amazing cuisines and regional variations within our national borders. That, is another story, we’ll need to come back to.  Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year!

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5 Food Books To Own!

We live in the age of Gastronomy. The golden age for foods from every corner of the world, with every kind of ingredient be it obscure or overused, be it any community or sect who enjoys ‘a’ particular type of food, its all here under spotlight. Being a Foodie is the yuppie equivalent of the culturally superior-sounding “Gourmand”. This movement can be seen in every household too. People have more choices on where to eat out and what cuisine to pick. Even home-style cooking has expanded to include various cuisines from other states or even countries in their daily meals, to suit every mood. Informative and beautifully illustrated cookbooks are a blessing of this food revolution.

Presenting, five of the best books out there, that can be a great addition to your collection to read and learn and expand your culinary horizons, or even to pass on to a loved one who is just trying to make sense of the things in the kitchen, in no particular order.

#1. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

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My mom says that a cook is truly born every time someone learns how to make bread. The bread can be a roti, a pita, a loaf or a baguette, and the process can be as simple as kneading salt, water and flour together or a lengthy, painful process where the dough is carefully mixed with cultures and left to ferment for long hours. Both will produce a satisfying and very distinct piece of bread that can never take the other’s place.

Check it out on Amazon.in

Covering basic science to advanced techniques, this classic by Peter Reinhart will teach you everything you need to know about bread.

#2) The Science of Good Cooking
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Cooking is an art and science. Art concepts might not work if the underlying scientific criterion are not met. Good science makes good food! It is as simple as that. For understanding the science behind our daily cooking processes and how to take the most advantage of them makes this book every cooking nerd’s dream literature. Hailed as ‘The Food Geek’s Bible’ by the Wall Street Journal, it was developed by the Cook’s Illustrated team, USA by boiling down thousands of tests into simple concepts. Read through this book and it can be seen that it will give anyone the confidence and know-how that usually takes years of kitchen experience to acquire.

Check it out on Amazon.in

A perfect present for your child to initiate them into cooking!

#3) The Flavor Bible

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When choices are myriad, one tends to follow their instincts to aid their choice-making and when it comes to food, flavor is what one usually goes with. It took 8 years in the making and that kind of research shows in every page making it a great investment. Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg have authored this book which is a revelation of sorts.

Check it out on Amazon.in

When one needs a guide to hundreds of ingredients along with the herbs, the spices and other seasoning that will allow one to coax out the greatest possible flavor and pleasure from them, this is the book. 

#4) Plenty

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We Indians love to act as the ultimate authority when it comes to vegetarian cooking. And why would we not? We have different established sects even in vegetarian style of cooking, in the form of Jain Vegetarian, Saatvik vegetarian, Ovo-lacto Vegan, Vegan and so on. But,what happens when one comes across this book? Enlightenment is the word that would come close. Plenty is authored by the famed chef of London and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi.

Check it out on Amazon.in

This one book will expand the ways to cook and prepare vegetables, bringing down those inter-cranial walls that have been cemented on by culture and routines. An eye opener to a world of flavor and variety, lighting up the landscapes in a totally new direction.

#5) Curry

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How well do you know your curry? The answer would be: not enough. Most of us think we do know our curry but this book is a revelation of sorts. A classic by Lizzie Collingham is a gift to the world of curry. The birth, the childhood, the wandering youth and achievements, its all in here in this book.

Check it out on Amazon.in

Interspersed with classic recipes, memoirs and historic images, this book is truly a biography on Curry, and indeed a great buy for a curry enthusiast.

Conclusion

The wave of food revolution and abundance of information has left us with choices that are overwhelming and the bad ones can obscure the good ones by sheer numbers, yet, there is hope for book-lovers. These five books are not limited to the cuisine of a region or a sect. These are treasures that will be a great gift to yourself or others that will keep on giving long after you have finished reading them. So now that you know which ones give you the most bangs for your buck and match your preferences, which one will it be? Share it with us and feel free to share your own picks.

