Cookbook Confidential – Joanne Tracey reviews “An Invitation to Indian Cooking”

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This book was chosen by the cookbook club and the point of Cookbook Confidential is to review the chosen cookbook and, in that review, to state whether it deserves a place on your cookbook shelf. Easy, right?

Well, here’s the thing … For the first time since I joined, I’ve been unable to get a copy of this book – at least not in time to get the review done. There isn’t a copy in any of the Sunshine Coast Libraries, it’s not on iBooks, and while I could order a paperback copy from Booktopia it would cost $41 and was unlikely to arrive before we’re due to leave for Vietnam – and this review is due when we get back. 

All, however, was not lost. Luckily for me, The Observer (UK) Food Monthly did a series of reviews of classic cookbooks some time back – and this was one of them. More importantly in those reviews recipes from the book were shared. Cue fist pump to the air. If you want a read (and find the other recipes), you’ll find the article here. (I’m a Guardian subscriber, but they don’t have a paywall.)

So, rather than me telling you why I believe this book belongs on my cookbook shelf, this review is about whether I want this book on my shelf … and whether I’ll preorder the 50th anniversary edition which will be released in Australia in November.

What I cooked

We decided the Kheema would be a perfect Sunday supper (and we had everything other than the meat already in the pantry) so we chose to make that one for this review. Because it’s Madhur Jaffrey, I followed the recipe exactly … and was disappointed. Perhaps it’s because the book was originally written in 1973, but we found the spicing very underwhelming. I added some Kashmiri chilli towards the end for a bit of a tingle, but … yeah and nah. Let’s just say if I made it again, I’d definitely boost the spices at the beginning.

What was more successful was the following night when we repurposed the leftovers into curry puffs and served them with a spicy tamarind sauce. 

My Verdict

This book is a classic for a reason. First published in 1973, Jaffrey introduced American readers to Indian cooking by taking the mystery out of it and making it accessible to an American audience and American kitchens.

From the recipes we cooked (I also made the Pullao – rice with lamb), however, tastes have moved on. For a start, we’re not frightened of spice (in fact, are very much the opposite), and many of the ingredients that were so mysterious back in the 70s are pantry staples these days.

Will I be preordering the 50th anniversary issue for my bookshelf? I’m sad to say, no, I won’t … at least not unless some of the recipes have been tweaked for the 21st century. That’s not to say I won’t pick up a copy for a look if it comes into the library.

Kheema – minced meat

According to Jaffrey, this is the first Indian dish all Indian students abroad learn to make. It can be cooked plain or with potatoes and peas … I added both potatoes and peas. Also, in full disclosure, I copied the ingredients and method exactly as it appeared in the Guardian (which is why, unusually for me, I’ve kept the non-metric measurements in).

What you need…

  • onion 2 medium-sized, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • garlic 4 cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • fresh ginger 1 piece, 2 inches (5cm) long, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • vegetable oil 4 tbsp
  • cinnamon 1 stick, about 2 inches (5cm) long
  • cloves 4 whole
  • black peppercorns 4
  • bay leaf 1
  • hot red peppers (chillies) 1-2, to taste (optional)
  • ground coriander 1 tbsp
  • ground cumin 1 tsp
  • ground turmeric ½ tsp
  • tinned tomato 1 large or 2 small ones, chopped
  • finely minced lamb or minced beef 900g (2lbs) 
  • salt ¾-1 tsp (or to taste)
  • lemon juice 1 tsp

What you do with it…

Place onions, garlic and ginger in blender with 3 tbsps water and blend to smooth paste. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-12 inch (25-30cm) frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaf, and then the peppers. In about 10 seconds, when the peppers turn dark, add paste from the blender. Fry for about 10 minutes, adding a sprinkling of water if the food sticks to the bottom. Add the coriander, cumin and turmeric, and fry for 5 minutes. Now put the chopped tomato in, fry for 2-3 minutes, and add the minced meat and salt. Fry on high heat for about 5 minutes. Break up the meat and brown it as much as you can. Add ¼ pint (150ml) water and the lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cover. Lower flame and simmer for 1 hour.

To serve: spoon off any fat and discard. Serve with rice, or chapatis, or parathas, and any vegetables you like.

Joanne Tracey is an Australian author of contemporary women’s fiction and cosy culinary mysteries inspired by her travels, a love of baking and happy endings. 

Based on the Sunshine Coast in South-East Queensland, Jo is an unapologetic daydreamer, eternal optimist, and confirmed morning person. 

When she isn’t writing or day-jobbing, Jo loves baking, reading, long walks along the beach and posting way too many photos of sunrises on Instagram. 

Jo’s life goals (apart from being a world-famous author) are to be an extra on Midsomer Murders and to cook her way through Nigella’s books. 

You’ll find her foodie blog at Brookford Kitchen Diaries (BKD).

