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.
That has a wonderful colour and texture that looks genuine! I have an Indian friend who is a chef, I’ll have to ask him if the book is typical or just lackadaisical 😉
I have to confess, that these days, I often search 10 or so similar recipes from the web and combine the bits that seem best… I do love books though, especially ones with background info to the recipe.
Oh, me too. Sometimes I can hardly start cooking for all the researching! It happened that the first day we cooked from this book, our Internet was down. I knew that the biryani couldn’t recipe couldn’t possibly be right. But, like an idiot, I just soldiered on…
Ha ha – sometimes you have to soldier on or go hungry 😉
Wow, what a list of ingredients vs. the simplicity of putting it together. Wonderfully spiced and beautiful looking bowl of goodness.
Despite the carping, we’ve really enjoyed cooking our way through a whole new cuisine. And now that our pantry is full of all manner of spices, dals and the like, we’re going to have to keep going!
Looks lovely and yay for one success at the very least! Though that line about cabbage and carrots made me laugh. Nothing more vexing than catching totally obvious errors in a well-praised cookbook. Contrarily, I made the zucchini bread from 101 Cookbooks last night. It was a brilliantly written, easy to follow recipe and the bread it produced is nothing less than magical. Thanks for the recommendation — I’ll be making it over and over!
I know … it’s amazing, isn’t it? In the title and then not mentioned! Oh, so glad you liked the zucchini bread. The ingredients seem crazy, but it’s really delicious, isn’t it? I haven’t started getting big zucchini yet, but I imagine I will. And I’ll make that bread again. (It freezes beautifully, too.)
I feel your frustration! I don’t have this particular cookbook, but others that have the same traits some written by incredibly well known/popular cookbook writers. I think that recipes are no longer tested before publication, too costly…
It’s sad, really. Clearly this guy is a real scholar who worked so hard on the cookbook. Shame there’s no money for proofreading, much less recipe testing.
Wow, what a frustrating book, I would be so upset to have such a book in my hand; I am not the most confident of cooks, and would be at a loss what to do in cases where important information is missing! And yet, what a delicious sounding and unusual recipe. I love fresh corn, but I’m the only one here; neither the boyfriend nor any of my French friends like corn (my dad does… but he is American, he can’t NOT like corn).
I knew what I was getting into. Had read many reviews with similar complaints, and certainly had experience with lots of similarly beautiful yet poorly edited Phaidon cookbooks. But I underestimated how difficult it could be with a cuisine that I am not familiar with cooking!
We always laugh when in France how many fields of corn one sees … all, I suppose, for livestock and fuel? Darya, you can be the corn ambassador for France. (Wasn’t there some American advocating kale a few years ago?)
Ha, yes, corn fields all over the place! At least when you can find it sold as human food, it isn’t very expensive! I’ve tried to convert people around me, but with hardly any success… people either think it is too sweet, or tasteless, or bland, or just don’t like it. I don’t know if I’d me motivated to try it on a national scale 🙂
And yet, the lady from the Kale project did quite a job getting thousands of farmers all over the country to grow kale. Last year was the first I could find it easily throughout the winter in Lille. But so far I can only find the curly kale variety. I am hoping for more diversity in the future (I know that in Paris you can get all kinds of kale nowadays if you know which market to go to… so why not here?)
Michelle, this looks gorgeous. I love lamb curry, but have never made one. I’ll remedy that straight away.
Thanks, Misti! It really is a delicious dish.
I can totally feel with you! there are cookbooks that obviously make fun of us home cooks 😉 at least that´s my interpretation of all you mention above… but as of your lamb, your struggle has been worth it! It looks fabulous!
That’s an interesting take on it! I think it’s just that nobody has money anymore for things like proofreading and testing. It was a delicious dish, and worth all the frustration. 🙂
It is a shame that a cookbook that has neglected to be edited properly is then listed on a best seller list. You would have thought it would have been reviewed by cooks that would have noticed all the errors as you have. Nonetheless, the lamb looks great.
It’s a sad state of affairs, really. I suppose all anybody can do is buy lots of books and hope that things change. (Fat chance that will work, but that’s the optimist in me speaking…) And, oh, yes, it was delicious!
I’ll have to give that tome a try. But here’s where I think you underestimate the Phaidon editors — I believe the vagaries, inaccuracies and inconsistencies within their books are put forward by these clever editors to test the meddle of the sophisticated cooks who purchase them. “Just how good are you!??”
Ha! If I didn’t know so much about the dying publishing industry, I’d say that perhaps they make their books for all those people who have enormous and perfectly outfitted kitchens full of professional equipment … in which nobody ever, ever actually cooks!
