Indian Red Chillies in Asian Cooking

[A friend got in touch with me a few weeks ago for an article she was writing about red chillies that has been published here. She needed some help with how cooking enthusiasts in India use red chillies in Asian cooking. I sent her a detailed email the following day with all the information I’ve gathered over the past few years. And then, I realized the email was long enough to make a blog post of. So here it is, with some edits to cater to my blog.]
How often have you looked for an Asian recipe online and seen red chilli powder or cayenne pepper being used? Rarely? I’ve seen a lot of recipes that use dried red chillies and Sichuan peppercorn, but they usually work with another ingredient or three, to make a paste, an oil or a sauce. These oils and sauces are then either used by the teaspoon in several other recipes or added as finishing touches to a dish. The flavours in Asian recipes come from a variety of condiments – oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, bean pastes, sesame oil among others… fresh herbs like ginger, galangal, slowly sauteed garlic, lemongrass and furthermore, condiments like bean paste and sesame seeds/sesame oil and whole spices like cinnamon, fennel and star anise.
As Indians, we’re so used to the idea of adding red chillies or red chilli powder (even if it’s just a pinch) to everyday cooking, that not using it almost comes as a surprise. So, I thought I’d outline different ways in which we incorporate the heat from red chillies in Asian cooking.
Chilli garlic pastes are not only easy to make but also keep for extended periods of time if made right and stored well. They make for great a dipping sauce for dumplings and work just as well when added to a bowl of ramen. Not to forget that mid-week dinner under 30 minutes, where you can add it to some sauteed veggies and oyster sauce to make a quick stir-fry. The paste can be made with any dried whole chilli variety that you have at home – Kashmiri, Byadgi, or anything else. I prefer using Kashmiri, only because they give a nicer, redder colour and are less spicy than other varieties. This helps me control the addition of heat far more easily than when using a naturally hot strain. Here’s a good recipe that I’ve used before.
I quite enjoy using finely chopped bird’s eye chillies as well. You find these from time to time at local vegetable vendors. They’re about 1 inch long and a bright red and REALLY spicy. And all you need is to slice one chilli into several slices diagonally (for pretty) and add to an Asian salad or summer rolls or pho bowl. Or else you could make a hot and sweet dipping sauce by cooking down some sugar an water to a syrup and adding in some smashed fennel seeds and red chillies. or dipping sauce. Bird’s eye chillies are inexpensive and last for several weeks in the fridge. That’s a good thing since you need to use only very very little when you want to. Then again, when you think you have far too many, you can just make them into a chilli- garlic paste like I’d explained a little while ago.
Chilli oils are fun to make too. Spices like star anise and cinnamon are simmered in oil and the hot oil is then poured over ground red chillies or even some red chilli powder. When you let that sit around for a few hours, the oil takes on a nice orange-red colour and a lovely aroma from the chillies and the spices (and of course, a spicy flavour too). Because my husband likes spicy food, sometimes I just use the chilli oil for cooking, instead of regular oil into which you’d put veggies (for a stir-fry), as an example. Or then the other way I eat it, is to pour some over a bowl of ramen, for that added kick. This chilli oil is quite delicious if you ask me!
I’ve always wanted to make my own gochujang, but a handful of ingredients needed to make it are hard to come by in Pune markets. So I’m going to leave that for when I’m in a fancier city or country (whenever that happens) or until I discover them by freak chance here some day.
We also use a lot of green chilli sauces in our desi Chinese cooking. I think that’s more of an Indian thing though because I haven’t seen that goopy green grey sauce being used anywhere else. I love it. But I genuinely do think it’s an Indian thing.
And last of all, Sriracha sauce. It goes with anything and everything. It’s my substitute for ketchup for a lot of things! It’s store bought. And it isn’t made with any varieties of Indian chillies. But it was hard to not mention it in this piece. Heh. A friend who just got back from Viet Nam bought us a bottle of Chi-Su, so that’s one Asian chilli sauce that’s waiting to be eaten. And there’s also a company that goes by East by North East (ENE) that makes several varieties of a Bhut Jolokia sauce. We have the Extra Hot Sauce and it’s absolutely yum! It’s very very hot and just a little drop in regular recipes, take them up a-whole-nother notch!
All that said, I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to buy a special variety of red chilli to use for Asian cooking – I make do with whatever my vegetable vendor has. I have, just once, splurged on a tiny packet of Sichuan peppercorn, and I’m still using it! Beyond a point, it’s hard to keep spending money on ingredients that you are not likely to use regularly. Masalas have a shelf life, right? Over the years, I’ve realized that most recipes that call for cayenne pepper or red chilli powder or Aleppo chillies are basically just asking for a certain spice level and a certain colour of red. And you can achieve that with your regular kirana store chillies too. Roast them for a little while for a brown tinge. Use Kashmiri mirch instead of Byadgi if you need more colour and less heat. And so on. Of course, purists might hate me for the way I think. But I think I can live with that, until I live in a city or make enough money to afford the choicest ingredients.
To sum all of it up,  the addition of that tiny amount of chilli oil or sliced bird’s eye chillies definitely adds another dimension to the dish. Though I think if you ask a Filipino or a Japanese person, they wouldn’t care much for the actual taste of the chilli. They work mainly with flavourful bone broths and focus on the actual taste of meat or fish. However, as Indians, because our palate is so used to mirch masala, we absolutely enjoy that extra punch that a little bit of red chilli (in whatever form) can pack!

