Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Show me your cookbooks" event - some of my favourites

organised by Nags, of "For The Cook In Me"

I have the worst trouble resisting cookbooks.

Well, actually I cant resist any books, but my greed for books in general is usually satisfied by a trip to the library every 2 weeks or so, to get 15 books at a time. And sometimes I supplement those with more books bought from doing a round of the second hand book stalls at the Shrewsbury market, various charity shops and the bargain bookstall as well. There's no saying what kind of books you might get at the latter places, and that's part of the joy in browsing through the shelves. A couple of months back, I picked up a sterling set of one of David Attenborough's TV series on Nature, for about £5 for the lot (10 books, 50p each). They were in pristine condition, with beautiful glossy colour photos of animals and birds and insects with the accompanying text. That was one of my happiest purchases from Oxfam! And yes, there are more books in my house than there is space for them, strictly speaking. They're everywhere.

However, although the library is good for general fiction, arts and crafts, etc, I dont much like borrowing cookbooks. Because eventually I have to return them. Cookbooks are long-time purchases for me, not a temporary loan. Whenever I go to Borders or W H Smith or any other bookshop, I spend ages in the cookery aisle, flipping through all sorts of tomes on all sorts of cuisines. I love thumbing through beautifully illustrated books on things I know I would NEVER be able to do - like fancy cake decoration. If I had the money (and the space), I would probably buy them all even if I never ever used them.

But inevitably I am drawn to the books on Indian cooking. I like to read through books on Indian cuisine written by non-Indians, for the same reason that I love travelogues on India - it's a chance to see familiar things (whether places or foods) through the eyes of someone to whom it's all new. It's a way of getting a different viewpoint on something that's as probably as familiar to us as our own face. Sometimes these books are good for a laugh, too - as I did when I read a recipe by Keith Floyd where he specified one heaping tablespoon of turmeric powder to be used. Yikes!

I am very choosy in the cookbooks I buy new. The photos have to be glossy, the print has to be pleasing, the layout easy on the eye, the write-ups have to be interesting and sensible (even fun if possible), even the font has to be one I like (I dislike Times Roman and wont buy anything in that font!). Basically, everything has to be just so. These criteria usually dont apply to cookbooks I buy second-hand, of course. Or for books that are difficult to get.

Which brings me to my first favourite cookbook
- Vasantha Moorthy's The Complete Vegetable Cookbook.

This book has lovely recipes, everyday recipes that you make at home - not really party fare. It's one of my most used because it has recipes for most "Indian" vegetables, made the way my mother or aunts might make them.

My second one is Indian Vegetarian Recipes. There isnt really an author for this, it's a compilation of hotel recipes, apparently.

It's one of my earliest purchases (from Landmark in Chennai when they had only the Nungambakkam Road outlet - not the extended version either! I know because I wrote down the date and place. Jan 23, 1999!) and I've tried most of the recipes in it. They're slightly jazzed up but still homely. I like that.

The next two cookbooks are just as much a favourite with me as those mentioned above... but for a totally different reason. I've not tried out a SINGLE recipe from them. Maybe I will, at some point... but at the moment they're good for reading and re-reading and admiring the photographs and marvelling at the intricacy of the steps involved.

This one, Europe's Master Chefs, was a Christmas present from Pete last year. All I can say is, he must think I'm a Cordon Bleu chef. (Hmmm... a thought just struck me - perhaps it was a hint to improve my cooking skills.) The exoticness of the recipes, the ingredients used, the delicate and precise cooking methods - they are all compelling. Especially because they're so different from Indian cooking. But apart from that, another major reason for not having ever tried a recipe is because they're so overwhelmingly non-vegetarian. There are some dessert recipes too, of course - but oh man, they're complicated! You can tell just from looking at this:

If I ever sorted, labelled and filed my cookbooks, this book in particular would come under the heading of "Look, Dont Cook". :)

The last cookbook I'm going to mention here is Jump Up and Kiss Me - a rather strange name for any cookbook.

The recipes arent all that exotic, I suppose, and they ARE doable... but somehow I havent got around to trying out any of the recipes. But the write-ups are so engaging that I keep reading the recipes! One of these days I really should actually make something from it. One of these days...

I could write lots more, but I think I'm already well over the limit (numerically speaking) for this cookbook event. Nags had asked for just one, and I've already written about four! So here endeth this post. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I've had fun writing it (Nags, this one's for you).


Asha said...

Same here, crazy about cookbooks although I don't even cook 5% of the recipes! :D
I have both of Vasantha Moorthy's books, love the recipes,tried a few.Last book sounds fun!:))
I love reading books of Kitchen Memoirs with recipes.

evolvingtastes said...

Shammi, I have 'The Complete Vegetable Cookbook' too - it was the crosswords staff recommendation when I bought it, but somehow each time I take it out I just leaf through it, nod along, feel inspired, and put it back. What are some of your favorite recipes from it?

Shyam said...