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Ruchira: Ode to a Marathi Classic

When it comes to cookbooks, there is always a  category that caters to every personality in the planet. There are restaurant cookbooks for the loyal patrons, there are celebrity cookbooks for the ones whose eyes light up when they see their favourite celebrity chef, there are scientific cookbooks for the nerdy cook (ahem!) and there are regional cookbooks for the ones who get a little squeaky in their voice when they argue which regional cuisine reigns the supreme. But there is that one cookbook in every section that will be the go-to book, the encyclopedia, the bible for that genre of cookbooks. As a collector of regional cookbooks, and as a die-hard fan of Maharashtrian cuisine, I absolutely had to get my hands on the fabled masterpiece Ruchira by Smt. Kamalabai Ogale.

About Ruchira

The original Ruchira is in Marathi and the part one of two was published in 1970. In the 20 years that followed, it has sold over 1,50,000 copies, which is phenomenal for any cookbook, that too in a regional language. I have known gushing neighbours who received a copy of this book, as a wedding gift and even after 30-40 years, still go back to the same book to check on a recipe. Their daughters and daughter-in-laws have received another copy of the same book at their weddings, which goes on to say a lot about how valued this cookbook is, among its followers.

Ruchira imparts immense wisdom from Mrs Ogale and contains a variety of traditional Maharashtrian Brahmin-style recipes which are mostly pure vegetarian except for the occasional appearance of egg in some recipes. The part 2 came out in 1985, fifteen years after the first, in a better format and featured more desserts, tips and a few popular continental recipes with a Maharashtrian twist. Though it didn’t reach the heights of popularity as the first part, by then a brand had been established.

The third homage to Mrs Ogale came in 2013, when due to public demand and the rise of popularity in regional cuisines led into the translation and publishing of the English version of the book in the same name, by Ms Usha Jategaonkar.

RuchiraMarathiJune16
The original Ruchira parts 1 and 2, in Marathi.

The English Version of Ruchira, a passable version of the original, left a lot to be desired. But for food enthusiasts, who cannot understand Marathi, this compact, simple volume has been equally sacred, passable or not. “Ruchira: Selected Maharashtrian vegetarian recipes” gives the first impression of a shy volume which may be overlooked easily. But once you get past the foreword, the contents cover everything from spice mixes (in Phodnis and Masalas) to a variety of authentic vegetarian amtis, bhajis and sides. I have always believed the soul of any regional cuisine lies in the spice mixes and pickles that are made there and in order to learn something about that cuisine, the masalas and pickles are where one should start from. In that vein, Ruchira has carefully incorporated most of the essentials that are hallmarks of Maharashtrian cooking.

The recipes ranging from Kala Masala to Amti to Vangi bhat to Dalimbya to Bhakri, everything I tried out from the book, turned out as expected and delicious. The recipes are simple to understand, translated fairly well from the original and difficult to mess up. In fact, I’d recommend it as a good beginner book to Maharashtrian vegetarian cuisine with 4 stars. The overall layout of the book is in an easy-flow format and the Warli designs on the pages, adds to the charm.

Cons

The biggest con that I found in this book is the result of the unfair comparison to the original, honestly. With an immensely popular original, it pales in comparison with many vital recipes left out; the wisdom and tips from Mrs Ogale for each dish and techniques are absent. There are very few images and are provided toward the center of the book, though not for all recipes. Though someone who expects a polite introduction into Maharashtrian Brahmin style of cooking might find the perfect book in Ruchira, for the true blue original Ruchira fans, whom are well versed with the said cuisine, the wait is yet not over.

An SOS to the Gods of the Culinary Universe

I guess it is safe to say on behalf of all those loyalists, that we will wait patiently for a complete, translated volume, with nothing lost in translation or for the lack of pages, and a suitable gift to pass on to our newer generations who may or may not understand Marathi so that they can enjoy the beautiful simplicity of this cuisine, that stands out proud and timeless.

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Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook: Catching ’em Young

I believe that most accomplished cooks, start young. There is something special about finding your way around the kitchen as a child. The first time you peel an onion, or when you use a knife without chopping a finger off, or switch off the stove the right way is a nudge in that direction. Under supervision, guidance and with an essential word of encouragement, children start looking at cooking with new eyes. Not to mention that these skills will definitely come handy every day.

