December Book Review: Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand

 Hot, spicy, oily, rich, fatty, unhealthy, difficult and time-consuming to cook.
These are some of the inaccuracies that plague South Asian cookery, specifically Indian cooking. These ideas are proof of how little most of the Western world still knows about Indian food.

Perhaps this is why Anjum Anand wrote the cookbook Indian Food Made Easy. Based in the UK, this author and her cookbook provide some basic recipes for curious entry-level cooks.

I like when any attempt is taken, by anyone, to introduce any variation of South Asian food to the world. So a round of applause to Anjum Anand — well done! The handsome paperback version is clearly laid out and easy to follow. The 95 recipes are divided into chapters on Light Meals, Snacks, Fish and Seafood, Chicken, Meat, Vegetables, Beans and Lentils, Bread and Rice, Raitas and Chutneys. I like that each recipe has enticing yet not overstyled photography.

While there are good elements to the cookbook, there are some missteps.

This is probably the only cookbook, I have ever purchased. I honestly am not even sure why I did, back in 2010. I believe it was on a whim. I usually flip through tons of cookbooks in bookstores, but rarely ever purchase one (I think it has to do with my minimlistic lifestyle – I don’t like lots of stuff). Anyways, perhaps I was trying to understand what type Indian cookery books actually existed? Pre-research for my blog, Indian Influence? Maybe, but probably not.

Anand attempts to breakdown the idea that Indian cooking is a complex and slow process, requiring many ingredients and sometimes unfamiliar methods to get the correct results. I think she succeeds at some level, but I feel like she could have done more.

What irks me the most is that this book plays into the idea of Indian cooking being exotic. I hate this stereotype. Anand’s inside jacket text expounds her recipes use fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients to create her dishes. Her prelude provides a list of ingredients like coconut, chili, ginger, and tamarind. But then she creates almost a disclaimer of sorts within some lines of text that suggests that specific ingredients are necessary to create the dishes. I believe this contradiction would be confusing for her target audience – people just starting out in Indian cooking. Especially since ingredients can be substituted depending on location, season, and budget.

Indian food has evolved over thousands of years and is the ultimate symbol of how the construct of Indian culture has the ability to absorb other influences, yet hold its own. Anand builds brief narratives on how the Raj manifests itself within some of her dishes. She quickly mentions British memsahibs teaching their cooks dishes from the West and in the process ‘enriching’ Indian cuisine, but she doesn’t really delve into how or why. This cookbook fails to really educate that Indian cooking takes the delicate and sometimes intricate art of blending and honing spices to perfection. Really then Indian cooking is artistically blended spices that can be used to create reinterpretations.

Anand positions the cookbook in a stereotypical way – I have seen this over and over again. Honestly, I find myself getting bored. Like how many more Indian cookbooks need to provide us with recipes for ultimate masala tea, potato and pea samosas, or curry chicken?

Many people, like me, who buy Indian Food Made Easy won’t cook from it at all. For example, mine is tucked away in a kitchen cupboard. It comes out every so often, when I wishfully think I could be inspired by it. Usually though, I am disheartened and put it right back in the cupboard. For me an indicator of an amazing cookbook, is folded pages, bits of writing here or there, or even spice splatters all over the recipes. My copy ofIndian Food Made Easy has no folded pages, no writing, or spice splatters. Instead it looks brand spanking new.

The bulk of the book consists of recipes, lots with shortcuts – hence the name of the cookbook. However, the author does not actually clarify she is reinterpreting some Western basics into fusion dishes. For example, in a recipe for crab cakes the author writes ‘these are one of the few fusion dishes in my repertoire’, yet she has recipes for cheese toast, hamburgers, and even a pasta dish. There is a clear disconnect between her recipes and her messaging.

These quick recipes only scratch the surface when it comes to exploring Indian cooking. It’s useful as a beginner’s guide, but will leave anyone with a bit of Indian food knowledge wanting more.

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October Book Review: Apron Anxiety By Alyssa Shelasky


Photo Credit: Fuse/Getty Images

Apron Anxiety was a messy kismet read. A book find that was perfectly timed to provide a good measure of value within my own life, but with some issues. Essentially, this book was about a woman finding herself and her love for the kitchen. The book was cleverly written: witty, racy when necessary and juxtaposed by recipes. As someone who has a deep appreciation of New York City, the book’s setting was perfect.

The author, Alyssa Shelasky, who is New York Magazine’s Grub Street editor, was descriptive when necessary. And certainly, it was not difficult to root for her. What I liked best about Shelasky was her ability to not sugar coat her crazy tendencies. She proudly owned them – that in itself is something quite lovable. However, her appeal for empathy was something of a turn-off. In all honesty, sometimes I didn’t like her. I found her dramatic, self-centered, and overly confident, but I appreciate her passion for life and of course her work ethic.

The narrative follows the ebbs and flows of Shelasky’s good and bad days amidst friends, family, work, food, and love interests. Most of the book covers her relationship with a famous Top Chef whose identity she keeps secret and refers to as Chef. Like many readers I did a search on who Chef really was and it resulted in – Spike Mendelson. He is fine and all, especially since I remember he recently appeared on Top Chef Masters and was eliminated the very first episode. However, as I read Apron Anxiety, I was hoping it was dreamy, Sam Talbot from Season 2 of Top Chef, who is the essence of tall, dark, handsome, and talented. Swoon!

While I finished this book in a few hours, this was not a completely easy breezy read. Instead, there were some insightful lessons to be learned:

  1. Inspiration and passion can be found in the most interesting of places.

  2. You can become accomplished at something you once disliked or have no interest in…yet.

  3. Clever prose and interesting stories can shape and fuel life, sometimes simply with a necessity like food.

  4. Do not consume yourself with the person you are dating or partnered with in life. Meaning, do not hold one person accountable for making you and your life happy. It causes stress and ultimately, that job is yours.

This last lesson is what made me scratch my head about Shelasky. Prior to meeting Chef, she had a prolific career at People Magazine in New York and LA. Then after a few weeks, she ups and quits everything to move to Washington DC, thinking that love will make everything work. Instead, she cannot find a groove and becomes resentful, crazy, and depressed over Chef’s long hours. Rather than getting a job, finding friends, joining activities, or doing volunteer work, she texts him all day long and complains that he’s busy and she’s not.

Lonely, bored, and determined to impress her new man, Shelasky teaches herself to cook a few simple dishes. What started with a hunger for Chef quickly becomes a love affair with food, which ultimately endures the relationship. Essentially, cooking became her therapy

Like many food fictions, the dishes mentioned within the chapter vignettes make an appearance as full recipes at the end of the respective chapter. While some of the 30+ recipes seemed interesting, close to ninety-five percent were from other cookbooks and websites. For me, the lack of originality in her recipe repertoire was disappointing. On the upside, nothing Shelasky creates is too complicated, too staged, or set in stone.

A notable recipe is the salad dressing she makes countless times throughout the book and is her grandmother’s recipe. If you can guess it, I will be recreating it, but morphing it for Indian Influence. Overall, Apron Anxiety was an interesting read that kept me turning the pages and wanting to know what would happen next. Read it!

This book review also appears on Kitchen Reader’s October Roundup.

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