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What makes for a good cookbook?


Rushina
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A good cookbook to me should

1. communicate clearly

a. the ingredients, their measurements

b. the method

c. and preferably a brief description/ history/origon, of the dish

2. It should have a good picture of the finished product so I can compare my results with that of the author.

3. all recipes should be very carefully kitchen tested, preferrably by people other than the author, to ensure standard end product each time.

Good luck with your book.

Ps. Unless you edit your post to read ' Indian Cookbook' the bosses will probably move your post to another general forum.

Bombay Curry Company

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A really good cookbook will carefully explain the way to plan menus for its recipes, with lots of examples.

Menu planning is sometimes difficult in a familiar cuisine. It can be bewildering in a new one.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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In addition to the others:

Photographs and recipes should be adjacent pages.

Photographs should be clear enough and without clutter. Too many food pictures have been spoilt by photographers and stylists getting too creative.

If the book is for a global audience, list out alternate names and substitutions for spices and ingredients.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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In a sort of philosophic sense I think what's needed is some sense of assurance that the recipe is worth doing. There are many cookbooks, many recipes, only that much time... I don't think this really needs reams of ecstatic prose before it or fancy pictures. Just clear presentation and a sense of assurance work well - Tarla Dalal has it, though most of her recipes couldn't be more matter of fact. Sticking just to Indian cookbooks, I'd say Karen Anand and Monisha Bharadwaj both have.

For some reason I feel less convinced about Sanjeev Kapoor. His basic books are good, but of late I think the self promotion is taking over. I positively disliked his latest Simply Sanjeev book where he's dressed up as a maharajah on the cover. And his Blue Cilantro restaurant in Bombay sucks BIG TIME! Also one more detail about the last book I think - it was printed in italics which makes it harder to read and really, with a cookbook, simplicity is VITAL.

Many of the traditional cookbooks like Samaithu Par and Rasachandrika are good even though the recipes are sometimes so terse (Rasachandrika) that they might seem off-putting. What's evident is a lifetime of knowledge that's gone into the books and that gives them assurance.

One book I haven't made up my mind about is Jiggs Kalra's Prashad. It has very many things going for it. I like the way he highlights the chefs who have developed the recipes, you can see the work and the passion for preserving old recipes that has gone into it. The recipe layout style is also very interesting and different. Nonetheless I get the feeling that its more designed for professional chefs than the home chef. Its a very good book, but slightly intimidating.

One thing I DO like and which puts the writer higher in my estimation is a discussion of ingredients. Recipes are all very well, and detailed descriptions of the techniques are good, especially when accompanied by line drawings for really tricky steps. But all this won't be of any use if the ingredients aren't right or there's no proper understanding of them. So a detailed discussion of the ingredients really matters and its one reason I admire Camelia Punjabi's curry book (and obviously the Indian Pantry book). Madhur Jaffrey also does this very well, and adds lots of other interesting stuff on the food and the people who cook it.

Vikram

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've got several Indian cookbooks and one reference, though the ones I keep returning to are by Madhur Jaffrey.

I've been thinking about this subject lately because I've been cooking Indian food at home on and off for the last 10 years but have felt like an amateur at it for a long time now. And more and more I'm beginning to realize why that is: I don't know anything about ayurveda and other Indian medicine traditions.

The reason why I say this is because of my experiences eating "Asian fusion" food that borrows from Chinese tradition. I grew up eating Shanghainese food at almost every meal and that came along with an understanding from my mother about when and why you eat certain things in certain combinations. I find the fusion stuff very hard to digest. Yes, a lot of fusion tastes good initially, but afterwards it leaves me feeling off, and there is none of the wholesome feeling of well-being you get for hours afterwards. This isn't to say that there are no fusion cooks out there who can manage a traditional Chinese understanding of food energies and balances to go along with the fusion, but I've yet to come across any who can, in my limited experience so far.

So ideally, what I'd like to see more in Indian cookbooks are more notes on why particular flavorings and spices are chosen, and why particular side dishes are recommended, aside from just tasting good. Though maybe the thing I really have to do is begin studying ayurveda. What do you all think? Or are there any books out there that make the vital connections between Indian food, medicine and health?