Starting young

Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook is a book written with children in mind. I bought this book to introduce hands-on cooking to my kids. Asides from recipes in this book, there are separate sections for safety talk for kids and their parents, glossary of basic culinary terms, how to measure, how to set a table and good manners… (yes, good manners). She is a grandma, and that too a sweet and spicy one at that!

Easy recipes by Paula Deen

The recipes cover everything from breakfast, snacks, lunch, drinks and dinner to cakes and surprises for parents for special occasions. There are treats that can be made for holidays and towards the end, a fun arts and crafts section (non edible) that covers recipes for play clay, salt clay (that can be baked to harden) and bubble solution too.

Paula Deen, Mexican Omelets, Egg Salad, Stuffed Shells, Campfire Stew, breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, canned food, processed foodThe recipes that we tested out in our kitchen were all good, and made with kid-favourite ingredients. The cuisine featured is what I call “typical American”, where most ingredients are store-bought (read processed), or canned. Yet, we had lots of fun making Mexican Omelets, Egg Salad, Stuffed Shells and Campfire Stew, with the kids going crazy adding their own customization. But as an adult and parent, I did wish for a little more wisdom from Paula in keeping with the times. 

Cons:

  1. Kids are picky eaters. But as much as you want a kid to eat, you cannot feed them cheese, mayo and deep fried goodies rich in sugar and fats, meal after meal. You need fresh, balanced, nutritious and healthier meals than those with current threats like juvenile diabetes and heart diseases on the rise.
  2. This is not much of a con, but rather a mild annoyance that many of the recipes call for canned veggies and processed, pre-made dough. I also understand you can easily substitute fresh veggies and homemade dough for each respectively and go on with the recipes like no big deal.
  3. And lastly, from an Indian point of view, this cookbook though one of the best designated cookbooks for children, is American. The cooking style is distinctly American where the seasonings are limited to mustard, ketchup, and seasoning salts, the veggies come from cans and jars and every single recipe needs something from the grocery store (which can be a special order if you live outside the United States). Even as someone who is very much used to the American way of cooking, I wish there were more recipes like Deen’s pancake recipe or her vanilla cupcakes that actually reminds us that this is a cookbook written by the Paula Deen, with her inimitable overdose of butter and no-fail recipes, rather than playing it too safe with kids as well as recipes.

Pros:

  1. From the cover to the contents to the recipes, it is beyond doubt, a book for kids. The colouring, binding, page layout and overall quality is suitable for tiny, messy hands and will withstand most rough handling and mishaps. 
  2. The ingredient list has pictures – tiny illustrations that leave out the guesswork and ambiguity, very essential, when it is a kid reading the recipe. Every term, every process has been broken down to simple ideas that are extremely helpful for the kid as well as adults helping them out who might be trying these recipes for the first time.
  3. Tiny glimpses into the life of the author hides behind every family picture and memories that she shares. It is a good enough gift for a little one or a collector’s treasure for the garden variety Paula Deen fan.
  4. Healthy or not, semi-homemade or not, all the kids favourites are here – from root beer floats to inedible play dough to cheese toasts, the recipes are kid and time tested. Parents may love it or not, but the kids will have a gala time trying out the recipes from this book. Substitutions are always possible when the recipes are so simple. And leave it to children to come up with their brilliant ideas for substitutes.

Paula Deen, Mexican Omelets, Egg Salad, Stuffed Shells, Campfire Stew, breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, canned food, processed foodPerfect for the target audience

My First Cookbook by Paula Deen, honestly, is outdated in its contents and leaves a true fan craving a bit for Paula’s original recipes. But when compared with others, this book targeted at very young cooks hits the bulls-eye. It will gently ease the target audience into some serious culinary education, all cleverly camouflaged in fun and deliciousness. And that alone is the reason I give it three stars. Try this simple kid-friendly recipe from the book, with the little ones this summer. 

