Sunday, June 8, 2008

Good cookbooks for beginner gori wives and other faux desi-chefs

So gori marries Pakistani ... there are a lot of online resources for her to use for recipes. But she doesn't have the desi cooking basics down to execute the online recipes because the sites are generally meant for people who grew up with desi cooking and typically know how to achieve a perfect pot of basmati rice, have an idea of where to begin with caramelizing onions, and understand what garam masala is.

What do you do if you don't know all of this stuff? Where do you even start? I learned from a few cookbooks that I highly recommend:

1. Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking

This book will teach you all of the basics. Sahni tells you the secrets of achieving separated kernals of fluffy, aromatic basmati rice. She explains how to properly caramelize onions, an essential technique in North Indian-Pakistani cooking. She tells you the ins and outs of South Asian vegetables, and offers good substitutions and tips for preparing these in the North American context. She also lets you know which recipes freeze well. This book will arm you with great basic recipes. However, for those looking to cook authentic North Indian Muslim / Pakistani dishes, Sahni does not offer useful recipes. Sahni's "Mughlai" recipes (recipes brought to India by the Muslim invasions and refined in India) are what would be served at Punjabi / Mughlai restaurants ... you've had this cuisine at your local Star of India or India Palace. The recipes are tasty. But these dishes with cream and almonds and so forth are not what your desi Muslim in-laws eat at home. Once you have mastered the basics, know how to "bhuna the pyaaz," how to get tamarind water from the dried clumps in the package, know how to make a "baghaar" or "tarka" from Sahni's book, you can get your authentic Indian Muslim / Pakistani recipes online or from a Pakistani cookbook. See some of the sites in my side bar. However, the veg, daal and snack dishes eaten by North Indians like Sahni and eaten by Pakistanis from a Hindustani or Punjabi background will be similar, so you can use all of those recipes to impress.

2. Madhur Jaffrey's An Invitation to Indian Cooking

This book is a classic must-have. Madhur Jaffrey moved to the US not knowing where to begin with the replication of the foods of her childhood home. She documents the knowledge she gained on her home cookery learning journey in this book. Though Jaffrey is from an Indian Hindu Delhi family, the recipes in this book are basically the exact cuisine that my husband, a Pakistani "Urdu speaking" origin guy grew up with. Jaffrey's tips for the North American cooking environment are useful, and the recipes are punctuated pre-emptive "dos and don'ts" to assist you in avoiding screw ups. Actually, I love all of Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, and her A Taste of India (see below) and the classic Far Eastern Cookery (not South Asian so I didn't review it here, but great for East Asian food lovers) are both practically falling apart since I have used them so much.

3. Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India

In the blog post Gori Cooks Desi: My Notes for the Gori , I describe the importance of understanding that desi food is very regional. In this book, you get a real sense of the regionality of Indian cooking. You come to understand which region is famous for certain vegetables, which region's cooks are heavier handed with specific seasonings, and so forth. The book has a U.P. as well was Punjab / Dehli section, which has recipes that cross over to Pakistani cooking. There are also Hyderbadi Muslim recipes in the Hyderbad / Andhra section. I emphasize knowing your husband's family background and the foods associated with that background. At the same time, I love a lot of different South Asian foods, and this book helped me get to know them.

4. Vicky Bhogal's Cooking Like Mummyji

Vicky Bhogal is a British Indian who learned to cook the Sikh Panjabi food of her dear old mummyji. She shares mummyji's recipes and tips in this excellent, easy book. The food of the Punjabi Sikhs is basically the same as general Pakistani fare, plus the constraints of cooking desi in the British context parallel those of the North American context, so you get a lot of useful short cuts and tips as well. The desi names of foods have some "Indianisms" so you may wonder why Bhogal calls sabzi "sabji" ... don't worry about all of that. The recipes are the same as what your typical diasporic Pakistanis are using, even though the pronunciation of certain terms is different.

My own tips for the gori:

Once you have the basics down, you can use and adapt the recipes you see on Pakistani websites online, as well as Shan Masala recipes. None of the books I mention contain beef nehari or haleem recipes, or other specialties of North Indian Muslims or Pakistanis, or Pakistani regional specialties like chappli kebab, Lahori fish fry, Lahori chargha, etc. But you will get all of the bare bone basics, from chappati making to making and storing your own garlic-ginger paste, from the books above. Then haleem and nehari making and all the rest will seem like a cinch.

1 comment:

Maryam said...

Great post even for a desi!:-) I'm not a pro at all at cooking desi food but I've become a lot better since I've got married. I do miss some english books so I'll try out these :-) it's nice to Have pakistanis around you to be able to ask them... But it's also among some pakistanis a HUGE embarrasement for you if you ask questions related to the basic... I.e. You ask a desi when you are a desi yourself...

It gets really awkward at times! So it's nice to have books that don't make you uncomfortable...