Her travel and bookish blog at And Anyways

And her books at:

Facebook: joannetraceyauthor

Instagram @jotracey

13 responses to “Cookbook Confidential – Joanne Tracey reviews “An Invitation to Indian Cooking””

  1. Darlene – British Columbia, Canada – Writer of children's stories, short stories and travel articles.!/supermegawoman!/pages/Darlene-Foster-Writer/362236842733
    Darlene says:

    I didn’t realize this book was that old. I imagine she cut back the spice for readers new to Indian cooking. For those who like meat or with a family, this would be a good recipe. I like that you used the leftovers to make curry puffs. Clever. I’m glad you found some recipes. I also had trouble finding a copy of the book without spending a lot of money. But we are clever and found a way around it!

    • Hi Darlene, the book we used has recipes from 2003 so maybe that is why we didn’t notice that same issue.

    • Hi Bernadette, this recipe sounds fine for those family members of mine who don’t like very spicy food. If I cook spicy and/or hot food, I have to make something separate for Michael and my mom.

  2. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen – I'm a writer, cook, gardener, photographer, poet, quilter, and accomplished daydreamer. I'm also a wife, mother, grandmother, sister. cousin, aunt, and friend, no particular order on any given day. I've been a writer all my life, newspaper reporter and columnist, radio news writer, and magazine contributor, and poet and short-story writer as the spirit moves. Now, I turn my attention to my cookbook, the blog, and a cooking column "Memorable Meals," which runs in our county newspaper. Besides my family, I love dogs, cats, good coffee, chocolate, and my never-dwindling pile of books I intend to read. Our family ran a small Vermont Inn for 18 years, with our focus on local, organic ingredients. I cook from scratch, and try not to use anything that has ingredients I cannot pronounce! After many years of daily serving up local delicacies, cooking classes, and catering, we are now only open for special events, and the odd cooking class. We also host musicians and artists, having helped produce a musical festival and other musical events for nearly 20 years. Many incredible artists have found a place at our table. Wonderful experiences, we will treasure always. My family and friends are my practice subjects. With a family that includes nut, peanut, tree fruit, and vegetable allergies, gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, vegetarians, vegans, heart conscious, and a couple of picky eaters, there has to be a few quick tricks in the book to keep everyone fed and happy! Personally, I do not eat red meat or most full-fat dairy (usually) for health reasons, making the occasional exception at Thanksgiving and Christmas or our anniversary if the duck is locally raised. I do eat fish and seafood, so I try to come up with alternatives and substitutions when available. I serve local organic eggs and cheeses to my family who can tolerate dairy (My husband recently had a heart attack, and I need to watch my own cholesterol so I am careful, but have been known to let a little piece of really good cheese accidentally fall on my plate!). I believe strongly that eating in a way that is good for our planet is also good for our bodies, and I try to educated myself about our food sources! I cook by the seasons and draw on inspiration from the strong and talented women in my family who came before me, as well as the youth in the family who look at the world with fresh eyes. Food links us all, whether sharing a meal, cooking it together, or writing about it for others to enjoy. I love taking an old recipe and giving it a modern spin, especially if I can make it a littler healthier and use foods that are kinder to the Earth and to our bodies. I believe strongly in sustainable, delicious eating of whole foods, and the wonderful flavors we have at our fingertips! And finally, I love conversing with all the talented cooks and chefs out there who dot the globe! It's a wonderful, world full of culinary pen pals, and I cherish them all! XXXOOO Dorothy
    Dorothy’s New Vintage Kitchen says:

    You are so right about what was exotic back then being pretty common pantry staples today! I know on my spice rack, I had everything I needed for my recipes.

  3. johnrieber – I love great food, interesting books, fascinating travel, outrageous movies, and bacon, especially when it sits on top of a great cheeseburger! I work in entertainment – and I have been lucky enough to interview some really talented Artists – that guides my posts: interesting and provocative movies, music, social media and of course, food, since I believe strongly in the maxim, "everyone eats!"
    johnrieber says:

    Love the series and the recipes!

  4. The long list of ingredients makes my eyes cross!!!! which is the main reason I have not cooked any Indian recipes from scratch! Just as well we have good access to Indian food in Singapore.

  5. yes i bet you’re right about the spice levels. We are all so much more used to them now. I remember my dad making a beef curry once (which he burnt black) which was incredibly mild – and blackened to a crisp:)

  6. Retirement Reflections – Vancouver Island, BC – Prior to retirement, I lived and worked in Beijing China for fourteen years (Middle School Principal/Deputy Director at The Western Academy of Beijing). Leaving international life behind, my husband and I retired to Vancouver Island in June 2015. To document both this transition and our new adventures, ‘Retirement Reflections’ was born. I hope that you enjoy reading these reflections, and will be willing to share your own.
    Retirement Reflections says:

    Wonderful review, Jo! I swear that the delicious aroma of your Kheema came right through my screen!

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