Ep8: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Priyanka, who has attended a lot of our cookbook lunches and dinners had picked up Jerusalem on her way back from Georgia (the country) a few months ago. And my husband had bought me the book almost around the same time. Priyanka and I didn’t know each other then, but we connected over a tweet where she’d cooked from the book. We’ve been meaning to cook from the book ever since, but somehow got around to doing so only this month.

“Georgian legend tells that when God was handing out land to the peoples of the world, theGeorgianss were too busy eating, drinking, and feasting.”

I’m inclined to believe this. The book has a complete spectrum of recipes – soups, dumplings, risottos, dipping sauces, grilled meats, stuffed vegetables, puddings, cookies and cakes. Add to that, a focus on fresh ingredients in salads, bean stews, roasted veggies for dips and stuffing and liberal use of all kinds of nuts – walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts…

Recipes apart, it’s a beautifully written book. It talks about the Eastern Muslim and the Western Jewish parts of Jerusalem, where religions may be different but cultures are quite similar. Recipes on both sides borrow flavours from one another, all to create a wonderful comforting world of their own.

Several recipes are preceded by a few lines about why they’ve been included the recipe in the book – Sami’s mum’s favourite fattoush recipe, Yotam’s childhood growing up with an orange tree in his backyard lending itself to a few recipes in the book, little cultural references here and there… It’s made me realize the difference between a well-written cookbook and one that just has a long list of recipes, cover to cover. And for those of us who cannot travel, for whatever reason, these books give us a lovely insight into how people the world over live and eat.

Yotam Ottolenghi is a face well known in the culinary world. And if you’re in India, you’ve most likely watched him on Masterchef Australia. I’d made a weekend dinner a few weeks ago, heavily inspired by the Mezze Feast I’d seen on Masterchef AU and cooking out of Jerusalem was something I was, therefore, really really excited about.

Since we had leftovers from last night's tagine, I thought I'd do a mezze platter today. Turns out, we have leftovers today as well. Yay for one whole meal that isn't going to require any effort now. Hehe. On the right is m'samen – super light, flakey flatbread made with maida in a way quite similar to lachcha parathas, but rolled as rectangles, instead of discs. The two dips – one is a hummus, simple and plain. The other is a muhammara of sorts made with charred bell peppers and some spices and nuts. On the top are chicken koftas on a bed of tahini, with some pomegranate + wild honey jam. I picked the idea for this up from a mezze platter that Yotam Ottolenghi had done on an episode of Masterchef AU recently. Suraj promptly likened it to a non veg dahi vada, which kinda left me pulling my hair out and laughing uncontrollably. And at the bottom are some warm olives on a spicy yoghurt base, again something Yotam had made in Masterchef AU. Suraj also did his little "potacha dance" as he ate, so I'm a happy wife. 😊

