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Indian Essence: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisine Hardcover – Illustrated, 1 Jan 2004
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From the Publisher
This book now appears in paperback as Simple Indian
Top customer reviews
Indian Essence has to rank as a favourite of recipe books I use. For the recipes I've given five stars, they really are superb, but for the book design I would downgrade that to three stars.
The book covers starters, snacks, main courses (divided into fish, shellfish, meat, poultry and game, vegetable and pulses sections), accompaniments and desserts.
The recipes themselves are a diverse collection covering many different regions of India; from the popular street stall snacks of Goa to traditional home style cooking of Punjab. Whilst there is a concentration on recipes that Atul Kochhar gathered as he worked and trained as a chef, there are quite a few examples from his own upbringing and recipes he was given by enthusiastic home cooks.
Most recipes come with prefacing comments, some being based on personal anecdotes and others giving an outline of the recipe's history or the cooking style of the region. Occasionally there will also be a comment on substitutions of ingredients. There is also a two-page glossary in the back of the book about ingredients. Both of these things are helpful as there are items that do require some organising if you don't have easy access to an Indian grocer, or supermarket, that has ingredients such as green mangos or fresh fenugreek leaves. If you cook Indian, Middle Eastern or South-East Asian food on a fairly regular basis then you will mostly be equipped with the dry spices, herbs and oils that are required.
Surprisingly, perhaps, for a more restaurant style of cooking, not all of the main courses are as lengthy and time-consuming as you might expect. The recipe for Peppery chicken curry, from Hyderabad, is one of the easiest curries to cook from scratch and uses readily available ingredients. However, the snacks and starters do tend to lean towards more elaborate preparation. This does require some forward planning if you're cooking for guests.
The recipes themselves are very much worth the time though. There is a lot here that wouldn't generally appear in standard Indian restaurants in the U.K. and the flavours are incredible if you've never tried such things as Momos (steamed dumplings), Lamb chop curry or Kashmiri kohlrabi. Even a simple, home cooking, dish like Channa masala (chickpeas in Punjabi style) was vastly improved for me by the recommendation that it be served with bhatura - a deep fried bread that is somewhere between naan and puri in texture and puffiness.
Although the recipes are dazzling, delicious and a fair selection from such a vast country I do find there are some drawbacks.
I would hesitate to recommend it for a complete novice to Indian cooking. A lot of these recipes take a certain familiarity with Indian cooking styles and ingredients, some of the more lengthy recipes could easily look too intimidating to try for an absolute beginner.
The layout and design of the book can be both pleasant and annoying; there are large close-up photos of many of the dishes, which I find helpful rather than intrusive. If your preference is for more text and less food photography then you might find this less agreeable. The text for the cooking instructions is in a clean and crisp font, but, unfortunately, the list of ingredients for each recipe is in a much smaller, narrower, font as a sidebar, so it is not the clearest thing to read if you are some distance from the book as you are cooking.
There is some unnecessary, fashionable, padding in the way that the introduction of each section is done, plus the use of coloured fonts on a coloured background make them unreadable. These sections aren't vital but, annoyingly, important information on the quantities of the recipes, measurements and other cooking notes has not been included with the recipes but printed at the very bottom of the credits page at the front of the book. Unless you know it is there you'd be unlikely to spot it on a brief browse through.
There is also the occasional mis-step in the recipe text as well. In the recipe for stuffed poppadoms (Paparis recheados) from Goa, the instructions tell you to soak papads in warm water for five to ten minutes. Depending on the size and quality of your papads this is a huge over-estimation. From experience; you will only need between 30 seconds to two minutes, at most, to soften them. Longer than that and your papad will disintegrate into soggy ribbons!
Aside from those issues - I find it fantastic book and would recommend it to home cooks who want to try Indian food in many different forms.
This book illustrates the diversity of food from the sub-continent region to encompass lovely seafood, vegetarian & meat dishes as well as ubiquitous "super-sweet" desserts.
It also destroys the myth of Indian food having to be high in fat & salt.
As a foodie with many, many (far too many!) books this is, by far, one of my most thumbed.
My only concern is this is exactly the same book right down to the page numbers , as his Simple Indian book .which i also have .
I bought the two because I like his food very much but I now have two books with exactly the same recipes in it just comes with a different picture on the front and is a different name.
However, if you are after a general Indian cook book full of the popular dishes this isn't quite it and if you already have one and are after something slightly different (say regional)this isn't that either.