A cookbook journey for the senses

If variety truly is the spice of life, this 1000-recipe tome, which took 20 years to collate, has the subcontinent covered.

Much like "essential" music compilation CDs, which usually are anything but, some cookbooks are touted as the only resource you'll need in the kitchen to become a superchef. So, some may approach Pushpesh Pant's India Cookbook with trepidation, the words "The only book on Indian food you'll ever need" emblazoned on the cover inviting cynicism.

However, this 800-plus-page offering, doesn't make the claim lightly. There are more than 1000 recipes here, with few — well, OK, none — resembling the tikka masala from your local takeaway.

Pant, a writer of more than a dozen books and a professor in diplomatic studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has spent about 20 years collating the best in home cooking from around India. As he writes in his introduction, "it must be remembered that there is far, far more to Indian food than curries alone". Hence, following the informative history of Indian cuisine, broken into regions, and an explanation of the Ayurvedic system, in which diet and the body are balanced, he eases us in with 40 spice and paste mixes, followed by 27 chutney variations. And that's just the beginning.

Interspersed with glossy photography, what follows is a cornucopia of food from regions both familiar (Punjab, Hyderabad, Kerala) and less well-known (Awadh, Tamil Nadu), the chapters progressing through snacks and appetisers, main dishes, pulses, breads, rice, desserts and drinks. Helpfully, most have a heat rating — as in, chilli — as a guide and many dishes can be adapted to personal tastes. You might not, for instance, fancy making the Kondapur Koli Thalna (chicken legs in chilli sauce) with the 125 grams of dried red chillies in the recipe, as your head could explode.

For good measure, guest chefs — including the Sydney-based Vikrant Kapoor, Ajoy Joshi and Anil Ashokan — contribute menus and recipes. Fortunately, there's also a glossary of ingredients; some will be unfamiliar so an explanation is vital. (Chironji? Cambodge petals? Mizo anthurium? You possibly read it here first.)

Tackling the book in chunks can feel somewhat overwhelming, particularly if you tend towards indecisiveness. Still, there are worse things than being spoilt for choice.

If you wanted to make everything here, perhaps just a dish a day, you'll still be working your way through it in three years and learning plenty along the way. The only Indian cookbook you'll need? There's surely a good case for it.

In store now.
Source: theage.com.au

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