INDIA COOKBOOK by Pushpesh Pant. November 2010. 816 pages. $49.95.http://www.phaidon.com

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Pushpesh Pant is a man of many talents. He is a professor at JNU, New Delhi, a regular columnist for many Indian national newspapers, and a radio and TV show host on travel and food. He has several cook books to his credit, including Food Path: Along the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata, Hindu Soul Recipes, Buddhist Peace Recipes, and more. His new cook book has 1,000 recipes, collected over two decades of his travels all over India. The recipes come from master chefs and home cooks, which Pant has edited, tested, and collated into this collection.

The cover of the book is innovative. It looks like the outside of a bag of rice oratta (wheat flour), with the weight of the book (1.5 kilograms!) printed on the side. The graphics of old Indian street art and posters inside the book are a nice touch. Icons for spice level for each recipe and photos of the food make the content useful.

The brief history of Indian food is a must read. I found it comprehensive and thorough. The section of dishes from well-known Indian chefs like Suvir Saran, Vikram Vij, Miraj-ul-Haque, Joy Kapur, and others is an added bonus.

There’s no better way to evaluate a cook book than simply trying out a whole range of recipes. And that is exactly what I set out to do. I cooked over 20 recipes and served them to family and friends. The Kuzhi Paniyaram—Rice Dumplings from Chettinad (pg. 133) was a huge hit at a party. The Vendakai Igguru—Spicy Fried Okra (pg. 248) was devoured by my okra-hating teen. Some dishes like the Vendakkai Pulusu—Okra Stew (pg. 247), Artikai Podi—Green Banana Fry (pg. 346), Dal Ki Kima—Mung Beans (pg. 577), and Dal Makhni—Black Lentil (pg. 583) were delicious.

However, some recipes fell short. The Baghare Baigan—Brinjal Masala (pg. 250) needed an extra tablespoon of tamarind concentrate for the flavor to emerge. The Phool Gobi (pg. 258) was bland and needed more flavor, even for a non-Indian palette.

Overall I had more hits than misses. While the book was easy to navigate, I would recommend a page with sample menus to guide newbies to Indian cuisine, so they can quickly get started.

I would have liked to see better reference checks on the regional names of the dishes, especially dishes from South India. While the dishes were authentic to the region, their names were not. For instance, Artikai Podi (pg. 346) should have been Vazhakkai Podimas. Since this book caters to not just Westerners but also to Indian Americans, correct regional names of dishes do matter.

I also wish the publishing house had paid more attention to paper quality. I had to place the book on a book stand away from my primary cooking area in the kitchen  while preparing the dishes, as I was quite concerned about soiling the pages. The paper seems to absorb all oils and spices, smudging the recipes.

Most cookbooks in the United States use glossy paper that can be wiped off if spills happen. Given the price of this book, there is no justification for the poor quality and printing errors.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed cooking the dishes, and can’t wait to try out more. It is a treasure of authentic recipes, especially Awadhi and Hyderabadi cuisines. This book is a valuable addition to both experienced and novice cooks. For non-Indians,  India Cookbook will encourage your palate to take a journey through India without leaving your kitchen. Enjoy!

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com.

Masoor Ki Chutney

This is an Awadhi recipe

1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoons whole masoor (rinsed and drained)
6 dried red chillies
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
½ cup tamarind extract
2 inch piece of dried coconut
½ teaspoon garlic paste
Salt to taste

For Tempering
1 tsp oil
6 curry leaves
2 dried chilies
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 onion chopped fine

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the dal and fry for 1-2 minutes, and set aside. Add red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and asafetida and stir fry for a minute or until seeds splutter. Remove and transfer to a blender. Add masoor dal, tamarind extract, coconut, garlic paste, season with salt, and process until ground. Transfer to a serving bowl. Heat oil for tempering in a frying pan, add curry leaves, dry red chilies,

Ananas Ka Sherbet

This is a great punch bowl drink for ladies’ lunches and barbeque parties.

¾ cup of lemon juice
1 ½ cups of orange juice
½ cup of sugar
6 canned pineapple slices, chopped
4 ¼ cups of club soda
4 ¼ cups of ginger ale

Mix lemon juice, orange juice, and sugar together in a bowl, then cover and place in a refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, then add the pineapple, club soda, and ginger ale and mix. Serve in a punch bowl with ice.

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