Most helpful positive review
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful, wide ranging compilation of international vegetarian cookery
on 24 December 2009
This book has been one of my cookery bibles for the past 10 years, and is now completely falling apart from overuse! It is a wonderful compendium of vegetarian recipes and cooking techniques from Greece to Japan, written in an engaging style by Madhur Jaffrey. Many of the recipes are prefaced by a short but fascinating descriptions of the background of the recipe; these make it something you can read as a book in its own right and really help to place the recipes in context.
Some of the recipes might seem a little daunting to people who aren't used to cooking with spices etc, but they are actually mostly pretty straightforward. There are a few ingredients that might be difficult to find for people who live in less multicultural areas, but the majority can be found in any large supermarket these days. Madhur has, in many cases, substituted some of the more obscure ingredients in original recipes for things found more easily in the West (but usually mentions what the "authentic" ingredients should be). If you do find it hard to get some of the ingredients, it's worth looking into online mail order companies; it's surprising what you can get on the internet nowadays! But you'd also be surprised how many you can find in the supermarket. If you don't currently use many spices and other international ingredients you'll probably have to buy a few more, but you won't have to invest in a massive new spice collection all in one go, just buy what you need for each recipe and you'll build it up gradually. The more you cook these recipes, the more you will learn what can be substituted for the more unusual ingredients (or what can be omitted altogether). There are a few basics like cumin seeds, chilli, coriander etc that will soon become storecupboard essentials (if they aren't already), but you can get away without buying some of the more obscure ingredients in many cases. Being largely based on traditional recipes, there isn't exactly a single "correct" way to make most of the dishes, so they are mostly pretty adaptable depending on your taste and what you have available. They are not all spicy recipes, and even those that are can be made with less chilli than specified (she usually gives some indication of which dishes are particularly spicy so you can be warned!), so don't be put off if you or your family aren't keen on chilli. I love a bit of heat but I have young kids to feed so I make many of the recipes with reduced chilli & salt (I tend to up the amount of the other spices to compensate though; this isn't absolutely necessary, but I like my food to have plenty of flavour!).
I was given this book when I was 20 and a relatively inexperienced but enthusiastic and experimental cook, so I don't think you need a huge amount of skill to make good use of this book, just a "have a go" attitude! As long as you follow the instructions carefully (but are prepared to innovate if necessary!) you should be able to produce a perfectly edible, and possibly delicious, meal. If you are seriously lacking in confidence or culinary skill you might want to try a book aimed more at beginners, though, as there are no pictures and the recipes are probably rather different to what the average westerner is used to.
This book has given me a fantastic grounding in international vegetarian cookery. I think I can credit Madhur Jaffery and my mother (a rather traditional but very good British cook) with giving me the basis for developing my own unique style of "fusion" cooking. I feel just as at home with indian, japanese, and middle eastern ingredients as I do with traditional British ones now, and have the confidence to mix and match them to create completely new dishes. I probably cook curries at least as often as I cook more European style dishes thanks to Madhur Jaffrey, and many of the dishes I cook can't really be placed in one geographical or cultural location. I also feel that I have a deeper understanding of the cultures these dishes come from, thanks to Madhur's evocative introductions to the recipes.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in expanding their repertoire of vegetarian &/or international cuisine who isn't afraid to try new things and has at least a moderate level of confidence in the kitchen.