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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rushina,

others may have already said this (i'm feeling too lazy right now to scroll through the thread) but one of the first decisions should be to decide who your ideal audience is. a non-indian one will require/want less contextual gloss than an indian one; if it is a regional cookbook you'll need to take into account the needs of those outside the region. in a different context the great indian poet and translator a.k. ramanujan once said (in the foreword to his translation of u.r. anantamurthy's novel "samskara") that translators ideally translate not the source text from one language to another but the non-native reader into a native one. i think this is a good model for cookbook writers (not to mention chefs) to follow when working between cultures (both inter and intra nationally). (keeping in mind, of course, ramanujan's caveat that even the best of this kind are failures.) most indian cookbooks for a western audience are bad "translations" in this sense (not to mention articles on indian food in magazines and newspapers).

however, if you're thinking of a cookbook for/from/of its audience these issues may not matter--then vikram's suggestions are probably the main ones to think about.

mongo

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So ideally, what I'd like to see more in Indian cookbooks are more notes on why particular flavorings and spices are chosen, and why particular side dishes are recommended, aside from just tasting good. Though maybe the thing I really have to do is begin studying ayurveda. What do you all think? Or are there any books out there that make the vital connections between Indian food, medicine and health?

Pat

There are a few cookbooks which do explain things in just that way. Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking" gives very detailed information about ingredients and spices in regards to why certain spices are chosen, what each spice does to a dish, and what the traditional beliefs about their medicinal properties are. Her second book "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking" continues in the same way, but with an emphasis on regional vegetarian dishes as opposed to the Moghal style that makes up the bulk of the first book.

I would say that the average Indian cook does not neccesarily have some vast knowledge of ayurveda, but that it's influence over time-we're talking millennia here- has become more like a second nature. The ayurvedic concept that has the biggest influence to this day in Indian cuisine is the idea of the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Sitting down to almost any Indian meal today, be it a small snack or a huge feast, all six of these tastes will be present in some form. According to ayurveda a meal is not considered balanced unless all of the six tastes are present and in proper balance.

During the Moghul empire there was also the influence of the Persian system of medicine, which brought with it the concepts of "sardi" and "garmi" or hot and cold.

The main techniques of Indian cuisine are not difficult to learn. Developing an understanding of spices and how they interact with one another and effect the outcome of the finished dish is the real secret to success.

Edward

Edited by Edward (log)

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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Thanks for that info, Edward. I do have one of Julie Sahni's books (Introduction to Indian Cooking) but haven't tried any of her other ones because I didn't like my results from this book as much as the ones from others. But, if her other books go into that level of detail, then it's time to do some shopping. :wink:

I'll probably go ahead with introductory ayurveda study anyway, just to get a basic idea, since I suspect it would help a lot with not just how the tastes are understood but seasonality and temperament as well. Familiar concepts in a different discipline.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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  • 2 weeks later...

By far the best Indian cookbook I have is the little paperback put out some years ago by Sameen Rushdie (yes, Salman's sister).

Never understood why it hasn't been reprinted and gained a much bigger audience.

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By far the best Indian cookbook I have is the little paperback put out some years ago by Sameen Rushdie (yes, Salman's sister).

Never understood why it hasn't been reprinted and gained a much bigger audience.

Bhelpuri - I really enjoy reading your posts. Can you tell me a bit about what makes this book stand out in your mind. i have not seen it.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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One book I haven't made up my mind about is Jiggs Kalra's Prashad. It has very many things going for it. I like the way he highlights the chefs who have developed the recipes, you can see the work and the passion for preserving old recipes that has gone into it. The recipe layout style is also very interesting and different. Nonetheless I get the feeling that its more designed for professional chefs than the home chef. Its a very good book, but slightly intimidating.

I really have enjoyed cooking from this book. Although it sometimes seems to get complicated for no reason -- there are ways to simplify. But I guess as Jiggs claims this is for the professional from the professional

How about Arvind Saraswat? I believe he has a book out. how is that one? Have you seen it?

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I really enjoy reading your posts. Can you tell me a bit about what makes this book stand out in your mind. i have not seen it.

Thank you.

This site has become addictive, I think I will stick around.

The Rushdie cookbook makes great reading, first. I used to have it on my shelves, and turned to it in moments of craving, salivating, long before I actually tried to reproduce its recommendations,

But when it comes to making the dishes, it first (totally authentically/believably) goes into the role that various ingredients and dishes play in Indian cuisine, and then painstakingly and minutely details the steps required to make your uncompromising food in the West.

So, it really is a perfect cookbook, though if it were updated it would include photos.

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  • 2 weeks later...
By far the best Indian cookbook I have is the little paperback put out some years ago by Sameen Rushdie (yes, Salman's sister).