Vanilla Shake

  • 3 cups Vanilla Ice-cream
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Milk

Method

  1. Measure all the ingredients into a blender. Put the lid on, turn it on and blend until the shake is smooth.
  2. Pour into 4 tall glasses and serve. 
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Kayastha Kitchens Through India: Cookbook Perfection

When I think Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu community (CKP), I remember my school days, swapping my idli-chutney lunch for my friend Sapna’s paranthas and pickles, marveling how every vegetable could be made into a delicious pickle that always got me drooling in anticipation even before the recess bell rang. My college years were punctuated by visits to my friend Deepti’s home to study together, and relish the delicious meals her dad cooked for us. I shamelessly took advantage of an open invitation, just to inhale the fragrant smoke from their kitchen. These two friends gave me my first introduction to a delicious and unique cuisine of the CKP community of India.

An introduction to the Kayastha community

Kayastha, CKP, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, Preeta Mathur, Viresh S Mathur, Sanjay Ramchandran, pomfret, kayastha cuisineKayastha roughly translates to ‘created from the body or kaya of Brahma‘. The CKPs are believed to be the descendants of Chitragupta, the book keeper to Lord Yama– the Hindu God of Death. True to their mythological ancestral traits, most of the CKPs are highly educated, and end up in professions dealing with numbers. Kayastha roots can be found everywhere in India from Kashmir in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South, and Bihar in the East to the Bengal in the West.

Preeta Mathur, author of The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India, is no stranger to me. I remember cutting out her recipes from my mom’s Vanitha Magazines and filing them away to try out later. After trying many of her creations successfully, it was quite a pleasant surprise for me to come across her book years later, dedicated to a cuisine that I am in awe of. 

About the Contents

Kayastha Kitchens through India is an elegant and beautiful book. The note by the author and the introduction to Kayasthas by Viresh S Mathur are enlightening and concise. The photography by Sanjay Ramchandran is a fine example of food photography.

The recipes are classified into Appetizers, Chicken, Lamb, Fish & Seafood, Vegetables & Lentils, Rice, Bread & Accompaniments, and Desserts for the reader’s convenience. The Glossary of Food Terms & Processes is very helpful, as is the Index of all the recipes in the book, both towards the end of the book.

All the recipes feature their original names, their English meanings, a detailed ingredient list and method of preparation, with a beautiful image of the final product, and smaller images of the preparation stages, all in high quality and with good aesthetics. The recipes are contained in the same fold, so while trying out a recipe, you don’t have to turn pages to read the rest of it. This attention to detail is what I look for in a cookbook, and this one surpasses all expectations.

Kayastha, CKP, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, Preeta Mathur, Viresh S Mathur, Sanjay Ramchandran, pomfret, kayastha cuisine
Kayastha cuisine has its fair share of vegetarian dishes as well

I particularly loved the tiny footnotes that tells readers something about that dish, be it an introduction, a variation or a substitution.

The recipes vary from rare and unique like Suroori Raan– Leg of Lamb in Rum based gravy to Chuki Sabut Mattar that is tenderly sautéed whole green pea pods, in a mix of tangy and hot spices, to Chaari– a conveniently formulated recipe with just 4 ingredients, to cook the meats that were procured by hunting. Various influences of local cuisines can be seen in the recipes like Kache tel ki Machli that is distinctly related to Bengali cuisine, or the Bombay Fish Curry, which uses coconut milk for its gravy, inspired by the Maharashtrian cooking style or Thenga Fish curry adapted into the Kayastha cuisine from the South.

The recipes I tried turned out as expected, impressing me with their simplicity and a subtle complexity in the harmony of flavours. The Dhungare (smoked) recipes that are included in the book are worth trying out, especially the Dhungare Kathal Biryani, and also Murgh Palak, both old favourites of mine. The simpler preparations of Ambatvaran and Urad Dal are so easy to make and yet flavourful, and definitely worth a mention. In the book, Ambatvaran is misspelt as Amabtvaram, the only spelling mistake I found in the recipe and the Index as well, though a very glaring one at that!

