Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

India: The Cookbook

by Pushpesh Pant (Phaidon Press, 960 pp., $49.95)

Culinary scholar and professor Pushpesh Pant is a recipe columnist and author of 14 cookbooks with experience in TV production, but more importantly, he has spent the last 25 years collecting, testing, and editing authentic family recipes from every region of the Indian subcontinent. His extensive research is the basis for this encyclopedic collection of over 1000 recipes – the most comprehensive guide to Indian cooking ever written – covering the diverse regional cuisines and detailing the country's rich culinary heritage. The bonus is that these recipes aren't from chefs (although there is a chapter in the back with recipes from the chefs of 11 top Indian restaurants around the world); instead, they originate from everyday, traditional family cooks. This is the real food of India.

A large section of the introduction focuses on the 10 major culinary food regions of India, revealing their histories and influences, styles of cooking, and food flavors. It is the most concise explanation of regional Indian cuisine that I've ever read. Nine chapters cover every aspect of Indian cuisine: street food and appetizers, soups and salads, curries, grills, daals and pulses, vegetable and rice dishes, condiments and spice blends, breads, and desserts. Vegetarians and vegans will find a wealth of options.

The recipes are not burdened with extensive headnotes, but background information is well-presented when necessary. The recipes are brilliantly written, edited, and adapted for Western kitchens. Descriptions of equipment and cooking methods (Pant simplifies some of the more daunting steps) are as accessible to the reader as the extensive glossary, and the 75 color illustrations and 160 color photographs bring the information and dishes into sharp focus.

The recipes included cover every standard dish that any basic Indian cook could recall, plus hundreds more that will be new to even the most jaded Indian culinarian. Most importantly, every dish that I have cooked from India: The Cookbook has not only been delicious, but authentically flavored in every way. The cover doesn't lie when it claims to be "the only Indian cookbook you will ever need."

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