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I’ve also made a hummus using harbhara (a fresh green pulse from the chickpea family) that you get in Indian markets in the winters several times these past few weeks, but I’ve always ever made hummus without a recipe, knowing what goes into making one – chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic and lemon –  and I usually taste as I go, to make something that suits my fancy.

Making one using a recipe from the book was a good way to see how close to the real deal my recipes are. So, I made a basic hummus and also served some of it with a lamb mince and a lemon sauce – it’s called Hummus Kawarma. And it’s a fun twist on serving hummus plain. Plus, what I learnt was that authentic hummus recipes use a far larger quantity of tahini than I usually did, and it adds that much for flavour to the hummus.

I also made the spicy beet, leek and walnut salad. Yotam says just before his recipe for it,

“Jews from Georgia settled in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century, just outside the Old City walls, building a small neighbourhood near Damascus Gate. They brought with them their rich and colourful food, which fitted perfectly with the local cuisine and produce available. Pkhali, a crushed walnut sauce that can be spooned over various vegetables such as eggplants, spinach, and beets, bears a resemblance to muhammara, a local crushed walnut salad. Their beet salads were often similar to salatet banjar, the Palestinian version made of sliced cooked beets, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Sadly, as is too often the case in this city, this culinary brotherhood was not enough. ”

Truly enough, the crushed walnut sauce finds its way into the salad as the most delicious salad dressing I’ve ever eaten (no, this is not a hyperbole). I’ve posted the recipe for the salad from Jerusalem at the end of this blog post.

The potluck was a good mix of recipes from the book:

  • Kubbeh Hamusta
  • Spicy Beet, Leek & Walnut Salad
  • Hummus and Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon sauce
  • Pan-fried Mackerel with Beet & Orange Salsa
  • Chicken with Caramelized Onion & Cardamom Rice
  • Conchiglie with Yoghurt, Peas & Chile
  • Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta
  • Poached pears in white wine & cardamom
  • Chocolate Krantz Cakes

As the book rightly states:

“Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It is a shame to spoil it.”

It was a pretty delicious cook overall. We had our issues – the kubbeh hamusta (a lemony broth with beef dumplings was too sour for our liking) and the beet salad didn’t have as many takers as I’d hoped it would. (I personally absolutely loved it, as did my mum, for whom I sent a little box because she’s ever-so-ready to taste food I cook. Always.)

The mackerel was delicious as was the cardamom rice.

The stars of the evening were the barley risotto and the Krantz cakes.

And as Yotam says of hummus,

“It  takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it… to imagine that hummus will eventually bring us Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”

Hummus makes everything better.

Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon sauce
Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon sauce

Spicy Beet, Leek & Walnut Salad

This gutsy salad is inspired by Georgian cuisine. The beets and leeks can be cooked well ahead of time, even a day in advance. We keep the two elements of the salad separate until serving, so the beets don’t colour the leeks red. This is not necessary if such an aesthetic consideration is not top of your priority list. Beets of other colors—golden, white, or striped—are also good.


For the Salad

4 medium beets (⅓ lb / 600 g in total after cooking and peeling)

4 medium leeks, cut into 4-inch / 10cm segments (4 cups / 360 g in total)

½ oz / 15 g cilantro, coarsely chopped

1¼ cups / 25 g arugula

⅓ cup / 50 g pomegranate seeds (optional)

For the Dressing

1 cup / 100 g walnuts, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ tsp chile flakes

