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Customer Review

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive and useable - but NOT for the beginner!, 11 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: India - Cookbook (Hardcover)
I bought this cookbook having read all the reviews, including those which complained of bad proof-reading, incomplete recipes and missing or misprinted ingredients. Sounded very comprehensive though, so decided to risk it anyway. Glad I did, as I have not experienced these problems myself, and this is the largest, most comprehensive and most complete Indian cookbook I have ever come across, and I have yet to find a recipe which was incomplete or had ingredients or steps missing.

Part of this could be down to skill or knowledge, I suppose. I've been cooking for myself, from scratch, pretty much every single day for the past 30 years. I use cookbook recipes quite often, but I also know a great many techniques and basics off by heart. That is one side of it; on the other, I learned all my basic cooking skills from my mother, other skills from books, and I've never had any formal training. I'd last about 30 seconds in a professional kitchen! So I'd class myself as a practised home cook, nothing more. But this does mean that when asked to saute something, or to cook something until done, I know what to do and do not need exact timings or the details of the technique spelled out. Also, I can throw basic ingredients together if required eg. when confronted with a recipe requiring paneer I'm more likely to go buy a couple of litres of milk (yes, you do have to use whole milk!) and make my own rather than get it from a supermarket, and if I have no garam masala in the cupboard I'll grind my own rather than going to a shop. Given all that, I probably have more practice as a cook than some who have been baffled or put off by some of the recipes and that may account for some of the problems.

Not true of the professionals who've also had trouble with this book of course - perhaps I've just used a different set of recipes.

Anyway: If you are a beginner as a cook, or even if you've never tried making Indian food before, I can quite see that this book might be a little offputting. What some other reviewers say is perfectly true: the recipes are very concise, contain no details of specialised techniques (you're expected to know how to produce perfect crispy fried onions, for instance - which I know only thanks to Madhur Jaffrey, with this book alone I'd have no idea!) and provides no hand-holding whatsoever. It is also quite true, as one reviewer has mentioned, that the ingredients glossary is incomplete (so what exactly are matar dal bori? No wiser after checking the glossary. I suppose that is what the internet is for ...). It's also just so BIG, with so many unfamiliar sounding recipes, the like of which have never appeared on a British curry-house menu; to some this could be a big plus (especially fascinating are the numerous recipes from tribal north-east India, ie. the border with Burma/Myanmar, which are more Far Eastern than Indian, featuring ingredients such as bamboo shoots and pork which are seldom used elsewhere in India) while to others it may be just baffling, or over the top.

One more potential pratfall - Unless you notice the provenance of the individual recipes (India is a vast continent with many many cuisines, not one monolithic style of cooking) it is not easy to put together a set of dishes which actually belong together - and the provenance, while given, is not exactly emphasised. If you go by main ingredients alone (this book is arranged by main ingredient!) you could easily end up with a culture-clash meal from, say, Goa, Punjab and Rajasthan all mixed up together, rather than an authentic Indian style feast.

Recommended with caution. If you are a practised cook or a curry conoisseur who has basic knowledge and skills in the kitchen, by all means go for it. If you are new to Indian food, or (especially) if you have little or no experience in the kitchen, I'd advise looking elsewhere for a more beginner-friendly introduction to curry - I've already mentioned one well known writer whose books might fit the bill. Other cookery writers are available of course :)
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