Book Review: Complete Book of Indian Cooking

I love Indian cooking; it is tasty and versatile. By far, this is the best Indian cooking book I’ve seen. It has complete recipes broken down by region and useful tips. A must have for anyone exploring the Indian taste pallet.

Courtesy of Complete Book of Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani 2014 © Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

I grew up on pretty standard French Canadian fare. The main spices were salt, pepper and onion. Garlic was considered daring. When I moved away to University, I was introduced to Indian cooking and immediately fell in love with it. The richness of flavors and colors were impressive to me. I’ve taken cooking classes and explored many recipes.

Complete Book of Indian Cooking is a fabulous effort by Suneeta Vaswani. It compiles 350 recipes from all regions of India. I loved reading the history and origins of the foods from each region. For example, naan is always associated with Indian food but has its origins in Afghanistan. In North India pan frying is a common cooking method, while in the south steaming is more used. The north has thicker sauces with bases of onions, tomatoes, nut and lentils. The southern gravies are light and broth-like containing coconut milk and tamarind. Eastern regions are rich in fish and seafood compared to northeastern states where pork predominates. One interesting trivia tidbit for me, was to discover that the western region of Parsis, originally Zoroastrians from Iran, eat an astonishing number of eggs.

The book has an extensive section on ingredients, spices and cooking methods. An amateur cook can certainly feel confident trying the recipes. Each section of the recipes such as Appetizers, Chaat, Beans and Lentils, Fish and Seafood, has an introductory text on the type of food and index by region of recipes.

The layout makes it fun to compare styles of spicing. I looked at the Fish Curry as an example.

North South West
mint cumin turmeric
gingerroot fenugreek coriander seeds
garlic onion cumin seeds
Serranos chilies gingerroot Serranos chilies
mustard seed garlic coconut
coriander Serranos chilies onions
cayenne coriander chilies
turmeric cayenne tomatoes
tamarind turmeric tamarind
tamarind curry leaves

You can easily see that the fish curries will taste very differently.

I highly recommend this cooking book if you are looking to explore Indian cooking to a new level.

To give you a sample of the variety – I’ve listed below some delicious recipes for you to try.

Courtesy of Complete Book of Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani 2014 © Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Indian Ratatouille with Five Spices, page 346, vegetables

Panch Phoran Tarkari

Panch phoran, the signature five-seed blend used in Bengali food, is magical. Versatile and easy to use, its distinctive flavor is perfect in both Indian and non-Indian dishes.

Serves 8

2 dried Indian red chiles, broken in half 2

2 bay leaves 2

1 tsp panch phoran 5 mL

2 tbsp oil 25 mL

1 lb eggplant, cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces 500 g

1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 11⁄2-inch 500 g

(4 cm) pieces

8 oz butternut squash, cut into 2-inch (5 cm) 250 g


2 to 3 tsp chopped green chiles, preferably serranos 10 to 15 mL

1 tbsp milk 15 mL

1 tsp salt or to taste 5 mL

1⁄2 tsp granulated sugar 2 mL

1 cup frozen peas 250 mL

1. In a small dish, combine red chiles, bay leaves and panch phoran.

2. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Stir spices into hot oil and sauté until seeds stop popping, 30 to 40 seconds. Immediately add eggplant, potatoes and squash and mix well.

3. Add green chiles, milk, salt, sugar and 3⁄4 cup (175 mL) water. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add peas and simmer until water is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot with an Indian bread.

Courtesy of Complete Book of Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani 2014 © Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Lamb with Green Mango, page 262, eggs, chicken & meat

(acha Aam ka Gosht)

Green mangoes are a summer treat in India. They are very hard, unripe and sour. In North America, they are now available in Asian markets almost year-round.

Serves 6 to 8

Tip: Dried coconut flakes are available in packages in Indian stores or in bulk bins in health food stores and specialty markets. The flakes are about 3⁄4-by 1⁄2-inch (2 by 1 cm) pieces.

2 tbsp Indian poppy seeds 25 mL

1⁄2 cup granulated sugar 75 mL

11⁄2 lbs green mangoes, peeled and cut into 750 mL

1⁄4-inch (0.5 cm) thick slices (approx.)