¼ cup / 60 ml cider vinegar

2 tbsp tamarind water

½ tsp walnut oil

2½ tbsp peanut oil

1 tsp salt

Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad
Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C.
  2. Wrap the beets individually in aluminium foil and roast them in the oven for 1 to 1½ hours, depending on their size. Once cooked, you should be able to stick a small knife through to the centre easily. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cool enough to handle, peel the beets, halve them, and cut each half into wedges ⅜ inch / 1 cm thick at the base. Put in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. Place the leeks in a medium pan with salted water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, until just cooked; it’s important to simmer them gently and not to overcook them so they don’t fall apart. Drain and refresh under cold water, then use a very sharp serrated knife to cut each segment into 3 smaller pieces and pat dry. Transfer to a bowl, separate from the beets, and set aside.
  5. While the vegetables are cooking, mix together all the dressing ingredients and leave to one side for at least 10 minutes for all the flavours to come together.
  6. Divide the walnut dressing and the cilantro equally between the beets and the leeks and toss gently. Taste both the beets and the leeks, and add more salt if needed.
  7. To put the salad together, spread most of the beets on a serving platter, top with some arugula, then most of the leeks, then the remaining beets, and finish with more leeks and arugula. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, if using, and serve.

I doubled the arugula and wasn’t the biggest fan of the leeks, but the beet and that dressing have become a fortnightly recipe for my mum.

Cookbook Club Rules

As more folk have started showing interest in the Cook Book Club, they’ve also been asking me to put up a list of rules that one must adhere to, when organizing/attending one. So I put my head to it. And came up with some rules. Not because I insist this happens a certain way. But so that people who’re starting afresh in their own city or are attending an existing club lunch or dinner for the first time don’t feel too anxious.

  • Starting the Club
    1. Find people who like to cook, who’d like to cook out of a book and who’d like to meet with other people who like to do the same.
  • Picking a Book and a Date
    1. Figure a cookbook you’d like to cook from – it could be a specific cuisine, an author you love, a region you’ve just travelled to, just a whole bunch of different bread, just about anything.
    2. Share photocopies of the book (selected pages, the whole thing, whatever works), or an ePub or a pdf with everyone who plans to attend. Create a WhatsApp group to coordinate all further updates.
    3. Everyone picks a recipe (or two, if you’re really enthusiastic about this) and lets the others know. That way you have a variety of dishes from the same book (and no repeats).
    4. Pick a date/time and a place to meet at. If you know a cafe that might be happy to host your group, get in touch with them and get organizing! can meet there too, instead of meeting at someone’s home. One of the members of the group could offer to host, provided the group is not too large.
    5. The host will have to ensure that there is enough crockery, cutlery and water for everyone. Disposable ware works just fine. It’d be a little disappointing to have to run around last minute for stuff like that.
  • Cooking
    1. Cook in your kitchen. Cook with a friend who is attending, if cooking together is your thing! If you don’t have an oven and someone else does, you could cook with them. If you’re someone who loves cooking but can’t cook at home for whatever reason, ask if someone from the group would be happy to share their cooking space with you. There ARE no rules around this bit, really!
  • Eat, Rinse, Repeat
    1. Show up at the decided place, date and time.
    2. Bring your own booze.
    3. Take pictures. Post to social media if you want to. Discuss the recipes, what went wrong, what could’ve been done differently, whether the recipes are something you’d like to make again with other friends perhaps, your favourite TV show, that idiot on Twitter, why you loved the last book you read… Eat. Talk. Drink. Have a good time! And hopefully, pick another book to cook out of and meet again!
  • The only thing I actually insisted on these past few months that I’ve organized the cookbook club in Pune, India is that only people who cook a dish from the book that has been selected are allowed to attend. Of course, you can run it in any fashion you please.

Tsundoku: 2017 in books

I couldn’t think of a more apt title for this post.

So many books this year. And so little reading done.

From Wikipedia:

Tsundoku is the phrase for acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.

“Tsundoku” originated in the Meiji era (1868-1912) as Japanese slang.

(積ん読) “Tsun-doku” came from
(積んでおく)”tsunde-oku” (to pile things up ready for later and leave) and
(読書) “dokusho” (reading books).

