Indian Essence

23 November 2004
Indian Essence

After cooking classical French food for 14 years, I thought it was rather strange to be asked to review a book on Indian cuisine. But I suppose Caterer's thinking was that I would be an impartial judge for Atul Kochhar's recipes.

Indian Essence is a very well-put-together book showing, as Kochhar dubs it, "the fresh tastes of India's new cuisine" but never forgetting the history behind each recipe. Indian food is as diverse as its culture, and I believe this book shows a full spectrum of dishes from all over India.

The book is broken down into good sections: Starters and Snacks, Fish and Shellfish, Poultry and Game, Meat, Accompaniments, Vegetables and Pulses, and Desserts. Every page has an easy-to-follow recipe and a photo, so you can see easily where you are going with each dish.

There's a great selection of caf‚ and street food in the snacks section (the most interesting one of all), which has a diverse range of tapas-style finger food, from Indian dim sum to stuffed aubergine steaks. With almost 8,000km of coastline and warm seas, India is blessed with the most exotic fish and shellfish. It's a shame that all the fish dishes are drenched in curry sauces - I would imagine they would mask the flavour, even though the book talks about delicate spicing.

In Poultry and Game we find the usual chicken dishes, also quail, and a very out-of-the-ordinary recipe for slow-cooked partridge, along with the story of the chidimaar, or bird hunters, who would hunt the game birds and sell them door to door. Now, as with everything in this world, this practice is declining due to restrictions.

Lamb is the predominant ingredient in Meat, as goat is not so widely available here, but there are a few interesting recipes: lamb shank Marathi-style, which belongs to the Marathi warriors, is one of my favourites.

Due to 80% of the Indian population being vegetarian, the vegetarian section is rich and varied, with delicate flavours, careful spicing and a full spectrum of vegetables. There is also a wide selection of good breads, rices, relishes and chutneys to complement anything in the book.

Most of us don't think much of Indian desserts, and even though the dishes are given a modern twist, five just isn't enough to balance the book; extraordinary diversity, as it claims in the book, is not on show here. To finish, there is a section on suggested set menus and a very in-depth glossary.

Atul Kochhar is the best in his field, and his passion for tradition shines through in this book, which is aimed at the domestic market. However, it is a fascinating book filled with history and culture and some exciting spicing.

André Garrett, head chef, Orrery restaurant, London
Indian Essence
Atul Kochhar
Photography by David Loftus
ISBN 1-84400-077-X

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