I managed to track down a used copy of this book. Though in hardcover rather than paperback, yay! :biggrin:

It's really good so far. What I'm appreciating the most about it are two things:

1) how she conveys information like an experienced member of your family would with regard to times and quantities being imprecise, but at the same time, not to worry about it too much and trust your judgment, because it'll be ok in the end, just let the right side of your brain take over. Besides, the truth is, a lot of it is impossible to quantify like that anyway because the ingredients won't always be on the same level day by day. Maybe this would be nerve-wracking to some people, but it feels liberating to me. I can dispense with all the noise in my head around tracking exact temperatures and such. Cook until tender, brown, etc. works for me!

2) her grouping the spices in four rough categories, with the caveat that it's not a categorization written in stone, but is a good place for the rest of us to start out in order to make sense of what goes with what.

Also amusing to read in a black humor sort of way were her words around discovering the ways food animals were fed in other countries, and feeling safer eating meat which had been raised on a vegetarian diet rather than a cannibalistic one, back in 1988.

So, thanks for the recommendation, bhelpuri. This book makes me really happy, I can't wait to cook out of it.

It's a bummer that it's out of print, and yes, I agree pictures would be great if it ever gets a second edition.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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a non-indian one will require/want less contextual gloss than an indian one;

no, mongo, no! :smile: it's the contextual gloss in the recipes that make them so good! we non indians need LOTS of contextual gloss if we are ever going to start doing justice to indian cuisine.

Edited by whippy (log)
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a non-indian one will require/want less contextual gloss than an indian one;

no, mongo, no! :smile: it's the contextual gloss in the recipes that make them so good! we non indians need LOTS of contextual gloss if we are ever going to start doing justice to indian cuisine.

right, i meant an indian audience. however, i'm not sure why a non-indian audience requires contextual gloss to "do justice to indian cuisine". do you really need to know the significance of the harvest festival in northern punjab to enjoy a paratha with ghee? if so, i fear most of us don't to do justice in a similar manner to american, french, italian cuisine etc.

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Second the kudos for Sameen Rushdie's Indian Cookery. To those who might be put off - it is anything but as if Salman Rushdie had written a cookbook! Sameen takes you by the hand like the proverbial auntie and guides you step by step through Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshi Cuisine, with a slight (but certainly not overwhelming) emphasis on Sindhi food. BTW, are you certain she is Salman's sister? The book bio says (and the text confirms) that she was raised in Karachi . . .

I love reading Prasad, as intimidating as the it may be. Kalra is such an engaging prose stylist, and he puts forward an infectious enthusiasm for celebrating the potential for Indian restaurant cuisine to recognized as a world-class and for giving its chefs the recognition that they for so long had been denied. Indeed, the terseness of the prose was one thing that made his latest book Daawat slightly disappointing, despite the profusion of innovative recipes that actually seem to work.

Finally, two cookbooks not yet mentioned that provide the kind of contextual gloss mentioned: Julie Sahni's Savoring India, part of the William-Sonoma coffee-table book series, and the pioneering 35 year-old book by Santha Rama Rau, Cuisine of India, part of the great Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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do you really need to know the significance of the harvest festival in northern punjab to enjoy a paratha with ghee?

i agree, naked from all context, parathas are quite yummy! i mean, we all started, in one way or another, enjoying parathas without 'knowing' anything about them.

so yes, we can enjoy food from almost anywhere without knowing a thing about it. but i think our enjoyment of it is definitely enhanced by knowledge, as there is plainly an intellectual component to eating. does knowing a lot about thanksgiving enhance a person's pleasure of oyster stuffed turkey? does knowing about baseball make you want a hot dog?

all that context also informs how we cook food. back in all those ghee threads, somebody wrote that hindu veneration of the cow may have influenced its stature in the indian kitchen, as opposed to buffalo ghee. reflecting on this idea informs my perception of cow ghee (does that knowledge even change the way it tastes???) and how i will use it when i'm cooking, or maybe even if i will use it at all.

as an indian, you've got the link between indian culture/cuisine inextricably built in. i have to learn it all the hard way. "indian food as a second language." it's not easy, as you know, there is a LOT to learn. luckily, i enjoy the heck out of it. and luckily, there are some great teachers out there.

let's face it, it's really easy to cook foreign foods badly; and if we're going to be any good at all at it, let alone "master" foreign cooking, we have to go at it from every angle. the history, lore and economy of a cuisine is to a recipe as a plate is to food: a frame.

anyhow! my local indian grocer is about to procure some fresh green jackfruit! happy day. i owe all of your who wrote on the jackfruit thread great thanks! your context filled banter about both green and stinky jackfruits has made me Giddy with excitement. i've located 3 possible recipes and i cannot wait to cook. call me a geek.