Kayastha, CKP, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, Preeta Mathur, Viresh S Mathur, Sanjay Ramchandran, pomfret, kayastha cuisine
Pickles are an integral part of the Kayastha cuisine

Cons

I wish there were more pickle recipes in there (though the author has clearly mentioned she couldn’t add them due to lack of space) as the CKPs know their pickles well. Apart from that and the glaring typo, I am very happy with the book.

The verdict

The wide variety of recipes the author has managed to carefully pick and curate has made this book a treasure to own. There are more non vegetarian recipes as compared to vegetarian recipes, so it might not be a cost-effective buy for a pure vegetarian. But if you ever dream of writing your own cookbook, buy this book and use it as a blueprint, because it doesn’t get any better than this.  

I unreservedly recommend this book and give it five stars.

Kayastha, CKP, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, Preeta Mathur, Viresh S Mathur, Sanjay Ramchandran, pomfret, kayastha cuisine
Hari Mirch Pamplet (Pomfret cooked with green chillies)

Hari Mirch Pamplet (Pomfret cooked with green chillies)

  • 1 pomfret, large, cleaned, washed, cut into 4-6 pieces
  • Oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp oil for cooking
  • 4-5 green cardamoms
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 8 green chillies, ground to a paste
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a wok, deep fry the fish pieces on medium till crisp.
  2. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain the excess oil on an absorbent paper towel.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp oil and sauté the green cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon stick. Add the turmeric powder and the green chili paste.
  4. Add the salt and stir fry till the oil separates. Add the fried fish and cook covered for 7-8 minutes.
  5. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish before serving. 
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Karwar Cuisine: A Pearl Lost in Time.

[openbook booknumber=”978-8179917558″]

Moving down from Maharashtra and travelling along the west coast southwards, Karwar is the capital city in Uttara Karnataka. Its proximity to the Kali River and being a natural harbour, the city is home to Naval Bases, is a thriving agricultural and fishing community and supports Tourism to its beautiful beaches and the rich flora and fauna. But like many others, this unique cuisine is slowly blurring around its edges, in the melting pot of globalization, according to the author, Sindhu Dubhashi. She hopes to preserve this unique cuisine through her offering Karwar Cuisine: Traditional Recipes from a small coastal town of Karnataka.

I stumbled upon this book in my quest to learn about the various cuisines of India, which are relatively unknown. Reading through it, I was surprised to find a lot of similarities in the Maharashtrian Konkani coastal cuisine and Karwari cuisine, namely, their language (Konkani), the seafood preparations and the liberal use of fresh coconuts. Yet, Karwari cuisine, I feel is deeply connected to the South (think, Kerala and Karnataka) rather than the more independent and bolder cooking styles of Goa and Maharashtra.

A Well Organised Book

Karwar cuisine starts off with a clear and concise list of contents. The Preface and the Introduction is very informative and comprehensive, especially if you have heard about Karwar for the first time here. Mrs Dubhashi gives you a complete tour from the history, people, food, festivals, to the kitchen practices. Also included are four pieces of memoirs: Mrs Dubhashi’s  Memories of KarwarKarwar in my heart by Dr P.R. Dubhashi, Two Plagues by Devdatt P. Dubhashi and  Going to Karwar by Medha P. Dubhashi. These memoirs are spread over the decades, and are quite insightful and filled with nostalgia, but it is hard to miss the twinge of wistful mourning towards the changes and development brought upon by time, on Karwar.

The recipes are neatly categorized into Breakfast Dishes, Teatime treats, Vegetable Dishes, Pickles and Crisps, Seafood dishes and Festival Dishes. The Glossary and the helpful Index at the end complete this treat of a book. It is also worth mentioning that the Glossary has ingredient names in English, Konkani and Hindi which is a must for a better understanding of naming conventions, for any cookbook.

