Saturday 4 February 2012

Recipe & Book Review- Southern Flavours


A few days back I got a mail from  blogadda, the largest community of bloggers in India  to write a book review for the newly launched cookbook, my reply was an instant ‘Yes'. I was extremely excited. My regular readers  would know that I’ve a penchant for collecting cookbooks and off late book reviewing too..

‘Southern Flavours’..The Best Of South Indian Cuisine (Westland, 2011) by Chandra Padmanabhan, as the name suggests, it has recipes from all the four southern states of India- Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The book is priced INR.599. There are total of 153 recipes out of which 50 are the new ones and the rest are her favourite recipes, which have been adapted from her previous ‘best selling books’ Dakshin (Harper Collins, 1992), Southern Spice (Penguin, 2006) and Simply South (Westland, 2008). These are the recipes which the author has learnt either from her MIL, friends, relatives and cooks and then penned them to write a cookbook.

Chandra Padmanabhan is a graduate from Calcutta University, did her post-graduation  at Delhi University. She has long been associated with the publishing industry. Cooking has been her forte for nearly four decades. She has previously authored three best selling cookbooks (mentioned above) and ‘Southern Flavours’ is her fourth cookbook. She last won the international GOURMAND award for the second- best vegetarian cookbook in 2009.

A cookbook hoarder that I’m, I already had the books ‘Simply South’ and ‘Dakshin’ in my collection. I have already cooked a few recipes from these two books and they had not disappointed me and hence I was looking forward to cook more, from the new book.

Apart from the Acknowledgement, Introduction, Buffet Spreads, Suggested Menus & Glossary, the book will guide you through eight food based sections- Basic Recipes, Sambar & Kuzhambu, Rasam, Poriyal & Kootu, Rice, Snacks, Sweets, Accompaniments, which are indicated in the ‘Contents’ of the book.

There are 168pages in the hard bound book, which are non-glossy and the print font is easy to read with clarity of the script. Each food section starts with an explanation to ‘what that section is about’, then an index ‘introducing the names of recipes in that section’ and also mentions the ‘southern state’ to which the recipe belongs.  Followed by are 2-3 pictures of the recipes in that segment.  The pictures are photographed by N. Prabhakkaar. There are no extravagant garnishes and  no fancy styling to the final food product. These are macro shots and the pictures gives you a fair idea of how the final product looks like.

The glossary at the end is really good and it provides you with the names of ingredients in English, Tamil and Hindi.There’s also a Table Of Measures provided at the beginning of the book which has taken into account the  difference between metric, US and imperial measures.

The Buffet Spreads and Suggested Menus help you decide for big gatherings and everyday cooking.

Each recipe starts with it’s common name followed by it’s basic translation in English, for eg ‘Podi Potta Paruppu Sambar’ translates to Spicy Lentil Curry From Tamil Nadu. No. of people served, preparation and cooking time and wherever applicable soaking time too is mentioned. The serving portion is for 4-6 people and can be easily halved for a smaller family size.

All recipes have a small introduction by the author followed by the recipe and finally the notes. Important words and headings are highlighted in the recipe making it more eye appealing and it also helps to draw attention to the ‘key words’. I’m particularly fascinated by the  ‘notes’ and the ‘introduction’ that the author has provided with almost each recipe. It gives you a fair idea of how the author was introduced to that recipe, the difficulty level, what all variations can be made and the precautions required to be taken during the recipe. It is a big benefit to the reader as it helps in trying out more variations and also helps reduce the chances of spoiling the recipe. 

The   recipes are self explanatory in a  clear and simple language that a common man can easily understand. The book provides the basic recipes of sambar podi, rasam podi , Kuzhambu podi, Poriyal and Mysore Rasam Podi  which surely will help any beginner who wants to try the Southern Cuisine. The author has clearly indicated wherever any special cookware/ vessel is required for the recipe. It’s a perfect book for beginner’s in cooking and also for people who are looking for trying Tamil Cuisine. It's a good book to buy for the people who do not have any of her previous books.

Turn the pages and you would realise that the book has about 8 kinds of Dosai, 13 varieties of Kuzhambu and 12 types of Rasam. I’ve never seen any book having so many variety of Rasams. I was particularly interested in Kosu Carrot Rasam (cabbage and carrot rasam) and Kadugu Chaaru ( rice water rasam) both of which I’ve never had. A chutney which pinched my attention was surely the Green Plantain chutney, I found green plantain, quite an unusual ingredient to make chutney with.

The author has given interesting names to some of her recipes like Sheela Auntie’s Pulusu and Cheetra’s Keerai Sambar, giving due credit to the people from whom she learnt that recipe.

Though South Indian cuisine is quite healthy and does not make much use of oil, understanding  today’s health requirements, the author has provided recipes like Oats Upma, Oats Rava Idli and Ragi Idli which are good for health conscious people and weight watchers. She has also used olive oil in the recipe of Bissi Belle Hulli Godhi, following the foot steps of modern, health freak cooking.