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whippy,

your enthusiasm is laudable i suppose, though i'm not sure about the whole "mastery" thing. it is good to know more about what we eat--but i'm still not seeing how knowing the history of ghee impacts how you use it in food or whether you make something tasty with it. for one thing you're over-estimating the average indian's own knowledge of/interest in such matters. i'm reminded in a roundabout way of people who when they find out that i'm indian assume i know yoga, ayurveda and the exact zipcode of enlightenment (not suggesting you're one of those people--just that your assumption that all indians have this knowledge of their food hard-coded into their systems is in the same genre).

it is easy to cook any food badly, especially if you haven't eaten it growing up or a lot since. however, knowing an intellectual history of this food is hardly a substitute for this experience--though it can supplement it in other ways, give you more ammunition for conversation about food etc.

and no, knowing about thanksgiving doesn't do much for my enjoyment of roast turkey, nor baseball for my relationship with hot-dogs. it certainly doesn't do anything for how i might cook these things. then again i'm not the most romantic person.

i'm sorry if i seem like a bucket of cold water--i'm just sick of the exoticizing fluff in cookbooks about asian cuisines. and the kind of thing that bugs me is probably not the kind of thing you're looking for and so this cold water may be doubly unnecessary.

mongo

p.s: i do know the way to enlightenment and for the right fee can transmit this information to interested parties in a dream.

edit to fix a preposition

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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Maybe the history and stuff doesn't matter that much to you, but IMO there's a bunch of context that people who've lived in particular cultures just take for granted. Sure, the background is no substitute for life and experience, but I think of all the choices left for those of us outside of a particular culture, it's the next best one. Otherwise it just feels like a bunch of ham-handed bull in a china shop bungling to me. Which isn't to say that the exoticization isn't also ham-handed bungling (among other things)... most New Age stuff and its accompanying cultural vampirism gives me hives as well. But, somewhere in all this, there's also a line between cultural vampirism and finding respectful ways of interacting with something outside of one's realm of experience, and IMO history and context are a possibility for that. At least with them, we're talking about people putting forth some kind of effort of their own accord rather than demanding others teach them only the shiny and cool parts.

But, maybe it is just food to you. Alright, fair enough. I can't imagine thinking that way about the stuff I grew up eating but ok.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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Maybe the history and stuff doesn't matter that much to you, but IMO there's a bunch of context that people who've lived in particular cultures just take for granted. Sure, the background is no substitute for life and experience, but I think of all the choices left for those of us outside of a particular culture, it's the next best one. Otherwise it just feels like a bunch of ham-handed bull in a china shop bungling to me. Which isn't to say that the exoticization isn't also ham-handed bungling (among other things)... most New Age stuff and its accompanying cultural vampirism gives me hives as well. But, somewhere in all this, there's also a line between cultural vampirism and finding respectful ways of interacting with something outside of one's realm of experience, and IMO history and context are a possibility for that. At least with them, we're talking about people putting forth some kind of effort of their own accord rather than demanding others teach them only the shiny and cool parts.

But, maybe it is just food to you. Alright, fair enough. I can't imagine thinking that way about the stuff I grew up eating but ok.

Pat

yes, i'm probably too prickly around these issues, but i think it is important to examine our justificatory narratives. "what it is insiders already/automatically know" is not always as extensive as we think it is. if knowing this is really so crucial what does it mean that most insiders often don't know it either? that is one more place where the line needs to drawn or at least examined. i think it is in chasing after this that the whole question of "mastery" arises--always a dubious concept when it comes to culture.

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Additional thoughts

Thank you to everyone for the advice. I think that there are two types of cookbook owners. The type that read a recipe and follow it to the T and the type that read a recipe and use the basic guidelines but add a little of their own cooking style to it. The second (I think but I could be wrong) are the ones that collect books that have a lot of contextual information.

This contextual information (I feel) is what makes cookbooks interesting, but I refer to information like the origin and evolution of a recipe, (this could be anecdotal) and the the right combination of ingredients and dishes to make the best of the meal nutritionally.

As some of you know, I am documenting the food of the Gharwal himalayas. There is a thread on Pahari food on the India forum. It started out as a personal interest but along the way I realised that there is potential for a book here. Along the way there are several things i have discovered about this cuisine that might be interesting as "contextual Gloss". The reason I posted the question Cookbooks - what do you look for in them was for two reasons.

To guage wether an international audience would even be interested in what in effect is a regional cuisine of India, that contains some recipes that have ingredients that might only be avaiable locally.

The other reason, was to guage what would be the best way to present the information I have gathered.

I am thinking aloud here, I do hope I make sense.

Rushina

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