Well Written Recipes

The recipes are clear, concise and easy to understand. Every dish has its local and English name, which I like immensely. Most recipes in the breakfast section are steamed, which adds to their allure. Simple and unique recipes like Kalingada Pole (Watermelon Rind Pancakes), Kasay (A warm, spiced Milk drink), Chibud Phov ( Melon with Rice Flakes and Coconut), Pos (steamed Colostrum Pudding) and the varieties of Kismore (Dried Seafood Relish). Also, interesting and worth trying out are the number of steam-cakes that are made of virtually everything. Some honourable mentions are Tousali and Magali (Cucumber), Doodali (Pumpkin), and Phansa Dhonus (Jackfruit) steam-cakes. Sasav or Spicy and sweet Relishes are another batch of delicacies to try out from this book. Ambya Gota Sasav or the Ripe mango relish, is something so easy to put together and reminds me of the British Mango chutney or the Mexican Mango salsa, without all the hype. I was pleasantly surprised to find the cuisine also used Bamboo shoots, which I have seen only in very few Indian cuisines.

The Seafood section comprises of all the varied bounty that Indian coasts are blessed with, and Bangadya Dhodak or Spicy baked Mackerels and Tisrya Vade (Clam Cutlets) stand out from the usually fried or curried fare. The desserts featured carry a rustic originality with simple ingredients like jaggery and coconut milk, and as I try out some of them, I understand the mournful notes from the author, who misses the simplicity in those days. This book is an effective contribution, towards recapturing some of that nostalgia and making sure that there is a record of it all, somewhere, for the newer generations to find.

As for the cons, I really wish there were images of the dishes in the book, but the only image in full colour is the cover image, although there are a few hand drawn illustrations here and there. Also, the contents page features only the Konkani names of the dishes, and navigating your way to a recipe will require a little guesswork and luck if you don’t know Konkani.

A Book to Buy

Comparing it with books that I have previously reviewed, Karwar cuisine comes close enough to Suriyani Kitchen, but not quite in terms of pictures and illustrations. Yet, it’s a great addition to your cookbooks and the simplicity of the recipes, almost comes with a guarantee that you will make them again and again. Pretty much, like a simple, natural pearl- no glitter, no gimmicks! Just tasteful, simple and timeless.
I recommend it, with four stars!

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Malabar Cuisine: A Treat For The Senses

There are many benefits of growing up close to an authentic Mappila family next door, including having a few more days to celebrate festivals, having elaborate henna or mailanchi design on your palms at every celebration, and good food. The best thing about that last part was that a portion of the goodies always found their way to our home. Soft stacks of uniformly sized,  lacy ari pathiris, irachi puttu or steamed rice cake with an aromatic meat mince that you could smell from a mile away, and melt in your mouth unnakai – a delicate cardamom flavoured plantain doughnut. It’s been a long time since I tasted those delicacies made by the experienced hands of Umma, the lady of the house. But even the memories of those dishes bring back aromas, textures, flavours and euphoria that inevitably comes with comfort food.

Malabar, the northern part of Kerala is well-known for its lush greenery, historical monuments and beaches bristling with activity, and an extensive variety of seafood. Moplah or Mappila cuisine is the traditional cooking style of the Malabar Muslims, bearing very strong influences from the Arab, Moghul and Persian cultures. Pair it with the abundant, aromatic spices grown locally, you get a cuisine that is rich and distinctly flavoured, with a fascinating array of seafood, meat, vegetable and grain delicacies.

I came across the book Malabar Cuisine during my usual book hunt during my visit to India last summer. I am a sucker for good photography and the beautiful images by Salim Pushpanath impressed me beyond expectation. Every picture in this book is a visual treat and gives you a fascinating idea on what to expect from the recipes.

Coming to the recipes – they are well written, easy to understand and have beautiful, high-resolution pictures to go with them. When the cuisine is new to someone and they have no idea how the end product of a recipe would look like, a corresponding image is worth its weight in gold.

The recipe for traditional garam masala, widely used in Mappila and Kerala households, is provided right after the introduction to Mappila Cuisine. It’s the kind that we use at home, and is quite different from the garam masala from other parts of India, with a conspicuous absence of cumin and/or coriander and/or chillies. Keralites never use coriander, cumin or chillies in their garam masala, rather only the aromatic local spices that give it a distinct fragrance. As a result, it effectively covers up any hint of gaminess in the meat or egg in any “masala curry” (or any meat/egg curry).

