136 of 137 people found the following review helpful
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I have been using this cookbook for over a year now and, like most reviewers, I can't recommend it enough. You'll have to pardon me if I write a long review...I think I enjoy writing about this food as much as I do cooking and eating it...
I'll comment on some of the specific dishes below but, first, I'll say that the recipes and techniques in this book are simple (for Indian food, anyway) but they produce dishes with very deep flavors. That said, even the meatier curries are lighter and fresher than what I have eaten in most Indian restaurants. In fact, for the most part, I now prefer to cook and eat my own Indian food. At the risk of sounding corny, these recipes have given me a lot of pleasure.
Two other quick points: Since I've been using this cookbook I've tried others, as well as some recipes that I've found online but hands down this book beats all. I find that other recipes produce dishes are either too heavy, aren't flavorful enough, take too much time or the recipes themselves just don't feel inviting to me. I use other cookbooks for other types of food, of course, but for Indian food I'd have to say this is the cookbook. Also, I've been to India a couple times, as well as other places with substantial Indian populations--Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia--so even though I've only been cooking Indian for a year I've known quite a range of Indian food over the years.
And now, the food:
The dals: There are several dal recipes in this book and I've cooked them all. They range from very simple with just a few ingredients to more complex, with multiple layers of flavoring. My favorites are the `simple lentil dal with fresh ginger, green chiles and cilantro', which smells especially fresh and bright when on the stove, and the `simple lentil dal with whole cinnamon, cardamom and cloves'. Both of these have pretty complex flavors but, as a dal should be, they're light.
The vegetables: I haven't made all the recipes in this section but have yet to hit a dud. I'm a real fan of these dishes because the ingredients are inexpensive and the dishes themselves are very healthy and, as an unabashed carnivore, they I'm pleased with their surprisingly huge flavors. A few favorites are `stir fried carrots with cumin and lime', `smoked spiced eggplant' and `Indian cheese in an herbed green sauce'. These dishes are all pretty easy to make, although some take a bit more time than others.
Chicken dishes: I've cooked all the chicken curries and while I have my favorites I'd say they are all outstanding. In my old job I used to bring these in for my lunch and people would literally freak out when they smelled them from across the office. You could say that some of the curries produce a bit too much sauce but I don't mind eating this with rice or bread, especially since it makes the dish go a bit further. There are also recipes for ground poultry dishes and Cornish game hens, but I haven't made these yet. I'd agree with another reviewer who noted that you'll probably need to double the cooking time for the chicken curries. This also applies to the meat curries, below.
Meat dishes: I've made almost all these and have yet to hit one that was anything less than delicious. One thing I've learned is that if I'm cooking meat it's better to pay a little extra for high quality cuts. It makes a big difference. My favorite recipe in this section is the `lamb stew with tomato and southern Indian spices'. I make this with beef or lamb and either way it is one of the deepest, most mysterious dishes I've ever smelled or eaten. I also cook the Vindaloo dish quite a bit, with either pork, lamb or beef.
Fish & shellfish: As is the case with the meats, using the best fish you can afford is worth the extra money. If I can't spend it, then I hold off on cooking fish until I can. Fortunately, these recipes are versatile--I've cooked the `halibut in a hot-and-sour sauce' with either halibut, other sorts of cheaper white fish, scallops or shrimp. All were delicious (except my experiment with haddock, which was just so-so) and pretty much left the diners speechless. The `salmon curry' was something so spectacular that I couldn't believe I'd made by myself, while the `Mangalore fried shrimp' took virtually no time at all. I find that these dishes are at their best if you leave the fish a bit on the rare side. If that sounds a bit strange, just try it once and decide for yourself.
Raita, pickles & chutneys, drinks: I've made a couple of each and have been happy with them all. I've been particularly happy with the raitas (especially the pineapple raita) since they're easy, taste great and for some reason guests are amazed to find them on the table.
Rice dishes: The cookbook notes that it's impossible to overestimate the importance of rice to Indian culture and spiritual traditions. Well, then it's no surprise that the rice dishes in this book are suitably rich and creative. For me, plain basmati rice is profound enough, but dishes such as ` lemon rice' or `coconut-mint rice' put me on the verge of hallucinating.
Appetizers, snacks, flatbreads, sweets: I haven't made any of these. A couple friends have and, like pretty much everything in this book, the reports are all very positive.
A couple final suggestions: Not everyone wants to blow a lot of cash on a pot but especially for the curries, which simmer for a long time, a high-quality pot makes a world of difference. I use enamel-coated cast iron and it radiates the heat in such as way that the sauce becomes very hearty and I think this also helps open up the magic of the spices. On the other hand, when visiting a friend I cooked in a lighter pot and the curries wouldn't thicken properly. Also, don't be put off if you realize you have to buy some new spices to cook these dishes. Really, you don't need many, they aren't expensive, they're very good for your health and they'll open an entire new universe of flavor. If you can't find everything in your grocery store, go online. Finally, once you get comfortable with the recipes, you'll find that you get faster at putting together the spice mixes. Relax, set aside some time and you will be very happy with the food you'll be able to create.