The Indian Family Kitchen by Anjali Pathak

9780804188265The sub-title of the book is Classic Dishes for a New Generation, which is a bit misleading. The entire back blurb is “This stunning cookbook shows how to transform familiar foods in unexpected ways.” This back blurb, almost another subtitle–probably geared toward meta data capture by search engines–is more accurate.

This is immigrant/multi-generation American of Indian descent cooking.

As a minor bit of my own backstory and how it may apply to a review on this cookbook. In an early incarnation of my life I was a cook and a restaurant manager. I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say that 60+ hour work weeks convinced me that if I was going to work that hard, I might as get a degree (or four). Still, I have been cooking since I was five and with that ego I warned about in my “about” page, I am damn good <grin>. My skills include what is so popular now in shows like “Chopped,” where one creates something with some preset ingredients. Regardless, I have pared down my cookbook collection to a mere hundred or so, but I still pick up new ones and eventually they stay on the shelves, or get donated.

Layout.

Layout for a cookbook is important, especially for those not familiar with the recipe, or the technique(s) used. I have some minor quibbles with the layout and liked others.

Modern cookbooks that are not put out by famous chefs, such as the late James Beard, or Julia Child, or even Martha Stewart, tend to have a heavy dose of pretty photographs. This book follows that trend. The photos are well done and carefully crafted.

I don’t like that the title of the dish is in the center of a page, with the ingredients above the title. This is to allow fast reference of the ingredients, but I am used to scanning books and pages by looking for the major heading and then reading past that. Often, after the description the ingredients for the next recipe will then appear at the end. Mildly confusing and visually not what one expects.

I like the “asides” in a circle, entitled “My Secret” as a layout. Most of them are not profound, but at the same time you can glance at them and think about how they might apply.

The photos of the authors family add a nice personal touch, but at the same time they are rather randomly placed. I would have liked a noticeable theme to both the placement and the discussion.

The same with the end of chapter two pages. Nice idea, but the pattern to them was funny. Why is “Kitchen Gadgets” at the end of the chapter on “Veggies Galore.”

The index is a bit weak (given today’s technology). I would not have bothered with an entry under “S” for “scented steamed fish” … rather just put this under fish (where a fast check shows there is no entry for fish–yet there is both salmon and scented steamed fish under “S.” This is a random illustration of the funkiness of the index.

Ultimately, none of these layout issues are show stoppers and visually it is still a nice book.

Content/Recipes

For most of us the key is in the recipes. This succeeds quite well with the focus stated on the back cover. These are all simple recipes and what they do is use “classic” Indian spices in less classic ways. A fusion of sorts–although food has been fusing for centuries: look at the new world ingredients that are so key to so many countries: maize (corn), potatoes, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, tomatoes, pineapples, lima beans, sweet and chili peppers, tapioca and turkey.So, what really is fusion. But, as usual, I digress.

The key here is expectations. This is not complex of sophisticated cooking, but rather a new generation where the cook is probably working also. These are fast. They are somewhat familiar with a twist. They illustrate what spices you may not have thought of go with other ingredients you may not have thought of.

Summary

This is a worthwhile addition to anyone wanting to create fast, simple, dishes with an Indian influence, but you will have to read it, or skim the whole thing as the layout and index may fool you. I give it 3 1/2 stars. Good, but hardly a classic that has to go next to the fore mentioned books, but it will remain on my shelves, not go to the donation booth.

Disclosure:I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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