Malabar Kitchen, Malabar cuisine, Kerala cuisine, Rasheed, Roshna Khader, Reshmi Joseph, Salim Pushpanath, mutton biryani

The recipes in Malabar Cuisine are simply categorized into:
1. Breakfast, Snacks and Desserts
2. Lunch and Dinner

The Breakfasts, Snacks and Desserts section covers most of the fresh, delicious Malabar offerings that are prepared using rice, coconut and the perennially available spices that grow abundant all over tropical, lush lands of Kerala. In this cuisine, almost everything is made from fresh and local ingredients, which never fails to make the food an unforgettable experience, especially for those who are trying it for the first time.

The Lunch and Dinner section covers true blue Maappila dishes that take delicious advantage of the fresh varieties of seafood and meats delicately cooked with the best produce Kerala has to offer. The dishes are rich in nuts and spices and cooked expertly in different ways, which makes it a heavenly experience that is not to be missed.

As far as the recipes go, the ones I tried (Kozhi Ada and Karal Porichathu) came out predictably good and were easy to make. With the beautiful pictures and the tested and easy to follow recipes, I don’t have any nits to pick in this cookbook, which means this one earns a perfect 5 star rating from me.

Malabar Cuisine is a slim volume. The authors have picked the classics and the popular dishes that represent Malabar cuisine making it a perfect gift for a beginner or someone who is not familiar with this style of cooking. As for the experts, I suggest you get it merely for the joy that comes from owning a beautifully put-together cookbook that will take you away on a mini-vacation to the land of Chinese fishing nets and spices.

Malabar Kitchen, Malabar cuisine, Kerala cuisine, Rasheed, Roshna Khader, Reshmi Joseph, Salim Pushpanath, Karal Porichathu, Fried LiverKaral Porichathu (Fried Liver)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg Liver (Beef or Mutton) cut into 2 cm pieces
  • ½ cup Oil
  • 2 stalks curry leaves
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala 

For Grinding:

  • 1 tbsp Aniseed
  • 15 cloves Garlic
  • 5 cm piece of Ginger
  • 1 tbsp Coriander powder
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp Chilli powder
  • 3 “ piece Cinnamon Stick
  • 6 cloves
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  • Grind the spices with a little water to form a paste and smear it on the liver pieces and leave it to marinate for 15 minutes.
  • Cook over medium flame in one cup of water, till the water has evaporated.
  • Heat oil in a pan, fry curry leaves and add cooked liver. Add garam masala.
  • Cook for a few minutes until oil is drained and liver is dry.
  • Serve hot with rice.
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The Suriani Kitchen: Tasting Nostalgia

Sometimes you find a book that talks to you as you read it, you relate to it and understand every sentiment in it. The history, the location, the plots and the characters all sound familiar, taking you back in time, unleashing a flood of nostalgia. Every food mentioned will hit that memory recall button, and the tastes and the aromas associated with it, along with memories and people will come rushing to the forefront of your thoughts and makes those old images somehow warmer and more vivid.

Book-Cover_webI have a lot in common with the author Lathika George, especially when it comes to cooking styles, family ties and the memories associated with Kerala. So naturally for me, every illustration– (by Latha George Pottenkulam, brought back a vividly painted, live and animated image from the beautiful rural village, where I grew up, before moving base to Mumbai.)Maybe, that is the reason why I just couldn’t put this book down. I read it from cover to cover skipping only the recipe preparations part, hastily marking the favourites with tiny post-its, not wanting to miss any of the beautifully narrated tales. Every narration and note is an insight into the independent, self-sufficient Suriani lifestyle in Kerala.

A very personal experience

Although The Suriani Kitchen starts off with introductions to the local history, traditions and lifestyle and food of Syrian Catholics, what makes it a great read are the beautiful narrations shared by the author, throughout the book. Some are fond recollections from the childhood, while others are stories, experiences and activities that she grew up, listening to. Most are informative and others reminiscent of happy times.