3 tbsp oil, divided 45 mL

1 tbsp cashews 15 mL

1 tbsp slivered almonds 15 mL

1 tbsp dried coconut flakes (see Tip above) 15 mL

8 whole cloves 8

12 green cardamom pods, cracked open 12

3 sticks cinnamon, each about 2 inches (5 cm) long 3

3 bay leaves 3

2 lbs boneless lamb, preferably leg or shoulder, 1 kg

cut into 11⁄2-inch (4 cm) pieces

2 tbsp dry unsweetened coconut powder 25 mL

2 tsp salt or to taste 10 mL

11⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper 7 mL

1⁄2 tsp turmeric 2 mL

1. In a smooth mortar, soak poppy seeds in 2 tbsp (25 mL) water for 15 minutes. Grind to a paste with pestle. Set aside.

2. In a saucepan, melt sugar in 3⁄4 cup (175 mL) water over medium heat. Add mangoes and cook gently for 3 minutes. Set aside.

3. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil over medium heat. Add cashews, almonds and coconut flakes and sauté until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. Add remaining oil to saucepan and return to medium-high heat. Add cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves and sauté until fragrant, for 30 seconds. Add lamb and sauté until brown, 8 to

10 minutes.

5. Add poppy seed paste and coconut powder. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring continuously, until mixture is dark brown, 3 to

4 minutes. Add salt, cayenne and turmeric and sauté for 2 minutes.

6. Add 2 cups (500 mL) water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring periodically, until lamb is fork-tender, about 1 to 11⁄2 hours.

7. Stir mangoes with syrup into meat and cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with fried nut mixture.

Courtesy of Complete Book of Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani 2014 © Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Mangalore Crab Curry, page 288, fish & seafood

Mangalore, a city on the Konkan coast on the west coast of India, is renowned for its distinctive cuisine. The area is populated by distinct communities, each with its well-recognized specialties. Meat, poultry and seafood are all relished and cooked with quantities of coconut and spices. Kokum is a popular ingredient.

Serves 6 to 8

Tip: Kokum (Garcinia indica) is the soft leathery skin of a deep purple, sour tropical fruit grown and used on the west coast of India. If unavailable, substitute 2 tbsp (25 mL) unsalted Thai tamarind purée.

2 cups grated coconut, fresh or frozen, thawed 500 mL

3 tbsp coriander seeds 45 mL

11⁄2 tbsp cumin seeds 22 mL

24 dried Indian red chiles, broken in half, 24

12 with seeds removed

10 green cardamom pods, cracked open 10

1 stick cinnamon, about 2 inches (5 cm) long 1

24 cloves garlic 24

70 fresh curry leaves, divided (about 6 sprigs) 70

11⁄4 tsp turmeric 6 mL

1⁄4 cup oil 50 mL

4 lbs dressed crabs or 3 to 31⁄2 lbs (1.5 to 1.75 kg) 2 kg

crab claws

2 cans (each 14 oz/400 mL) coconut milk 2

11⁄2 tsp salt or to taste 7 mL

20 kokum (see Tip above) 20

1. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast coconut in a single layer, stirring constantly, until golden and aromatic, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch it carefully, as coconut can burn easily. Transfer to a bowl.

2. In the same skillet, toast separately coriander, cumin, chiles, cardamom and cinnamon in that order until each is fragrant. The time will vary from a few seconds to up to 2 minutes. Take care

not to burn. Add each to bowl with coconut.

3. Transfer coconut and spices to a blender and grind to a fine powder. Add garlic, 30 curry leaves and turmeric. Pour in 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) water and blend. Continue to add more water as needed, to make

a smooth thick paste, scraping down sides of blender occasionally.

4. In a wide-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add coconut paste and remaining curry leaves. Sauté, stirring continuously, until masala (mixture) turns a few shades darker and aromatic,

5 to 6 minutes. If necessary, deglaze pan with 1 tbsp (15 mL) water periodically while sautéing to prevent burning. Add crab and mix well. Sauté until crab is well seasoned with masala, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. Pour coconut milk into pan. Add salt and kokum. Shake pan to settle crab. Cover and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring periodically, until gravy is thickened, about 10 minutes. Serve hot over rice.

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