Indian cookbooks

Time Out reviews the best new recipe books to spice up your suppers

Tasting India

Christine Manfield, Conran Octopus, £40

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There are some books about Indian food that remain definitive texts – ‘50 Great Curries of India’ by Camellia Panjabi, for example, and nearly every book written by Madhur Jaffrey are among them. These books condense decades of field research and cooking expertise into recipes that faithfully reproduce the complexity of flavours of the original.

Christine Manfield’s writing can seem lightweight in comparison, but she’s not to be dismissed. She is one of Australia’s top chefs and has travelled extensively on the Subcontinent (and she credits her sources). Therein lies the major weakness of the book: it reads like her diary or a travelogue, with Manfield centre-frame, often literally. Yet the recipes I tried were simple, easy to follow, and produced pleasing results.

There were a few missed beats – a tomato, potato and coconut curry took more than 30 minutes to cook, not the ten minutes the recipe stated – but the eventual dish tasted faithful to its origins in Kerala. A Gujarati spicy dahl was such a hit that I’ll be making it again. And a spinach with asafoetida dish had surprisingly clean flavours. A Ladakhi chicken curry was dreary, a result of the plain breast meat being added to the sauce immediately before serving, as instructed. But one dud out of five ‘new’ recipes isn’t a bad hit rate by most cookbook standards.

Yet many people who buy ‘Tasting India’ won’t cook from it at all. This is a coffee-table book, weighing in at just under three kilos, bound in golden-hued fabric and filled with sumptuous photography. Not just studio-shot dish photography but massive double-page spreads of bathing ghats (steps), street markets, tea stalls, coffee houses, street scenes and, of course, many jewellery-clad Rajasthani women and lots of sari fabrics. It’s a stunningly illustrated book. Think David Thompson’s ‘Thai Street Food’, only without his gravitas. Look elsewhere for definitive recipes, but buy this book for the eye candy.

Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue 2170: March 22-28 2012

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