I know some of those people. And the only time their kitchens get used is when they invite me over.
Love the colours in this one Michelle, I must get going on my Indian cooking again.
Thanks, Conor. Now that our pantry is full of all sort of spices and dals and such, we’re going to have to keep at it, too! And it is fun tackling something new.
What a beautiful dish – as Conor pointed out, the colours are divine!
Thanks, Nick. And, of course, we oughtn’t complain too much. Even the failures make the kitchen smell divine. 🙂
This looks gorgeous. The frustration of badly written recipes is a nightmare though – I hate to waste food or spend time in the kitchen and not enjoy my dinner. I may be preaching to the choir here but I have a recommendation for an Indian cookbook. It really covers the basics well such as the different ways to prepare spices & onions which are crucial to the end result. The recipes are easy to follow & I havent made one that I didnt like yet.
It is Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking. It improved my curries immensely. http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Classic_Indian_Cooking.html?id=wC-xrLWouSIC&redir_esc=y
Thanks so much! The funny thing is that I either had that one at one time or gave it as a gift to someone (and undoubtedly read it before doing so). I’m going to be on the lookout for it while I’m, as often, poking around used and remainder cookbook stores. I do have an early Madhur Jaffrey one, but it’s quite Americanized. I also like Duguid and Alford’s Mangoes & Curry Leaves though, in truth, it’s more pictures than recipes.
What a bummer. Another Phaidon flop. Thank you for chronicling them. Their books are just so stunning. But I’d take an ugly book with tested recipes over a sloppily edited beauty any day. I could use a good Indian cookbook, too. After all of that, I will say that this dish is beautiful and as you said, perfect for the season. And now I can make it without checking out that book :).
I know! It’s not terribly bad when cooking in a cuisine one is very familiar with. Felt a bit at sea here. But, as I always say: You just need to view their books more as sources of inspiration than as real cookbooks.
What is up with Phaidon? I thought they were a well-respected publishing company–especially for cookbooks. Mind you, I’m digging the books coming out of 10 Speed, so I’m ignoring many others. Thank you for chronicling these books. I have spent too much money on these items that then get “donated” to the local library because they were frustratingly bad.
Hmmm….Maybe I should send you guys the cookbook Ive been working on for years. You guys know what you’re talking about. I may regret that. HA! 😀
Oh boy, wow. Really? If true, what is best? electronic?
This is so interesting. I’ve never heard of this cook or his book, although I really like his name. I think that’s why I bought one of Fuschia Dunlop’s cookbook. But anyway, I’ll stay away. Very good to know. But the lamb and corn dish looks like something I’d eat every day…
Thanks, Mimi. I love his name, too. And he’s clearly a real scholar.
I can imagine the aroma and flavour of this dish, looks so yum!
Thanks, Raymund. It was really good.
I too struggle with Pushpesh Pant’s India cookbook (as much as I want to LOVE it because of his wonderfully alliterative name) and have produced successes only through experimentation and cross-sourcing. I feel like friends in Britain have other go-to Indian cookbooks. I’ll do some investigating and revert anon. Good job with this beautiful and appetizing lamb dish, though!
I know … the name is great! And would love some British recommendations. Need to build up the Indian section of the library so there are more things to cross-reference when trying to use this one.
I was such a fan of this post because of its originality. I hope you don’t mind, but I linked to it from the Lamb Cooperative’s facebook page. I figured our fans would find this recipe interesting and it would help them find a new use for all of fresh sweet corn filling up the produce aisles these days.
Bring on the lamb!
Thank you for braving that maze of a cookbook! I’ll be thinking of you culinary martyrs as I attempt to make this dish look as good as yours.
That’s a wonderful description of that book! I will tackle it again. But I think it may be a while…
Love the vibrant colours of this dish for me, that beautiful yellow, is like sunshine in a bowl. Put me down for the extra cilantro, lime and salt! I can see the flavours are beautifully married and I wish I was having this instead of chicken wings tonight, lol!
Aw, thanks, Alice! It was a delicious dish. I’m missing corn already as we troop inexorably toward winter.
I’ve been craving Indian food ever since seeing The 100 Foot Journey a few weeks ago… I’ve been contemplating adding a Indian cookbook to my collection ever since, but suspect this will not be the one! I did make Mark Bittman’s Butter Chicken recipe from the New York Times last weekend, and it was absolutely divine… This recipe looks delicious – I’ll try this next.
Did you like the movie? I’ve heard mixed reviews. I’m still looking for the perfect Indian cookbook. But, in the meantime, who could complain about a good butter chicken recipe?