My grandmother, grandfather, mom, dad… they are all great chefs, so I’ve always been surrounded by delicious food with different influences. Plus I’ve been gifted with a layer of layers that come from exposure to such high levels of skill, food is always fun. Negative, I rarely tried to cook, so I didn’t learn many skills myself. I assumed that wherever I went, I would be able to get great food.
Fortunately, with youth travels approaching, I landed in sunny Dubai with some great food outlets. But, truth be told, after a while, eating out can lose its charm. You crave that home-cooked meal, that familiar comfort taste. I went to Union Co-Op, picked myself some pots and pans, bought an oven, picked the freshest produce from Spinneys and got ready to cook a storm.
I’d seen my mom at work often enough, it seemed like a breeze. Just to be sure, I picked up a recipe book and it was good to go. Once I started realizing how little I really knew, and how much learning was required. The first fruit cake looked great, had a perfect browning and shape, but it’s so tough that it could easily be used as a weapon! Scared, I carried it twice and it was unceremoniously dumped in the community trash without much ado. Well, it’s time to rethink your game plan. Maybe the bread was too advanced, maybe I could try the curry. The red curry looked muddy brown by the time I finished. I honestly tasted the granules, I’m not sure yet, where they came from!
It’s time for a humble pie. I was paying a price for taking things for granted. Miserable and hungry, she called home. My mom burst out laughing and guided me through some quick fixes. I paid attention and my attempts at cooking became edible. Then she gave me incredible advice: “Cook what you love…Cook because you enjoy cooking.” This defined my relationship with cooking. I researched recipes I enjoyed, tasted and tried, understood spices and herbs, and most importantly watched, heard, read and learned. Today I make recipes, write and test.
Along the way I met many young people who were at the same starting point as me. I hope to help them rediscover the joy of cooking and one of the main tools I have shared is the cookbooks that have been my friends for many years. Here are a few of those beloved guides:
50 Great India Curry from Camellia Punjabi
The book helps beginners get a clear understanding of spices, basic curry rules, a sneak peek into sorting out mistakes like adding too much salt, and recipes from all over India that include classics like Goan vindaloo to Hyderabadi dalcha.
It has sold over half a million copies worldwide and is arguably an essential book for any kitchen library.
You can get a copy from the Gulf News online store. This is a link.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
This classic from 1961 is still true, every recipe is helpful. She teaches you the technique and gives you detailed measurements, without a dash of this and a bit of that. From her I learned a very important tip in baking – the actual weight that should be a large egg – 60 grams + why is this important? Well, that’s the difference between a crumbly cake and a bagel-like cake. Eggs are so important, they help the gluten form these air pockets, instead of sinking to the bottom of the pan. I would say, anyone should teach themselves to bake. It may not contain fancy images, just line drawings but the knowledge that is imparted – invaluable.
Anthony Bourdain Cookbook Les Halles
The propaganda book says it all – it teaches the recipes, techniques, and even the strategy involved in cooking the dish. It’s classic French bistro cuisine that takes you to the heart of an order that works magic with butter, herbs and fresh produce. Of course, the book brings with it Bourdain’s scathing insight and humor, which are on full display at Kitchen Confidential, and it’s a must-read. One of the best lemon tart recipes can be found in this cookbook but it definitely takes patience. There are no quick fixes, side struggles, or hacks on display.
The Bangla Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad by Sumit Nair, Meenakshi Miyapan with Jill Donenfeld
This is a relatively new acquisition but has proven to be a very good cookbook. The recipes are accurate, detailed and clear. It takes an in-depth look at the famous cuisine of a very specific South Indian community – the Chettiars of Tamil Nadu, accompanied by lavish photographs and cooker handy notes. I also love the fact that they made a lot of room for any notes a home cook might want to add. One of my favorites is the Chicken Chettinade Pepper Masala – very spiced and delicious. There are many recipes for vegetarians including different types of sambar, sambol, fowl and sauces.
Vietnamese food Bobby Chin
“What Bobby doesn’t know about Southeast Asian food is not worth knowing,” Anthony Bourdain wrote in the preface. Dramatic but largely true. The book teaches you everything from the basics of the different types of broths that form the heart of oriental cuisine to the elevated foie gras wrapped in rice paper. This 15 year old book offers lifelong learning and is a must if you love and love Southeast Asian food.
After writing the list, I feel compelled to add that each of these books focus on the art of cooking, balancing flavours, understanding textures, and the enjoyable journey of preparing a great meal.
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