Chicken Curry with Saffron and Dried Fenugreek Leaves
I have had a lot of conversations with other bloggers lately about what it means to review a cookbook. I have come to the conclusion that I am in the minority in my viewpoint, and because of that I thought I would set the record straight and make my opinions clear. First, what the majority of other bloggers seem to believe: that to review a cookbook, one should make at least one but preferably three recipes exactly as written. On the face of it this seems reasonable. And if you, as a blogger, do that, more power to you.
But I do not believe that to review a cookbook I need to do that. First, I believe that cookbooks hold value beyond their recipes, at least some cookbooks do. I can never make a single recipe from a cookbook and still be very glad that I own it, either as a coffee table piece or as, literally, a book, i.e., to read. Maybe I don’t particularly enjoy Italian cooking, but I love a particular Italian cook’s writing. It is true I cannot comment on the recipes, but I still think that I can review a cookbook from that perspective, as long as I am clear that I did not cook from the book. Second, and more important, I do not work for a third party. This is crucial because, no one is paying me for these reviews. This means, that when I look through a cookbook and am instantly inspired to make the recipes, knowing that I need to adapt them to my taste, I am going to, because as a blogger, my family has to eat what I cook. I do not have the money or the resources to cook an entire curry, for example, knowing that we will find it too spicy or too bland, just because it is written that way. I believe that the single most important function any cookbook performs is to inspire you to get into the kitchen. I believe I can give a glowing review to a cookbook if it inspires me to make multiple dishes from it without ever making a single one as written, as long as, once again I make that clear. We all get different things from cookbooks, and if you are the kind of cook who always makes things exactly as written, my reviews may not be for you.
So about this chicken curry from Easy Indian Cooking. Robert Rose sent me this book to review recently. To my surprise (I had no expectations other than, frankly, a faint distaste for the “packaging”, which is on the cheaper end with very few pictures) I was instantly excited about the book. I think I have at least half of it bookmarked. I am an experienced enough Indian cuisine cook that I know I will probably adapt most of the recipes and I also know that I will be inspired to make some really tasty dishes out of it. I am excited enough about the recipes that I plan to keep my eye out for Suneeta Vaswani’s (the author) other cookbooks.
Some publishers, when they send you a cookbook, just send you the book. Some include a press release (most do). And then some also include a list of recipes that they are happy to provide for publication (much like Robert Rose did with the gingerbread). Because that happened with this cookbook, I decided that for this particular review I was not comfortable sharing my adapted recipes and because I did not choose any of the recipes they sent me, I cannot share those either (one of them, a Goan seafood curry, looks fantastic but I was planning to serve the main meat/seafood curry to guests who did not like shellfish). So I am afraid you will have to live with my assessment of what I made.
I chose to first make a chicken curry with saffron and fenugreek leaves, as pictured above. It is an easy dish to make (as written or with my changes), velvety with yogurt and fragrant with the fenugreek leaves. We really enjoyed this dish the first night, but the fenugreek leaf aroma intensified overnight and was off-putting to me the next day.
The next dish I made was a potato and green bean dry curry, fried in mustard seeds. This dish was a delight, especially if, like me, you are always wondering what vegetable dishes to serve with your protein curries. My biggest change here was to drastically cut the cooking time for the green beans, because my family likes them bright green and crispy. I also increased the amount of mustard seeds; this became a theme throughout all 3 dishes, but especially the last 2. We just like our food more strongly flavored. She called for less spices and aromatics than I would use almost across the board.
Green Beans and Potatoes with Mustard Seeds
The last dish was an exciting discovery, but one that I want to play with because even adapted I found it too bland. It could be that Vaswani is writing for a much less “curried” audience than my family; we want our Indian flavors strong, and with the exception of the dried fenugreek leaves in the chicken curry I did find everything very mild. Anyway, this last dish was a revelation because as many of you know I love kheema, and it was a vegetarian play on kheema, using finely chopped cauliflower in place of the ground meat. I personally thought this was brilliant, but I would want it with many more spices (I adapted her dish by increasing the amount of spices and using some garam masala, but I did not add spices otherwise).
The final verdict? I think this would be a great starter Indian cookbook, although there is some risk there if you are not comfortable adapting dishes. I know this is a great Indian cookbook for inspiring experienced cooks to try even more Indian curries.
I saw that thread on the facebook group and just feel like there’s no one right way to review a cookbook and especially if you adapted the recipe heavily, you’re in the clear for including the recipe since it’s not like you’d be including the exact one anyway. I don’t know, I just don’t feel like there should be all these rules!
The curry sounds delicious and i will have to keep an eye out for this book, keeping in mind that I should spice everything up to my liking!
I agree about the rules, especially when you are talking about unpaid bloggers. I mean sure a reviewer in the NY Times should probably spend an afternoon making the recipes exactly as is, but no one is paying me to do any such thing and it all works out to publicity for the book, so….
Laura, you are totally correct and inclusive rather than rigid.
Felice/All That's Left Are The Crumbs says
Somehow I start out making the recipe as written, but then I find ways to change it – whether it is the ingredients or the method. So does this mean that I shouldn’t post a review of a cookbook? I don’t think it does but others may disagree. I love reading your reviews.
I’ll have to look out for this book too, since I love to eat Indian food, but I don’t actually make much of it myself and this seems like a good place to start.
Cafe Spice says
Having the chance to give a review of a cookbook seems like a good experience. Thanks for sharing.