It’s raining cookbooks from every publisher and I wonder why. In the age of wonderfully shot and narrated video recipes on Youtube and Instagram, is there still a market for a cookbook? Especially as famous chefs, food bloggers, nutritionists and amateur home chefs are all bringing to you amazing culinary innovations as well as traditional recipes that are free to access. My day, for sure, includes a dozen food videos that I watch, bookmark and actually go on to make with pretty good success.
With these thoughts in mind, I picked up with much scepticism the two books that had arrived at my desk — Roopali Mohanti’s Servings Simple Yet Exotic, a weighty tome published by Rupa and Jayalakshmi Ramdas aka Jayam amma’s Palakkad Palate by Invincible Publication. But very soon I was enchanted I must say. Both books are valuable additions to the shelf in very different ways and are certainly going to be well thumbed.
Mohanti’s Servings Simple Yet Exotic is a fat, sumptuously shot, wonderfully illustrated book on good quality paper that is curated beautifully. Mohanti who is a hotel management graduate and has worked with a leading hotel chain is not just a cookbook but a meal solver. How many of us have woken up in the morning and wondered what to cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Well, this book offers you complete meal plans and the right combinations to put on the table.
There is a lot of attention devoted to what pairs well with what, focussing on the balance of colours, flavours, textures, consistency and the synergy between dishes — how heavy or light the dish is. Cuisine wise the book covers a lot of ground — from Hyderabadi, Chettinad, Dilli, Mangalorean, Oriya, Mughlai, Thai, Italian, Colonial et al. There are a humongous amount of recipes in the book. Each section starts with a personal anecdote and then goes on to share recipes, some gleaned from experts who are acknowledged — for example, Rinku’s dahi bara, Mansi’s Bihari Boti wings and so on. Many of the recipes have an interesting twist on the traditional. For instance, the pumpkin flower fritters which are common in the east, Mohanti offers with a variation — she stuffs them with cottage cheese.
At the end of the section, which is replete with recipes, there is a suggested meal plan — for both a party, as well as a smaller family lunch or dinner, starting with a salad, starter, mains and dessert. Recipes which involve some complex techniques — for example, the water chestnut, corn and asparagus spring roll that requires the sheets to be folded in a certain fashion are accompanied with detailed step-by-step illustrations. You don’t miss the videos you are so dependent on as the visual instructions in the book are so good.
Palakkad Palate is a very different book — it does not have the breadth of Mohanti’s book, but it has tremendous depth, and a lot of heart. It starts with a little biographical note on the author, fondly known as Jayam Amma, who hails from Kalpathy agraharam, how she learnt cooking at a young age as every girl had to help out in the kitchen, especially during festival days. The Palakkad cuisine as she says is native and special and a lot of the recipes remain secluded within the family, passed down through the generations. Being from the community, I can totally vouch for this, as there are dozens of native recipes I have learnt from my mom who in turn learnt from my grandmother.
The entire repertoire of the Palakkad kitchen is laid bare here – from sambar and various kozhambus to kootans to the sweets, pickles and powders. All told very simply and charmingly. As Jayam Amma says “Cooking is love” and it shines through. The book is elegantly designed and well produced. Above all it is authentic. For me, it beautifully fills the gaps in my knowledge of Palakkad cuisine – for those not from the region, it is a great introduction.