It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf.

As currently written, the word combines the characters for “pile up” (積) and the character for “read” (読).

I’ve realized how so much of all my productivity depends on my state of mind. There have been weeks and months where I’ve been a star at work, read more than ever before, cooked my heart out, squeezed in a travel plan and still not gotten tired. 2017 has been quite the opposite. Zero work. Zero learning. A fair bit of cooking, yes. Lots of days that seemed so difficult, even when there was nothing to accomplish.

I remember January 2017 being a great month for reading. I read 5 books, which is way more than my average reading pace. February, I was down to 2 books. March, half. The rest of the year, I was STILL trying to finish that half book. Come November, I tried to read again. It’s been slow. That hasn’t stopped me from buying more books or anybody else from gifting me more books. So I’m guessing 2018 will have to be the year where I pull my socks up, get those books out and DO something. Or so I hope.

Oishinbo is great great series! I don’t know when exactly I discovered these. But they’ve been on my wishlist since. A friend was visiting home from USA in November and asked me if I’d like anything. I said no, but asked if he’d be happy to carry back a dozen or so books for me. He was nice about it. That’s how Oishinbo, two books on edible histories (that I’ve written about later on in this post) and a cricket book made their way to Pune. The cricket book was lost at the Chennai airport. And the edible history books were finished the weekend they arrived (they’re anniversary gifts to my husband and saying he’s a voracious reader is an understatement). The seven volumes of Oishinbo I now own are, in fact, thematic compilations and jump back and forth in continuity, when compared with the original series.

Oishinbo is for me, my first manga read. I know friends (mostly men) who’re manga fans and I never really got what the deal was about. Oishinbo, according to Wikipedia, is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for delicious, oishii, and the word for someone who loves to eat, kuishinbo. Sounds just like the stuff I love, right? Given that this was my first time reading, I was thrilled that the books read back to front and right to left! The first in the series is “Japanese Cuisine”, followed by “Sake” and “Ramen & Gyoza”, all the way ending with “Izakaya.” The one thing that’s been consistent with me all through this otherwise awful year is Japanese cuisine. I’ve experimented with ramen, pored over Rice Noodle Fish several times over (remember March through October?), taken Japanese lessons on Duolingo (I’m still nowhere close to completion), sent my first newsletter out in August and made it all about Japan (pity I never went past two issues, I’m hoping to change that soon). I’m done with the first part and have begun reading the second. The first was extremely interesting, in that it had slicing techniques, recipes and lots of cultural tidbits thrown in, along with the story. And I’m pretty sure all the other books are going to be a bunch of fun.


This set of books you see below are mostly unread, and mostly stuff that Suraj bought me this year. I did read Start Up Your Restaurant earlier this year and I’m also almost done reading Will Write for Food. Both books are very informative. The former is co-written by a food writer and an MBA grad turned restaurant entrepreneur. The book states a few simple and valid ways to make a restaurant work. It re-iterates these through the book so that they stick. It also outlines budget constraints and considerations for restaurants of different types – a food truck, a homely cafe, QSR, a high-end fine-dine setup… While I have no plans of opening a restaurant any time soon, the thought of doing so has occurred to me several times since 2015. What I hoped to achieve out of reading this book was some real-world perspective and some numbers that would help me gauge whether it is the right thing for me to do at this point in life. As it turns out, it’s not. Though it’s definitely a book you should consider picking up if you DO want to open a restaurant of your own.

Will Write for Food is another book I bought to understand the world of food writing better. I’ve often complained about the quality of food writing I’ve seen coming from Indians or people of Indian origin. I haven’t had any success with people approving pitches I send them and therefore it seemed a little unfair on my part to complain. So then, I thought I’d read up on what food writing entails. A lot of important tips and tricks came out of reading the book. I’ve been making notes and doing some writing exercises as I go along and a lot of my opinions about the aforementioned food writing remain unchanged. Whether or not I can do anything to change that opinion or contribute in a way that others change any similar opinion that they might have is a goal for 2018. The book was first published in 2005, so some of the content seems a little dated in 2017 (despite edits and reprints as recent as 2015). But overall, I’ve learned a lot from what the book has to offer.

