I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see that Monisha Bharadwaj’s Indian Spice Kitchen is back in print. It is, quite simply, an indispensable reference work for Westerners who are just beginning to learn how to cook the myriad regional foods of India.
It contains comprehensive listings of all of the major spices, legumes, flours, vegetables, herbs, grains, nuts and cooking fats used in the kitchens of India, with a full two-page description, historical overview and information on how and where to buy these ingredients, along with recipes for each ingredient and many photographs, including close-up identification photographs for each ingredient listed.
It is amazing in its wealth of detail and information, especially considering how very thin it is. It is very concisely, yet clearly written, so what could be a huge, unwieldy, encyclopedic tome which would become a dust collector on a hidden bookshelf somewhere, is instead a handy reference guide made to be whipped out at a moment’s notice for a quick perusal whenever needed.
Bharadwaj’s writing style is breezy and conversational without being silly–reading this book is rather like having her take you on a personal tour of her kitchen cabinets where she pulls out spices, and while describing the details of their history and use, having you smell, touch and taste them. She is just that way–a very approachable author whose work is unpretentious while still being utterly essential.
When I taught my classes in beginning Indian food, and especially my introductory classes in Indian spices, I always brought copies of this book along for my students to buy–at a discount, because I could get them at a quantity discount. Everyone loved it, because they said it was like they could carry me home with them, tucked in their briefcase, just in case they didn’t remember every little thing I said about each spice. It really helped my students and I remember that it really helped me a lot when I was a beginner, overwhelmed and scared to death to even try to cook Indian food beyond the one or two recipes I had dared to try in my youth.
Now, even though I am no longer cowed by Indian recipes, I still refer to Bharadwaj’s book, especially when I see a dal or bean at the Indian market I don’t immediately recognize. That way, I can learn the Hindi and English name of them quickly and easily, as well as see a recipe which uses it as a featured ingredient.
It is one of the best supplements to any Indian cookbook you can have in your kitchen.
If you or anyone you know is passionate about Indian food and cookery, this book would make a perfect Generic Winter Holiday gift. I promise.
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