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No matter how much they groan, there's always space on my bookshelves for another cookbook. I'm perfectly happy with a book of recipes I'm unlikely to ever likely to put in practice; 'food porn' is completely acceptable and if a book is beautifully presented with interesting text and fabulous photographs it'll probably end up in my bookcases. If it contains easy to follow, realistic to source and obviously well tested recipes then that's a bonus.
Madhur Jaffrey's handsomely bound 'Curry Easy' happily meets both criteria - it looks good and it contains plenty of mouth-watering recipes that really do work. It's a hardbound edition which is great because the weight ensures the book stays open in use so I don't have to use sticky hands to get back to the right place when the book falls shut. It doesn't have a jacket and while this wouldn't usually worry me much (I often remove the jackets anyway if they get worn) I'd probably apprecite one for this particular book as the hardcover is so pretty I wouldn't want to spoil it with spills and splashes. I adore the swirling Indian designs in pink and orange on the cover; the book looks really classy and won't quickly look dated.
The high standard of presentation continues inside. About one third of the recipes have illustrations and the photography is excellent. I like the way the food stylist has chosen very simple plates and dishes to present the food in as well as the visually interesting but understated backgrounds such as different types of textiles or the grain of old wooden table tops.
The recipes are split into obvious chapters ('Starters, snacks & Soups', 'Eggs and Poultry', 'Dal - Dried Beans, Legumes & Split Peas' for example) so it's quite easy to find what you're looking for although there is an easy to use index at the back too. The collection is quite comprehensive in that it includes everything from snacks through main courses to drinks (Masalla Chai, Lassis) and chutneys. There's an excellent balance of meat/fish and vegetale recipes and I'd think that all but the most militant veggie would appreciate this book. If you have to cook for vegetarian diners and are looking for interesting recipes then I'd say this book has plenty to offer. Only desserts are missing which is a little disappointing.
While I could quite happily leaf through 'Curry Easy' at length I do appreciate that the proof of any cookbook is in the cooking and tasting. In the introduction Madhur states that she has tried here to 'make Indian dishes simple and straightforward to prepare as, say, a beef stew, to hold your hand through the entire process with clear instructions and detailed explanations'. The text is quite large and recipe instructions have been reduced to short manageable paragraphs that are easy to scan when you're in the middle of cooking and while there are no overly technical processes I wouldn't say the explanations are detailed, they're actually very simple with just enough detail so that even the most inexperienced cook should not feel daunted.
Madhur also states that she has used a smaller palette of spices; this is something I noticed when trying the recipes, as I started cooking before I read the introduction in full. Most recipes use a manageable number of ingredients but still cram in plenty of layers of flavour. However, I would still strongly recommend measuring your spices and weighing your ingredients before you start cooking or else you could end up burning your onions while you are turning the cupboards upside down looking for the cinammon.
Madhur has written a number of cookbooks and I did wonder whether this might be a rehash of recipes that have been presented previously but this is a really fresh selection with a mumber of interesting regional variations of dishes that should please lovers of Indian food.
Between us we've tried a handful of the recipes in 'Curry Easy' and we've been mostly impressed. The 'Anglo-Indian Sausage Patties' are an easy and quick to make lunch and the recipe makes eight patties so we freeze half of them. The 'Indian Scrambled Eggs' were very much enjoyed and it's a recipe that can be easily adapted according to your own preferences and what you have available.
The 'Gujarati Style Tomato Soup' is my personal favourite of the recipes we've tried so far. I like it because it uses tomato passata rather than fresh tomatoes which is good because the tomatoes I see to buy are mostly anaemic and insipid ones. It's another easy lunch dish but you can make it dinner-party worthy by adding a dollop of cream or scattering roasted cumin seeds on top.
I love the 'dal' section because although I adore lentils I tend to do the same old things with them and this section has a good vareity of ideas. The 'Goan-style Dal Curry' does require a bit of preparation time but it's worth the effort. This one works well as a side dish but a larger portion with rice or a flatbread would make a decent meat-free meal.
One thing I find irritqating is the inconsistency in the number of people each recipe will serve. Some serve 3-4, others 6-8, yet more 4-5. If a recipe served just 4 every time I could adapt for two, which we are more often than not, I would much prefer it.
Although this issue with the number of servings has meant that occasionally we have made too much, and sometimes not enough, when I've halved the amounts to make a meal for two it has been just fine. It's clear that the recipes have been tested and tested again (you can always tell when cookbooks have been hurriedly put together), and I've never been unsure of what the instructions mean.
'Curry Easy' is a book that is visually attractive and works well on a practical level: the two don't always go together. It's chock full of tempting recipes for everyday dishes and things that are suitable for when you want to impress. The recipes stand up well to adaptation and can be adjusted for taste; I would say that Madhur does tend towards the upper end of the heat scale and if you don't like too much fire, add only half the amount of chilli she suggests and work upwards as suits.
This is a book to treasure and a book to use. If you like cooking Indian food I guarantee that Madhur's tried and tested recipes will inspire you.
RRP £20. Amazon price £11.99 but Ibought mine (from a bookseller who came into the hospital where I work) for a fiver. The Book People currently have this listed at £7.99 but charge postage for orders of less than £25