Food Swings is a self-published book by Yasra Khoker where she describes her 10 day holiday across three Indian cities. I’d have loved for the book to have short essays along with the water colours and sketches. Turns out, I’m currently working on a collection of regional recipes and including some essays, old photographs and sketches in it. Maybe I’ll do a blog post on it by the end of the year or early next year, and take some feedback on my work so far.

I started reading Secret Ingredients sometime in October but didn’t quite get beyond three articles and I’ve left it for another day (or year, perhaps).

The Flavour of Spice is next on my reading list, as soon as I’m done with Will Write for Food. It promises to be an interesting read.

K.T. Achaya’s A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, Colleen Taylor Sen’s Feasts and Fasts – A History of Food in India, Blood, Bones & Butter and The Devil in the Kitchen remain unread and I hope to get around to reading them in 2018, along with buying a few dozen new books, of course.

Will Write for Food mentions Blood, Bones & Butter a few times under fiction writing and I’m assuming it makes for some very good reading, so I’m quite excited about it. And I’ve been a Marco Pierre White fan for a few years now and The Devil in the Kitchen might very well end up being my new Kitchen Confidential.

I bought Gin and Whiskey for Suraj for our wedding anniversary. They’re part of a much larger series of books called “A Global History.” As it turns out, one of the other books in the series is Curry and it has been written by Colleen Taylor Sen, who, as you can see, has also written Feasts and Fasts. It almost makes me want to buy Curry now, but it might be a good idea to finish reading Feasts and Fasts before I do that.

Last in the set of books for 2017 are a couple of magazines and two cookbooks I missed in this post.


I wrote about The Bar Book and Gourmet Journeys in India in the post I’ve linked above. I’ve been flipping through pages of The Bar Book at bedtime these past couple of weeks, not quite reading it all in one go. It’s very theoretical. And it’s still quite enjoyable to read. This one’s another one of the books that I’m putting on my to-read list for 2018. The sections of the book I’ve looked at remind me of my grandfather when he was fitter. He was a great connoisseur of cocktails and liqueurs and I seem to have been exposed to a lot of the good stuff as a kid (I wasn’t allowed to drink any until I was 16).

The Landour Cookbook is a cute little book that a friend picked up for my from Mussourie. I haven’t quite gotten around to reading the book just yet, but here’s a little something that I’ve read about it (that gives me hope that it’ll be a lovely little book). Plus, it’s Ruskin Bond!

In the 1920s Mrs. Lucas, wife of the pastor of Kellogg Church in Landour joined Irene Parker, the wife of Allen Parker, principal of Woodstock School to form a reading club. They would meet every week at the new Community Centre (built in 1928) and soon created a cook book, sharing favourite recipes from the homes of the others living in the hillside.

Dill Magazine was a great buy! I asked a friend who was in USA on work to bring it for me. It is a collection of some heartfelt stories and some pretty amazing recipes around the noodle – how noodles vary across Asia in texture and thickness and how different cultures make them and cook with them differently. The same friend also brought Sushi – Making at Home for me. She picked it up from The Strand Bookstore for a dollar. The book contains some very beautiful pictures of sushi that one can make at home, but there is little to offer in terms of notes on technique that one might use to make sushi at home. As home chefs, we’d love a book that teaches us how to do it right, rather than just skip to Step 9 where we can make things looks pretty. Or that’s what I think, at least. Anyway, for a dollar and the good thought that went into buying it, I really have no complaints.

And that’s a wrap, I guess! Here’s to a brighter 2018 filled with more books (read, and not just bought), lots of new learning in the kitchen, great food and back to getting my life back on track!



The 2017 Food Books Roundup

I haven’t bought as many food books as I have in 2017 ever. So I thought I’d do a roundup of all the food-centric books I’ve bought (or been gifted) this year and tell you what I liked about which books and why.

