12 Dec 2011

Travelling Diva by Ritu Dalmia

I first came across Ritu Dalmia through her TV show Italian Khana. Her episode on truffles and the dogs hunting them left me staring at the tv set for more than half an hour without blinking. The second time was when a friend promised to tell me when the chef was coming to the city to conduct her classes. She “forgot” and I had to make do with the recipes but without the expert advice accompanying it.

What actually prompted me to buy this book was Ritu Dalmia sitting on a glorified scooter, basket of veggies on the back seat, having the time of her life! Well, that and the great discount I got.

This cookbook has over 120 recipes ranging from wok fried variations of rice and noodles from the streets of Beijing and Bangkok to the very Caribbean jambalaya; the tastiest Swiss roesti to the quintessential Javanese chicken and coconut curry; wicked Austrian desserts to the American red velvet cake; crisp and light Philippino spring rolls to her own version of Bhindi Bhojpuri. Not to mention cookies, dips and other munch worthy tidbits that promises to change the way we snack!

The book is divided into sections such as ‘Sole Food, Soul Food’ – those are easy one – dish meals to pamper oneself with, ‘More for the Merry’ – fun finger food for a party, ‘The Morning After’ – for brunches and picnics, ‘Table for Two’ – for special occasions and ‘After Hours’ – easy snacks for when a craving hits.

It also has sections on tools and ingredients required for the kitchen and a basic recipes chapter that deals with a few sauces and stocks. The stores and suppliers list is exhaustive and covers all the major cities in the country. More than any other chapter, these 3 chapters were the ones I was most appreciative about as Dalmia speaks only for the Indian cook and the Indian kitchen. This means that she doesn’t use fancy ingredients and tools that would be nearly impossible to find – in fact all of the stuff she mentions can be found in Kolkata (which is a very very rare occurrence).

She also has a chapter on where she eats when globetrotting. She recommends “overpriced” as well as “tiny family run shops” in places like London, Scotland, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Turkey and Spain as well as places closer home like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

There is a special introduction to each chapter and not just a general one for the entire book. In each introduction she writes about why she has included the recipes she has. Each chapter starts with a funny quote like, “if we are not supposed to eat midnight snacks, why is there a light in the fridge?” Dalmia does not mess around with different serving sizes for each recipe. There is a general serving size for each chapter and every recipe in that chapter conforms to it. Each of them also come with a personal anecdote mixed with a bit of history about the dish that makes a fun read – yes, many of them had me snickering away by myself! Her style of writing is clear, concise and easy to read. Almost none of the recipes are over a page long.

Though the book deals with a mix of cuisines, it does not seem forced. The categories of chapters are also unique and not your usual appetizers, mains, desserts and drink sections. Personally I could do with a few more pictures but the quirky illustrations at the bottom of most pages (like a fish and pig in a chef’s hat) made up for it. Also, with difficult to understand dishes like the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, she has step by step pictures that clearly illustrate the techniques.

The Chef suggests variations that can be made to each dish at the bottom of most recipes. What I especially love is the fact that she has made most of the recipes veg and has a non veg option to it instead of leaving out the vegetarians altogether. She has a variety of menus at the end of each chapter with titles like ‘Light on the Stomach,’ ‘Ultimate Aphrodisiac Dinner,’ ‘Brunch in the Garden,’ ‘For Those who Love their Greens,’ and ‘For those who Love their Meats.’ And I can say this a millions times – I love the fact that she doesn’t ignore vegetarians!

Having made her deluxe tomato sauce from page 10, I can safely say that it is not only her writing which is brilliant, but her recipes too. She gives you enough creative liberty to spice things up your own way but makes sure you get the techniques right. This is the first time an Indian chef has bothered to write such a book – international food for the Indian audience all the way! Its definitely worth a buy.

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