Mom, this guy used to be a Model, cool isn’t it? was my elder son’s reaction upon reading the Introduction section and I could very easily understand his awe. And yes I could not help my eyes from being drawn to the charismatic face of the Cook cum Author Mr.Aditya Bal, who also happens to be host of a popular food show on NDTV Times “Chak Le India”. It would be an understatement if I say that the camera loves him and why?
Oh No! I’m not here to go gaga over the author but to review about his first cookbook which happens to be a collection of some of the best recipes of the first three seasons of the popular show that he hosted travelling across the country and rustling up some good Indian food along the way.
As in every book the first section was of the author’s acknowledgements and an introduction about himself. Apart from that, the book itself is divided into the following sections.
- The Indian Pantry
- Essential Kitchen Gear
- Cooking Techniques
- Basic Recipes
- Meat Recipes – 14 recipes
- Chicken Recipes – 15 recipes
- Fish & Seafood Recipes – 17 recipes
- Vegetarian Recipes – 10 recipes
- Snack Recipes – 10 recipes
- Sweet Recipes – 10 recipes
The Introduction section is just fantastic and made such a lovely read as the author sounded so much like the guy next door instead of a person who is describing himself in an interview. It was so heart to heart as he explains about spending his childhood in Kashmir and later on shifting to Delhi and then to Mumbai and surviving boarding school, modelling, a stint in acting and finally as to how he came about hosting the food show on NDTV.
The Indian Pantry, is all about the basic necessities that one needs to stock up in their kitchen like the aromatics, different kinds of chillies, dairy products, dry ingredients such as a variety of flours, lentils/dals and of course the staple crop rice, herbs, oils to cook the food, different kinds of Indian spices that adds flavor and aroma to the food and finally ends with mentioning about fresh coconut, jaggery and tomatoes in other common ingredients section.
Essential Kitchen Gear section lists the basic kitchen tools and gears to rustle up food in no time. The list goes like chopping boards, knives, machineries comprising a good oven, grill, gas range, Peelers and graters to make the chore simple. Pots, pans and small wares like the whisk, spatulas, tea strainer, colander and mortar and pestle.
Cooking Techniques section is all about the terms used while cooking like, bhunao, bagar, braising, boiling, double boiling, poaching, searing, steaming etc., All the terms have been very well explained and one would find this section very useful to get a better understanding of Indian Cuisine and the food being cooked.
Basic recipes includes coconut milk, ginger–garlic paste, kokum and tamarind extract, tomato puree and whisked curd that are mainly used in day to day cooking. Any beginner would find these well explained basic recipes very useful.
Meat, Chicken, Fish and Seafood recipes contains a number of varied recipes and the non-vegetarians would love this section a lot. I’m sure these recipes will make them to look forward to weekend lunches and enjoy.
Vegetarian recipes contains only 10 recipes than when compared to its counter part and I liked the Aloo ke Gutke, Chana Madra and Baby jackfruit curry from Coorg as they sounded new to me.
Snack recipes 4 out of 10 recipes are for vegetarians and all the recipes mentioned in this section are so popular among the whole population.
Sweets section consists of all the basic sweet dishes that we make to brighten up any occasion. They are simple and very easy to make and enjoy with your family and friends.
What I Cooked: Being a vegetarian my options to cook from this cook book were very limited. So I chose this simple Amritsari Paneer Bhurji. I loved it but there lurks a big “BUT”. I had to make major changes to volume mentioned in the ingredients list. The reason being,
While the volume for the main ingredient paneer is mentioned as 400 gms, with tomatoes, dry mango powder and lemon juice to complete the dish, the outcome is going to be tangy. To compensate the dish it should have had at least 1 tsp of chilli powder other than the 2 green chillies mentioned. But to give the heat factor only 2 green chillies were mentioned. If I had followed that blindly the end result would have been either very bland or tangy.
The next is the mention of “simmer the bhurji for about 10 minutes to cook it” Isn’t paneer already a cooked product. They are even eaten as raw in many salads. So what is the need to cook paneer and that too scrambled for 10 minutes over flame. Won’t the paneer turn either hard or rubbery? Though cooking it with a closed lid or keeping the dish closed for some minutes after taking off fire would have enabled the paneer to mesh well with the juices of tomatoes and other spices added, I simply could not understand the logic behind cooking the paneer for such a long time over flame.
In short I only liked it, only because of the major changes that I had to make to this dish to suit to our palate.
Thumbs Up for the book are in the aspects of
a brief description about the recipe that makes you want to try it out by imposing a sense of confidence.
To complete the dish section at the end of most of the recipes tells you what to expect about the final dish. Why certain ingredients are added and how they lift up the flavors of the dish and some ideas on how to serve the dish differently and make it into a whole new recipe.
Every step of the recipe is so well explained and what to expect or happens on every step.
The way he explains about why a certain ingredient is being added. For example, in the Bhurji dish he explains “ Mix in sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes”. For a complete newbie these finer details will help them to learn the nuances of cooking.
Thumbs Down for the book are in the aspects of
The pictures could have been even more better considering the fact that we first eat with our eyes. The macro shots leave you guessing and keeps you in the lurk. (see the above picture from the book)
With a large sum of the population on their way to becoming either a vegetarian or vegan, the choices for them in this book are so limited. Even the snack section has only 4 vegetarian recipes.
I wonder if the measurements are accurate. I do understand that the spice level of a person and their families differ but I’m yet to be convinced about the precision of the measurements from the dish that I tried as I had to make major changes to make it suitable for my palate.
None of the recipe mentions the time it takes to cook so that the person could be prepared. Anyone without a better understanding of the nuances of cooking must be prepared to spend ‘n’ amount of time in the kitchen and pray for patience.
In the Intro section Aditya mentions about his grandmother who happens to be a legendary baker but to my disappointment I could not find a single recipe with baking technique.
The sweets section could have been better. All the recipes are so basic and well known and fail to invoke any interest and hold your attention.
Aditya Bal will be an inspiration to those aspiring to become good cooks. If he can become such a notable chef without any formal education or training in any culinary institutions, well the others can too. His story has made me realize the same and to remember that cooking is not about following the steps religiously but about love and the passion behind it.
I would definitely recommend this book to Non-vegetarian lovers as it has varied dishes that I’m sure they would love to try and to those who have a basic understanding of the cooking techniques and to people who are well versed with the nuances of the Indian Cuisine.
On the other hand, a newbie or an amateur cook would feel blindfolded despite following the steps religiously. You can skip it if you ever come across it on a book shelf Or Buy it at your own risk if you are the sort of person to whom only journey matters and not the destination or the time it takes to reach it. Good Luck.
The publishers of the book are Westland Ltd and it costs INR.395.00.