Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
A Fresh approach to Indian Cuisine
By Anil Ashokan
Allen & Unwin
Paperback, April 2008, $29.95, 208pg, ISBN 978-1-74175-066-9
There’s nothing quite like Indian cuisine. Although it packs a social punch – guests are always impressed by it, it’s surprisingly easy to make. Most dishes can be made ahead of time and sit really well, so you can pre-prepare in short bursts throughout the day and hey, voila, when your guests arrive, add a couple of last minute items and you’ve got a feast. Some of the things I particularly like about Indian cuisine is the rich blend of spices, and how you can balance sweet with savoury; crunchy and smooth to get that perfect, mouth filling sensation. That balance of spice, depth, texture and flavour is something that chef Anil Ashokan has mastered in his Sydney restaurant Qmin, which opened in 2004. Now, fans of Ashokan’s modern, fresh Indian cuisine can do it at home. Qmin the recipe book, contains 120 recipes including seafood, Poultry, Lamb, other meats, vegetables, breads, rice, desserts and accompaniments. The book also contains a meal plan, with tips on what beverages to serve with what food.
Most of the recipes are surprisingly easy to make, and don’t require any special skills. You marinate and grill, or fry up some onion, garlic, a bevy or remaining ingredients and serve. The trick to all Indian cooking is to have several dishes – some rice, a protein dish, a daal maybe, and for guests, a bread. But one of the things that is unique about Qmin’s style, is that the food is delicately presented. Although it’s advertised as not having any curries, that’s not actually true. There are a few curries, but they’re subtle ones, often from regions like Goa or Karala, and often served in small quantities with other items. There are other dishes too, like skewed/grilled meats – my favourite is the Malmali Kabab, which is rich and delicious. There are fried dishes, BBQs, stews, and even pot roasts. Nearly all of the recipes come with serving suggestions, and suggested accompaniments to turn the dish into a complete meal.
The vegetable dishes are particularly interesting, with a range of side dishes from unusual dahls to spiced potatoes, eggplants, or the very beautifully presented stuffed capsicums )”Bharwaan Simla Mirch”). Another of my favourites in the vegetable section was the stir-friend sweet potato and spinach (“sakarkhand palak”) which he serves with sweet potato chips for an amazing presentation (I don’t have the patience for that, but it’s a delicious and healthy dish nonetheless). We rarely have desserts at family meals, but when you’re entertaining, it’s nice to bring something sweet out at the end, and this is an area where Indian food often falters. Ashokan has come up with some nice options that are still Indian, but light, and so nicely presented, that you could serve them to the Queen. Most don’t take hours and hours of reducing either, which is another problem I’ve encountered with Indian desserts. The Kulfi has been drastically simplified by using condensed milk, and when served with figs and walnuts, it’s really lovely.
Whether you already enjoy cooking Indian food and are looking for something a little bit different to add to your repertoire, or you are new to this cuisine, Qmin is a worthwhile addition to your recipe book collection. The large attractive photography by Greg Elms, is very helpful and enticing. Now if only I could get my children to eat Indian food. More information about the author, the book, and the restaurant can be found at www.qmin.com.au
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.