I clearly believe no cookbook review is complete unless the recipes are cooked, tasted and tried. It gives you a clear idea of the clarity of procedure and the measurements provided. I tried a few recipes,  which I have tasted or tried earlier and then judged them based on the end results. I’m posting one of them here


Rava Kesari
..Semolina Dessert with Saffron From Tamil Nadu

Serves: 4-6
Soaking Time: 20 minutes
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

1 cup semolina
1cup sugar
1/4 cup +1/4 cup +2tbsp ghee/ clarified butter
2cups milk
a large pinch saffron soaked in 3tbsp milk
1tsp green cardamom powder
a large pinch orange food colour (optional)
For garnish
2tbsp each of Cashew-nut and Raisin
MethodOn a low flame fry the cashew and raisins separately.
Roast the semolina in 1/4cup ghee  in a pan till nicely pink in colour and releases aroma.
Boil milk and sugar together in a pan  on a medium flame.
Lower heat and gradually add the semolina to it, stirring continuously and avoiding the formation of lumps.
Let the milk reduce and then add the food colour.
Add remaining 1/4cup ghee, the saffron and cardamom powder.
Cook till mixture leaves sides of pan.
Spoon into a serving dish and garnish with fried cashew and raisins.
Serve hot or chilled.
My Verdict-  StarStarStar
If one reads the recipe carefully, it indicates 20mins of soaking time but fails to tell what to soak in the method. Knowing the recipe, I know, it does not need any soaking.

The recipe says using pan, but of what kind? Use a heavy bottom pan or a non stick pan for making the rava kesari, this prevents sticking and charring at the bottom of the pan while cooking.

The recipe suggests adding semolina to the milk but the vice-versa is easy to do and avoids lump formation. Personally I prefer cooking it in a mix of water and milk, and once cooked, add the sugar. Covering the pan ensures better cooking with the steam generated, even this is missed out in the recipe.

Lower the heat while adding semolina is good tip from the author as this helps prevents splashing and splurging, thus preventing burns.

If the colour is added before adding milk it spreads evenly or in the above recipe, the colour should be added to the boiled milk for even distribution.

2cups milk was not enough to get a well cooked rava kesari so I added 3/4 cup more.

Small details have been missed out in the method which are very essential for any one trying the first time.
The end product surely had a great taste and texture but because of the flaws in the method provided, I’ve given it only 3 stars.

What the book missed out?
The table of measures has not been listed  in the ‘Contents’ of the book, provided at the beginning.

Pictures are a reflection of the final product. I would have appreciated more pictures surely if not for all the recipes.

Simple styling of the food makes it more eye appealing and worth trying. Being a food blogger I do believe that you first eat food with your eyes and then by the mouth, so I do insist on food styling and excellent photography, which is where I feel the book has scope to work upon.

I found that the book is dominated by Tamil cuisine followed by Andhra, Kerala and the least of Karnataka. A balance of all cuisines or a little more from the three states would have been appreciated.

The recipe misses out proper continuity and can be misleading at times if not read very carefully when the recipe is not completely covered in a page.

The heading ‘Ingredients’ is not introduced in any recipe and it is presumed that the reader will understand the listed ingredients on it’s own.

I was surely looking out for recipes of Ragi Mudde, which is healthy and well known food item from Karnataka and also the Holige, Haigriva, Ambode, Kodubale and Madur Vadai which are again specialities known to that state. At the same time the author could have added Ulli Theeyal  & Aviyal (Kerala) too.
The sweet section did not have any recipe from Karnataka. I would have surely appreciated one or two recipes from that state.

I surely was doubtful, when I thought whether I would spend  Rs.600 on buying a book which has only 50 new recipes to interest me, since I've her previous books.

It’s a perfect book for novices and amateur cooks. Being a food blogger and a food enthusiast,  I’m looking out for interesting and challenging  recipes. I did find a few recipes very interesting but challenging, I could  find none.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Sending it to my event ‘Only’- Cooking From Cookbooks guest hosted by Gauri.
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Faseela said...

lovely review

Torviewtoronto said...

Useful review Pari thank you for sharing

Aarthi said...

nice review


PrathibhaSreejith said...

Thats really an informative Review Pari :) Rava looks delicious..

Sowmya said...

very informative..thanks for the review :)

Michelle said...

Fab review. You've really taken your time over it and it shows!

Pari Vasisht said...

Thanks Michelle Peter Jones, your comment has surely motivated me to work harder. I'm really happy that you realised that how much work goes into into writing the review.

Deeps @ Naughty Curry said...

very nice review... truthful, detailed & to the point

jaya's recipes said...

nicley written review!

zareena said...

Nice review.....

lubnakarim06 said...

I too totally agree with you...there are some glitches in the book....nice to go through your review on the book...

Anisha said...

Perfect and thorough review... Going through your verdict helped me realize how important small details are while writing a recipe.

Sum said...

A very comprehensive review :) Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog... U too have a fabulous blog :)

Amarendra said...

I am very much excited to read this book after reading this review now. And when I was reading this review, I got SMS that flipkart has delivered this book at my residence.

Thanks for posting this lovely review, which has made me more curious.

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Rahul said...

Nice review, Pari.. Looks like a nice book to add to the cookbook collection.

Navneet said...

I already use her book DAKSHIN for the food I grew up with, which is TamBram. But I also knew that Dakshin was a restricted view of South Indian vegetarianism. This new book SOUTHERN FLAVORS fulfils my desire to have access to recipes from all over SI. It is really fantastic to be able to make foods that taste new using the same ingredients that you already use to make other South Indian vegetarian foods.


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