2017 Cookbooks

Suraj bought me Cook Korean! for my birthday in January. I had just moved cities and was living with my parents for a bit (until I could find us a place). He moved a couple of months later and we cooked a couple of recipes out of the book together. Lots of pork, lots of vegetables… and recipes written in comic form. All in all, a lovely buy and definitely a book worth owning!

Bourdain’s Appetites was delivered in March, and I was thrilled when I opened the Amazon package that it came in. We did a cookbook club lunch using recipes from the book a few months later. Everybody had mixed reviews about the book. I remember Kala made a rich, golden saffron risotto and Priyanka’s chicken pot pie was crumbly and comfortably gooey all at the same time. My shrimp bisque tasted good when I made it but had taken on a slightly bitter aftertaste at the time of serving, so I was a little disappointed. And Sahil thought the flavours on his spaghetti just didn’t come together right. That was also the first time I realized that books written across the world probably need some sort of standardization for measures. Saying 4 cloves of garlic doesn’t really work when a clove of garlic in USA weighs about 4 grams, and one in India weighs a little under 2 grams. In that sense, dessert recipe books are written better because they call for more precise measurements – 45 grams of dark chocolate (72%).

April saw me open another Amazon parcel that contained Jerusalem. Why Suraj bought me this, I can’t remember. It’s also the book that found me a new friend in Priyanka. She travelled around Georgia a few months later and bought a copy of the book on her way back. She tweeted about a recipe she’d cooked from the book, and a few weeks later, she was a part of the cookbook club. I’ve cooked several recipes inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi this year, though I haven’t quite cooked from the book yet. I’ve based a lot of my Meditteranean cooking from the book though. I’ve read it a couple of times cover to cover and have gotten a hang of how to build Middle Eastern recipes, in general. Next up for 2018, Ottolenghi’s Sweet.

My parents, Suraj and I dined at Boteco in Pune sometime in April. And I loved the food so much that I ordered The South American Table on a whim. It’s really just a tome of recipes – one after the other, with no classification by country or no cultural references. And as someone who is completely unaware about the South American continent, the book was just so much information, it was almost a turn-off. I haven’t cooked from it. But I hope to begin a South American obsession once I’m done with my current obsession with all things Japanese.

In May came Ivan Ramen. It was really silly when the book arrived really. We’d been binge-watching episodes of Chef’s Table on Netflix and one Saturday afternoon, we were finishing the Ivan Orkin episode, when I told Suraj I’d read so much about him and that he also had a book. Sunday afternoon, the doorbell rang to an Amazon Prime order delivery for, yeah, Ivan Ramen. The book is one of my best reads of the year, to be honest. I’ve read it several times over. I’ve even made various components of a ramen bowl using recipes in the book. I’ve tweaked them, worked with locally available ingredients and referenced over a dozen recipes online to create some bowls of good ramen. Of course, my recipes still need some improvement, but overall, I’m pretty happy with how far I’ve gotten with my ramen game.

Then, I bought Gourmet Journeys in India by Pushpesh Pant for Suraj for his birthday in June. We’re both fans of his writing and his TV shows, so I was hoping it’d be a collection of stories centred around food and travel, just as good as the stuff we’ve watched on TV. Turns out, it’s a recipe book. With pretty standard fare. I’ll admit I was a tad disappointed. I also forgot to include it in this picture.

July is my dad’s birthday month and he’s quite the man in the kitchen with cocktails, every time my parents have guests over. So I thought I’d buy him The Bar Book. He was quite amused that I did because he’s not a reader at all. Though he spent exactly three minutes flipping through the book and the handful of recipes it includes. I also wrote a little note in the book that I’d borrow it from him soon enough. The book deals with a lot of technicalities around making cocktails, which is something that a geek might totally dig. So once we’re done with the Japan obsession AND the South America obsession, maybe we can move on to cocktails, yeah?

