Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cookbook Review: 5 Spices, 50 Dishes

5 Spices, 50 Dishes:  Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices, by Ruta Kahate

Ruta Kahate's 5 Spices, 50 Dishes is a fun, non-intimidating introduction to cooking simplified Indian cuisine at home.  True to its title, each recipe uses one or a combination of five common spices easily found in any grocery store:  coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground cayenne, and ground turmeric.  The first section of the book includes a description of each spice, one essential technique for Indian cooking (tadka), advice on choosing chiles, making ginger and garlic pastes, whole vs. ground spices, cooking oil, cilantro, salt, and coconut milk.  There is also a page with menu ideas.  It's a sparse yet very thorough introduction and enough information to get anyone cooking in no time.

The author herself, a native of India, has the chops to pull this all together.  She ran her own cooking school, worked as a food consultant, and led culinary tours of India.  According to her web site she is also building a destination culinary school in the coastal state of Goa.  A lifetime of experience translates into recipes such as Spicy Eggplant with Tomatoes, Punjabi Red Beans, New Bride Chicken Curry, even a Basic Chai, all made accessible with familiar ingredients and basic cooking instructions.  No special kitchen skills or equipment are needed.

The sections are broken down into Vegetables, Dals, Beef and Lamb, Chicken and Eggs, Seafood, Salads and Raitas, Rice and Bread, Sweets, and A Perfect Cup of Chai.  There is an index and a helpful conversion table in the back.

Visually, this is a stunning book.  Although not each recipe has a photo of the finished dish (and this is a turn-off for many cooks) those that are included are clean and colorful, without frills or superfluous garnishing.  It's a paperback, and a sturdy one at that, bound to withstand countless trips from the bookshelf to the kitchen.

While this is not a vegetarian book, it offers an excellent selection of dishes for people who don't eat meat.  The Black-Eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry is an absolutely delicious dish that is also suitable for vegans, and other dishes involving meat can easily be made with tofu, vegetables, or beans.  There are enough options so no-one has to feel left out.

What's not included in this book are the traditional curries found at Indian buffet restaurants, in the frozen food section, or in jars on the supermarket shelves.  No Rogan Josh, no Butter Chicken, no Vindaloo.  These are definitely lighter recipes, and a nice change from heavily sauced dishes.

My personal experience with this book has been quite successful.  I have made the Spicy Eggplant with Tomatoes, Railway Potatoes, Everyday Yellow Dal, Black-Eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry, Punjabi Red Beans, and others.  I find this to be an essential volume to fall back on when I want something, I'm not quite sure what, but I want it fast, I want it to taste good, and I don't want it to be pasta.

I can easily recommend this book for anyone who wants to get a little something different on the table for family, for guests, or even for oneself.