Asha: Glad to see a soul mate in the cookbook area! :)

Evolvingtastes: Hmmm... ok, a quick list:
1.Kothavarakkai thoran (made for the first time)
2. Karela Nawabi
3. Bottlegourd stew in milk
4. capsicum gojju

Rajitha said...

same here..i have so many cookbooks and i am constantly looking at amazon to buy more..i also frequent the library where i am the cookbook hog!

Priya Dilip said...

i thought i was crazy to read and re-read recipes in a cookbook, all the while without actually cooking it for real... hehehe.. seems like there are a whole lot of us...

Nags said...

lovely lovely books! thanks for the entry :)

Srivalli said...

well same here...I have many cookbooks and cut outs too....but have not tried even 10% of them...but its fun to collect! have very nice ones!

Shvetha said...

Floyd uses 1 heaped tablespoon of turmeric (and other spices), or more "if you feel like more" in every Indian recipe he cooks!
Do you have a favourite Mediterranean cookbk that you would recommend?

Shyam said...

Rajitha: I have a problem with cookbooks borrowed from the library - I'm soooooooo reluctant to give them back! :) And then I end up having to pay a fine for late return.

Priya: Yep, at least this event is going to bring all cookbook readers out of their closet! :D

Nags: thank YOU! :)

Srivalli: Nice but expensive but still worth it :) Waiting to see your collection!

Shvetha: You're so right. I watched a couple of episodes of FLoyd's TV series, and the main impression I got was that he poured more wine down his throat than ever went into any of his dishes :D

I dont do much Mediterranean cooking, so I dont have a cookbook - I leave that to my husband :)

Happy cook said...

I love buying cook boooks like you.
Ofcourse sompe i use often, some i just look to it and never have used that much.
But i still keep on buying.
You have a good collection

Mallika said...

I enjoyed reading this. I'm terrible with cookbooks too. Most of my Indian cookbooks are too complicated to be followed. And yes, I've actually seed Floyd on some TV show adding a heaped tsp of turmeric. Just barking mad...

ServesYouRight said...

That cookbook is a cutie!
Awfully sorry about my laziness! Updated the post and here is the recipe for chocolate pistachio shortbread:

- Beat 1/2 pound (2 sticks) softened butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy.
- Add 2 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate - I've added upto 4 ounces.
- Sift 1.5 cups flour and 1/2 cup cocoa over the melted chocolate / beaten butter mixture. (I used 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup amarant flour) Mix it all up nicely. Press dough into a 9x13 pan.
- Toast 1/2 cup mixed nuts. I used pistachio, cashew nuts and a couple pods green cardamom. Pulse till finely chopped or coarse. Press the chopped nut / cardamom mixture on top of the shortbread. A rolling pin makes quick work of this.
- Bake at 300 degrees F for about 40 mins. Test with a toothpick, the edges and nuts will appear lightly browned. Cut into bars and cool. Enjoy!


Sharmi said...

wwwaaaawww!! you have a great collection here. I dont get to buy good Indian cookbooks here in US! have to hunt online.

Linda said...

Ooh, really nice assortment Shammi/Shyam (pretty Soon this will be Shortened to "S" ;) )

I, too have a few "Look don't Cook" books (haha!)-- not for lack of desire but more for lack of time/talent/energy/cash for exotic ingredients etc. The second book you mentioned looks especially interesting :)

Shyam said...

Happy Cook: Thanks! I wish I could see everybody's collection :) You can never have enough cookbooks.

Mallika: LOL, Floyd is barking mad allright :D

Smita: Thank you thank you THANK you for taking the time to post the recipe here separately! I'm going to make it, maybe this weekend :)

Sharmi: Thanks! I look online for cookbooks too :)

Linda: It IS interesting. I might be shamed into actually trying out a few recpes from it now :) I've had it about a year (*blush*)

Diane said...

Oh my gosh - you sound just like me. I have no willpower at all when it comes to books. I finally had to put myself on severe hiatus due to lack of room - library only! - but that hasn't slowed down the cookbook buying much. It's like that theory that you have a second stomach for dessert...I have a magical expanding 3-D space to accomodate every cookbook I want to buy. OK, not really, but I act like I do.

I must have 50 Indian cookbooks (and I'm not even Indian), and I also really like a handful of others. My current favorites are Dakshin (South Indian cuisine), Deborah Madison's "Local Flavors" (Lovely fresh seasonal CA cooking), Monisha Bharadwaj's "Indian Vegetarian Cooking," and Nigella Lawson's "How To Eat." The last is quite meat-heavy and I eat meat rarely (no pun intended), but I still cook from it surprisingly often and I love her writing style.

I was in Chennai last year and came back to CA with a whole bag of books from the Nungambakkam Road Landmark. My big find was a complete set of "Cook and See" the traditional Tamil food bible.

Mahek said...

Good writing...
i try to read your blog regularly..
i have been since i started blogging in 2006 , its such a good event and i could know about it thro you so thanks!!!!!