Tuesday 9 November 2010

"India Cookbook": Book Launch at Moti Mahal, Covent Garden

Sometimes I think about going to India to do one of those serene looking yoga courses by the ocean. It would have to be one with clean toilets and nice views, where everyone is decked out in the latest Sweaty Betty gear and has the afternoon off to lie in a hammock. I can do downward dogs and pigeon pose with the best of them, possibly even at sunrise. But I'm fairly certain I'd fail at the first yogi hurdle (the vegetarian one) as soon as I caught the whiff of a tender piece of chicken being plucked from a tandoor.

I suppose if there's one place to have a superb vegetarian diet, it's in India - so many chutneys, mangos, pickles, spice to distract you from the huge, gaping void on your plate. But then the yogi people probably wouldn't let me have a glass of wine with it, and now the dream's all falling apart before my eyes. Anyhoo...

Phaidon Press has recently published the "India Cookbook", a compilation of 1000 recipes, by food writer Pushpesh Pant.

Featuring some beautiful photography and a clear, simple layout, the book had me pining for a trip to India before I was even through the introduction - a walk through the rich history of Indian food and the culinary influences in the various regions contributing to India's food culture.

From spice mixtures and pastes (try an aromatic garam masala or fried onion paste),  pickles, chutneys and raitas (like the Egyptian lentil chutney or raw mango pickle) through to more substantial dishes (ginger flavoured chops, dry spicy pumpkin and fish biryani), desserts and drinks - this book has it covered. The signature dishes of some guest Indian chefs are included at the back. My only quibble is that it might be nice to see the beautiful photos next to the relevant recipe rather than in glossy, colour sections scattered throughout the book. However the snaps are cross referenced, and I suppose each approach has its pros and cons.

I recently attended the book launch at Moti Mahal in Covent Garden where chef Anirudh Arora not only tried to sell our small cookery "masterclass" group a tandoor larger than my kitchen, but also brought his adaptations of the recipes to life with some fine Indian cooking. Anirudh has an impressive background, having cooked for India's Prime Minister at the age of 25 and heading up the Udaimahal restaurant in India in 2002.

Anirudh Arora preparing the marinated
guinea fowl for the tandoor

One of my favourite dishes was the tandoor grilled guinea fowl which had been the subject of a short masterclass in the kitchen - adapted from the recipe for Tandoori Murg (chicken) in India Cookbook.

Tandoori guinea fowl - others worked on the
gorgeous, spicy paturee (crab and tiger prawn cakes wrapped
in banana leaves) which was another of my favourites.

The first marinade consists of ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon juice and salt (Anirudh adds malt vinegar) which is rubbed on and left for an hour. A further marinade is then applied - a mix of yoghurt, ginger, garlic, fenugreek, vegetable oil and garam masala (Anirudh makes his own garam masala, and there's a recipe in the book, although you might cheat here with a commercial brand). The guinea fowl (or chicken) lolls about in half the mix for 2-3 hours before roasting in the hot tandoor or a charcoal grill for 12-15 minutes - or in the oven for 1 - 1.5 hours. Half way through the remaining marinade is applied.

After hanging for 2-3 minutes to drain out any excess moisture, the bird is basted with melted butter and roasted again for 5-7 minutes. And voila - a gorgeous, succulent, spicy starter. Fantastic stuff.

Here are some of my other favourites from the night, served family style:

Bhalla papdi chaat - chickpeas, fried pastry,
yoghurt, tamarind & mint chutney - lovely flavours
& contrasting textures

Clockwise from top left: Slow cooked black lentils (less memorable,
perhaps could have done with more oomph);
crispy, stir fried lotus roots with peanut & coriander (excellent);
a refreshing raita (cucumber & yoghurt)

Chicken biryani with spinach & fenugreek

A thick, hearty stewed lamb with spinach & dill)

Moti Mahal does have a sleek, slightly sterile, corporate air about the room. It's the type of place where you drink fancy cocktails (and delicious, Indian spiced ones I might add) with your curry. But scratch beneath that service and there's some good quality cooking coming out of the kitchen. Prices are steeper than your average local Indian - around £12-£20 for main courses. I would bank on spending £35-£55 per head. Indian cookery classes and cocktail masterclasses are available at the restaurant - see the website for details.

"India Cookbook" by Pushpesh Pant is available for RRP £29.95.

Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5AA

Greedy Diva was a guest of Moti Mahal and received a review copy of India Cookbook from Phaidon.

Moti Mahal on Urbanspoon


  1. I dont know why but I've never been a huge fan of indian food. I don't not like it, but would never crave it and would always go if someone else suggested indian. I almost secretly wish more people did suggest indian because the more I HAVE had it, the better it's getting!

  2. Catty - I think in Australia, we often tend to go for Vietnamese or Thai in the place that Londoners go out for Indian. So maybe that has trained our taste buds in a different direction!

  3. I really enjoyed the food at Moti Mahal, especially the Bhalla papdi chaat. But on the night we went, I didn't have a chance to check out the prices....I happened to be walking past the other week and studied the menu - and the prices made me wince...It's not cheap! But it's bloody nice food.

  4. Dan - I agree with you, prices are quite steep but it's good.

  5. Gutted i missed this event, another WSET casualty! Did you get to cook from the cookery book yet? I would be interested to know whether I should buy it or not.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  6. Luiz - I'm afraid that I have been travelling and eating out too much to experiement with the book, but that was the beauty of the event - having the recipes cooked for me by an expert! I have read them and they seem easy to use. Personally, I love the book.


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