Much like Wikipedia, we are willing to grant Pushpesh Pant his status as a “noted Indian academic, food critic and historian,” and we will not doubt (as per Wikipedia) that his India Cookbook was named by The New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of 2011. Unfortunately, “best” may be attributed to the book’s lovely design and comprehensive nature, because once again Gourmandistan has been foiled by the publisher’s inept and/or nonexistent editors, proofreaders and recipe testers.
We were seduced by both the lovely emulation of an Indian rice bag (complete with cloth carrying facsimile!) and the jacket’s promise that the cookbook “is the definitive collection of recipes from all over India,” with “over 1,000 authentic home-style recipes celebrating the vibrant tastes and textures of this rich and fascinating cuisine.” (Also too: New York Times “best cookbooks” list.) Though the recipes inside were indeed from all over the Indian subcontinent, the instructions reminded us of France—specifically French Feasts and Pork & Sons, two other lovely yet nightmarishly confusing volumes from Phaidon.
Recipe after recipe had us scratching our heads with turmeric-stained fingers as we tried to puzzle out things such as how coarsely to chop vegetables, what sort of yogurt to use, and at what point we should add listed ingredients that have no reference within recipe instructions. The recipe for a delicious “Potato Curry with Coconut,” for example, called for “7-8 potatoes” cut into cubes, with no indication what type or size potatoes were needed or what their total weight should be. “Stir-fried Cabbage & Carrots” (also tasty) mentioned carrots nowhere in the ingredient list or instructions. And don’t get Michelle started on the “Egg & Rice Biryani” which took forever to assemble, but failed to mention that the rice should be parboiled after the soaking stage.
After numerous attempts, most of which involved baffled guesses and many consultations of other cookbooks, we managed to find one recipe that was fairly easy to follow and produced something we’d want to make again (and in fact did). Makki ka Soweta or “Lamb with Sweetcorn (Corn) Kernels” caught our eye because it’s the season for sweet corn, and we were happy that it turned out to be very good and not too much trouble. Michelle tweaked several steps, but compared to other Phaidon recipes we’ve tried over the years, it worked about according to plan.
We hope to return to our exploration of India. But next time we’ll hopefully find a guide that may be less pretty, but much more practical.
LAMB WITH SWEET CORN KERNELS
(adapted from Pushpesh Pant’s India Cookbook)
- 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- Small amount of neutral oil
- 1-1/2 TB ghee
- 3 cloves
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb. lamb stew meat
- 1/4 c. plain yogurt
- 1 tsp. Indian chili powder
- 1-1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1-1/4 c. water
- Kernels removed from 2 ears of sweet corn, then roughly puréed
- 1-1/2 tsp. green chilies, de-seeded and chopped fine
- 1-1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 c. milk
- 2 TB chickpea flour
- Juice of 1 lime
- Chopped cilantro
Cook onion and garlic in a small amount of oil in a small skillet until slightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a blender or mini food processor. Pureé with a small amount of water or yogurt. Set aside.
Heat ghee in a large pan or Dutch oven. Add cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring, until fragrant. Add meat, yogurt, remaining dried spices and onion/garlic paste. Season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.
Add water and stir. Cover and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours, until meat is nearly done.
Add corn kernels, chilies, sugar, milk and chickpea flour. Stir well. Cook for about 15 or 20 minutes more, stirring frequently, so that corn doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add lime juice, cilantro and (if needed) additional salt.