Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The West Australian Newspaper: July 2013

Books for Cooks - Book Reviews

'Toscano’s Family Table' by Joanne Toscano. Published by Slattery, RRP$50.00
Melbourne-based Italian greengrocers Toscano’s is a family business that’s been chugging along for more than sixty years. In this book, granddaughter Joanne showcases what her extended family do with all that home-grown goodness in the form of a cookbook that covers over seventy classic Italian dishes. But it’s not all fruit and veg: we’re also talking truffle fettuccine, roast lamb shoulder and mango tiramisu. There are also lots of tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your fresh produce, too.

'Ancient Grains' by Catherine Saxelby. Published by Arbon, RRP$34.99
It’s International Year of the Quinoa, did you know? With that in mind, Ancient Grains covers a silo-full of whole grains (including the aforementioned) and what their health benefits are. Thankfully, the book includes over one hundred recipes too, because quite often the question with grains is not whether or not they are good for us (we know they are), but how exactly do we prepare and cook them? If you’re into grains, or are thinking about extending your repertoire, this will surely be your go-to book.

'Not Quite Nigella' by Lorraine Elliott. Published by Penguin, RRP$29.00. 
With a quarter of a million unique readers a month, Lorraine Elliott is arguably Australia’s food blogging queen. Formerly a media strategist, Elliott takes the reader on a journey through her life as a fully-fledged, full-time food blogger, from doing a stint in jail (in the name of research), to gatecrashing exclusive parties, media famils and interviewing celebrity chefs from all over the world, including, finally, her blogging namesake, Nigella Lawson. Throw in a few recipes, and you have a fun and interesting insight into the life of a food blogger.

'Kumar’s Family Cookbook' by Kumar Pereira. Published by Allen & Unwin, RRP$29.99
There are lots of cookbooks geared towards the family on the shelves at the moment, but this one caught our eye for its Sri Lankan bent. Kumar, a former MasterChef contestant, began writing out these recipes (complete with gorgeous drawings) for his sons, and they have gradually snowballed into a book. It includes Sri Lankan dishes (lamprais curry; roti) as well as everyday family faves (crispy-skinned pork belly; sticky toffee pudding), showing off Kumar’s talents as a cook, artist and all-round family man. 

The West Australian Newspaper: April 2013

Restaurant Review: A Spicy Affair

The Buzz

New suburban Indian restaurant serving up consistently tender curries. Cosy, welcoming and fast becoming a local favourite.

This fairly new place on the Victoria Park strip feels like home away from home - if I was living in Bombay. The Indian eatery is tucked away at the southern end of Albany Highway, two doors down from The Prophet, and is as cute as a button, with the chatty young owner ensuring everybody feels, well, right at home. There is indoor and alfresco seating to choose from, and on a weeknight, both areas are bursting at the seams. Yes okay, we’ve been here before, but apart from the awesome food and friendly owner, the main reason we keep boomeranging back is because the food is consistent. Too often I’ve found that Indian restaurants serve up a dish that’s fantastic one week and dreadful the next. Here, if you order the goat curry, you’ll get the same succulent, fall-off-the-bone goat curry every day of the week. But more about that later.

D├ęcor-wise, it’s trad Indian. Chilli-red walls, gilt-edged Indian oil paintings and tapestries, with Indian music on the sound system. They’re just about to undergo a re-fit though, so don’t quote me. The service is old-style: free pappadams and tap water for the table without having to ask for it. It’s fully BYO, and corkage is three bucks. None of the dishes on the menu make it over $20, and judging by all the foot traffic, take-away is a popular weeknight can’t-be-bothered-cooking option.

When I visit with the family, we always order the same dishes, hence why we know they’re consistent with the meals. The yellow dhal is a classic comfort food, chunky and soupy with just enough bite to raise a bead or two of sweat. And then there is the goat. A bit of bone but not too much, immersed in a thick gravy brought to new flavour heights by the fattiness of the meat, and so tender barely any chewing is required. They nail it every time. Generous dishes of saffron rice and naan done just right help to mop up all the glorious liquid.  Generally, butter chicken comes in a galaxy of combinations – some are too creamy, some have too much tomato. Others are too spicy, and when you have a six year old addicted to butter chicken, too much heat does us no favours on the eating front. Spicy Affair’s version has a perfect balance of all these flavours and again, they do it the same way every time, so we don’t have to worry whether our child will be eating or not that night. The sauces meld into a happy slurry on the plate, and more bread is usually required.

