Learning to cook is a bit like learning Russian. The more you learn the more you will realize how little you know and how vast the new language is.
Pushpesh Pant‘s claims that India (Phaidon 2010) is the only book on Indian food you’ll ever need. He is right, if you are already familiar with Indian food –either through travel, dining in restaurants, or other cookbooks. Familiarity will mean you’ve learned enough to know how rich and varied the cuisine is and how much you need a collection as exhaustive as this one is, that covers all the regions of India and all the parts of a meal. A professor of diplomatic studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, he is an able guide and provides structure for exploration, as long as you keep turning the pages of his 773- page book.
He starts with A Brief History of Indian Food (p. 9) and a survey of the regional cuisines of India. Each recipe includes an origin along with ingredients in both ounces and grams. Don’t skip over the first section on Spice Mixtures and Pastes (pp. 30-59) and Pickles, Chutneys and Raitas (pp. 62-87). These are the backbones of Indian meals. There are spices mixtures from Punjab/Dehle for Chaat Masala (p. 31) that includes ajwain seed, asafetida, and amchoor, to name a few of the unusual ingredients you’ll need before you start. There are three recipes for mango pickles. Avakk from Andhra Pradesh, Aam ka Achar from Awadh, and Gurh Keri from Gujarat (pp. 76-77).
At the back of the book are a section of menus from guest chefs from around the world, including New York’s Suvir Saran and San Francisco’s Joy Kapur. Suvir’s recipes include Crispy Okra Salad (Karaee Bhindi) and Devi’s Famous Lamb Chops (Devi ki Mashhoor Chaampen) (p. 762) that are marinated in a yoghurt spice mixture and then grilled.
Pushpresh Pant’s India is a resource for anyone serious about embracing the riches of Indian cuisine. Leave aside boredom and explore India in the New Year.