And who ever buys only one book at a time? I’m sure there’s a rule somewhere that says you must add as many books to your cart as you can afford and buy them all in one go. Or something like that. That’s how I bought The East Indian Kitchen. I’d been meaning to make a bottle masala for a few weeks and with this book, I was only too thrilled to see two variants of the masala. A lot of the recipes feel very Goan, what with the heavy Portuguese influence. This book also helped me read up about Matharpacady in the Mazgaon dock area of Mumbai where the last of the East Indians live – in quaint little houses. I also hear that they’ve been trying to protect their “village” because the Maharashtra government is all out to label it a slum and that’s really not what it is at all. I’d love to do a trip to Mumbai some day and spend some time at one of the homes here and maybe learn a recipe or three first hand, I would.

In August, I bought Grape Olive Pig (which was my other birthday present to Suraj – only 2 months too late), The Whole Beast AND Izakaya. What was that thing I said about binge buying books? Grape Olive Pig is a fabulous read, much like its predecessor Rice Noodle Fish (where my Japan obsession really started).

And then it extended to me buying a book on Japanese pub food and culture – Izakaya. And then an entire series of food manga books. The book makes for a beautiful read, filled with lots and lots of information about why Japanese pubs are designed a certain way and how pub meals flow through the course of the evening. The book also has several recipes. A lot of them, however, use fresh cuts of fish that we don’t get in India and also a few Japanese ingredients that I haven’t seen in markets here. So I guess cooking out of this book is still a while off for me. But if you’re up for reading and learning about a culture through its food, this is one book I’d definitely recommend you pick up.

The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson had been on my wishlist for many years. I haven’t had the chance to cook out of it yet. Though I did hyperventilate when I was painstakingly going over every page of the book and discovered that the roast bone marrow with parsley and caper salad recipe is what Anthony Bourdain said he’d like his last meal to be in My Last Supper. On an aside, I’ve had the biggest crush on Anthony Bourdain since I was 15, that’s some time around 2001. And in the few years that I lived in USA, I bought whatever books I could that he’d written or he’d been mentioned it. This picture holds a very special place in my heart (and umm… at the risk of being risque, hehe, in other places too). Needless to say, I have the interview memorized and when I saw the recipe and I realized that Fergus Henderson is Fergus Henderson of St. John, I had a mild panic attack (of joy). I checked with my pork vendor about how much he’d sell different cuts to me for. Turns out, I need to let him know at least a couple of days in advance if I need the nasty bits (see what I did there?), and somehow, I never got around to cooking anything from the book. Someday, I hope that we can do a Nose to Tail meal for the cookbook club and that we use this book. That’ll be fun.

Come October, I was broke. And out of a job. And I bought Kirsten Tibballs’ Chocolate as one of those last books I might ever buy for a long long time. I broke that self-inflicted punishment in November because it was wedding anniversary month, but now that November’s gone, the punishment is on (again). The book is a beauty! I’ve made a couple of dessert from it and then made a couple more by using different techniques across several recipes in the book. It has clear instructions, with pictures, on how to glaze cakes, on how to make fancy decorations, on the perfect meringue, a great mousse, macarons… EVERYTHING! Plus, it’s all chocolate. What more can you want?! This one, along with Ivan Ramen, was one of my top buys of the year.

The Seven Sisters was one of the four books Suraj gifted me for our wedding anniversary. I haven’t had the chance to cook from it just yet, but I promise to do so early 2018 and leave a little review on the blog. But I’ve flipped through it several times already. It has a section for every state from India’s North East, each profiled with a person from that state and their favourite recipes. I’m a little wary that some recipes might need ingredients that we don’t get in this part of the country, so I’m also going to try and see if I can buy them online and source them from friends of friends whose families stay in the north-east.

Next up, the non-recipe food-centric books from this year.

Also, I can’t help but link you to this list of food books by Ankiet Gulabani. He’s a big name in the world of recipe development and food writing, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with him on Instagram. I was thrilled when this showed up in my email literally minutes after I’d taken pictures of my food books.