Spices_webSimple and Informative

The recipes are easy to understand, even for a non-Malayali, and they come with smart serving suggestions and helpful notes from the author, to help you along. Almost every must-have dish that you  need to sample in Kerala, is in there. The creative and versatile rice preparations, the lesser known vegetarian delights (that will make any vegetarian consider moving to Kerala, if I may say so) the well-known sea and river fish delicacies, and the simple yet addictive meat and egg dishes- they are all here and if you love to cook and eat, this book will keep you busy and burping happily with every recipe recreation.

A dish for every palate in Palaharams

The Suriani Kitchen also hold open the doors for you to discover the wide world of snacks or palaharams, which can give the Maharashtrian faraals or Gujarati naastas a run for their money. Artfully made from local and perennial ingredients like rice flour, coconuts and plantains, these dishes are so simple to make provided you have the right tools for it. The accompaniments for all the main courses and pickles section are provided separately and wisely, as most of them are versatile enough to be mixed and matched.

Aviyal_webThe desserts cover a blend of traditional and modern techniques and menus. But as any Malayali would tell you, the  variety of desserts is limited,  in typical Kerala cuisine. Different types of payasams or kheers are the most common desserts that one will find.  But, Palaharams served at breakfast and tea-time has plenty of options for the foodie with a sweet tooth, more than make up for the lack of desserts in this delectable cuisine. They come in all types: fried, sautéed and steamed but always, fresh and delicious.

No vegetarian will ever find themselves at a loss for ideas, as there are plenty of vegetarian delights that even a non vegetarian might immensely enjoy.

Parrota-Beef_webA Non-Vegetarian’s Paradise

Kerala is indeed God’s own country when it comes to year round availability of fresh seafood, meats and produce. And the Suriani style of cooking has incorporated the local ingredients so well that nothing from nature ever goes to waste or stays unused. Dried Beef Fry, Dried Fish Saute and Vazhakka Ulathiyathu (Raw plantains, sautéed) cooked with its skin are beautiful examples of this ‘no-waste’, eat-seasonal policy, observed in most kitchens of Kerala, Suriani or not.

Pros and Cons

Full colour pictures are not many, but the sketches and illustrations, and the unique layout of pages, takes your mind off it. Technical chef jargon might be absent but it surely carries the unmistakable warmth, coming straight from the heart of someone who has experienced the same warmth from the past generations and herself has cooked countless delicious, wholesome meals for her family.

In a world where local cuisines are requiring life support from food aficionados and globalization mutating the stand-alone traditional recipes, this book comes nothing short of a treasure. The vast majority of the featured recipes don’t fail to appeal to the heart of a purist, who wants to stick to roots and tradition, food-wise.

As I mentioned earlier, this book has plenty of goodies for every kind of food-lover, from vegetarians to locavores to pescetarians. The Suriani Kitchen is one of those special books, that takes you through lives, times and places, somewhat akin to time travelling.

I give The Suriani Kitchen an enthusiastic 4 stars, and irrespective of what reason you buy it for, it is absolutely worth the price.  Definitely a must buy!

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Koon Ulathiyathu (Wild Mushroom Sauté )

Serves 2

(I tried this recipe to a T and found that though very simple, this recipe packs a melodious harmony of flavours, thanks mainly to the holy trinity of coconut oil, shallots and crushed peppercorns. It goes very well with anything, but I followed the author’s note and enjoyed it with a nice slice of toast.)

Ingredients:
1 tsp coconut oil
½ cup sliced shallots
2 green chillies
6 curry leaves
2 cups whole wild mushrooms
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp crushed black peppercorns

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a medium skillet, add the shallots and fry for 1-2 minutes, until light brown.
  • Add the green chillies and curry leaves and fry for 1 minute.
  • Add the mushrooms, salt and peppercorns, and cook until the juices evaporate, the mushrooms should be just cooked and coated with the spiced juices.

Mushroom_web

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