Dessert is but one choice – gulab jamun. Two balls of hot, syrupy and extremely sweet milk dumplings that is made in-house, and we’re done. I’ll be dreaming about that goat.

A Spicy Affair, 909A Albany Highway, East Victoria Park. Telephone 6162 8767

Score: 13.5 out of 20


Scoop Magazine: March 2013

 source: 123RF.com

Some Like It Hot

For many of us, cooking Indian food can seem a little daunting. There’s all those spices, for a start. And how exactly do you cook roti? Fear not: with a knowledge and preparation, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Spice It Up
The first thing to do is get your Indian spices sorted. Sure, there’s a lot of them but once you’ve bought them, you’re halfway there. Essential to the shopping list are turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, garam masala and cumin. You can also throw in some fennel seeds, cloves, mustard seeds, coriander, chillies, fenugreek seeds and a smidge of saffron (it can be expensive) while you’re in the spice aisle. If you prefer to go fresh with your spices or save money by buying in bulk, head to an Indian supermarket, such as Maharajah Stores or Shree Ganesh. If you haven’t got the time (or simply can’t be bothered), visit Turban Chopsticks in Highgate for a range of ready-made Indian pastes, meal kits and marinades.

Just the Basics
Once you’ve got your spice rack tricked up, it’s time to turn to the other essentials. Coconut milk is in order, as are packets and tins of basmati rice, chickpeas, split lentils of various hues, ginger, garlic and mint. If you want to be a real traditionalist you can also add a large wok (called a ‘karahi’ or ‘kadhai’) and a griddle (called a ‘tawa’) to your shopping list.

“A mortar pestle is also a really good product to have,” says Sophie Budd, from Taste Budds Cooking Studio. 

“A pressure cooker is a really good idea, too, as it reduces cooking time. Another great cooking utensil is a mesh cooking spoon that is called a spider, which is really useful for deep-frying. And always cook with ghee (clarified butter). It just tastes so much better, even though it’s slightly more calorific. Prime Products in Osborne Park can help you out with most Indian ingredients and products.”

Cooking Conundrum
Indian cuisine is enormously diverse and changes from region to region, so what to cook? At first, perhaps try sticking to what you know and like. Northern Indian dishes tend to be richer and creamier than their southern counterparts, with lots of different kinds of flatbread (such as naan and chapatti).  Southern Indian cooking leans towards spicier fare, focusing on vegetable dishes and rice. Of course, it’s not all cut and dried - there is a seemingly endless break-down of regional flavours and dishes as well. Gujarati cuisine, for example, comes from India’s west and centres around vegetarianism, while the rich and complex dishes of Awadhi cuisine in the north includes basmati and kebabs.

“Indian cuisine is all very regional,” says Latasha Menon, owner of Latasha’s Kitchen.

“Every community and every caste all have unique elements to their regional dishes. It’s determined by what is produced in that area. In Perth, Indian restaurants were traditionally Punjabi-owned restaurants. Punjab is an area of India, and its cuisine includes saag, paneer and butter chicken, which is actually a concocted dish. Things are changing now though, and a lot of Indians coming to Western Australia these days are demanding regional food.”

It’s also good to know your food fundamentals when embarking on an Indian cooking challenge. Roti bread is eaten throughout India, as is dhal.

“There are so many different types of dhal,” says Latasha. 

“They all have different colours and cooking times, and they can be whole or split. Dhal is universal, yet there are so many styles. There is dhal makhani, which is very north Indian. The south Indians would use a toor dhal in a lentil dish called sambhar, which there are also many versions of. Rice dishes too are universal, from Pakistan down to Sri Lanka. The dhal in the rice dish is often made into pancakes, which is called dhosha.”

For recipes and inspiration, perhaps nab yourself an Indian cookbook, such as Christine Manfield’s ‘Tasting India’ (Penguin) or the tome ‘India: The Cookbook’ by Pushpesh Pant (Phaidon Press).  Or turn to the web: SBS has a fair range of Indian recipes www.sbs.com.au , while ‘Sailu’s Kitchen’ is one of the world’s top Indian food bloggers http://www.sailusfood.com .

Go the Pro
If you’re still not feeling confident enough to go it alone, perhaps book yourself into an Indian cooking class.  There are stacks of cooking schools around Perth, with many running hands-on Indian cooking classes. Latasha’s Kitchen in Leederville regularly runs both beginners and advanced sessions, and has a great in-house store of Indian pastes, cookware, utensils and cookbooks for sale. The Indian classes at Taste Budds Cooking Studio in Highgate regularly sell out (think roti, dhal and Sophie Budd’s featured recipe, onion bhaji).