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Customer Review

842 of 889 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good intro to Indian cuisine, recipes are so-so, January 20, 2011
This review is from: The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes (Paperback)
I'm an avid slow cooker, and I have cooked my own Indian food for a long time, even making paneer from milk. I've made many restaurant basics on the stove, both from my own recipes and from recipes in books. I've even improvised Indian food in my slow cooker, especially moong dal with spinach (adapted from Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking), Goan fish (which I loved at a restaurant and reverse engineered; coconut milk + homemade curry paste + frozen salmon fillets, and after the fish was cooked I reduced the sauce on the stove), and a coconut dal recipe (adapted from Mark Bittman's Best Recipes in the World) that entranced even my most carnivorous friends.

I've used this book to cook about 8 recipes and here's what I've found. Implicitly I am comparing it with my favorite slow cooker books, the "Not your mother's slow cooker" and "Not your mother's slow cooker for two", which I like because they have a balanced set of recipes and have clearly tried making them different ways: they specify when things need to be browned before adding to slow cooker, and say whether high or low is better for a given recipe.

The 8 recipes I made are mustard greens and spinach, chana dal, green lentil and rice, dry dal, cauliflower, pigeon peas with garlic and lemon, and my boyfriend made the chicken vindaloo and chicken masala, and then made lamb vindaloo based on the chicken recipe.

Strengths:
1. Prioritizes spices: she says if you're going to buy 7 spices, which are the 8 you should buy. That wasn't a typo: she lists 7 of the crucial spices, and then adds an 8th, and then pictures of her crucial 7 spices include spice #8 while omitting another.

2. Some of the food is really good. I like the flavors of 5 of the 8 recipes we've made (disappointing ones discussed below). Other food others have liked, even thought I haven't, like the cauliflower.

3. I like how conversational the book is, and that she mentions how the recipes fit into her life.

4. I love that she has vegetable recipes --- most slow cooker cookbooks don't cook veggies outside of root vegetables.

5. I also like that my boyfriend got really excited to see the book --- he wanted to borrow it the day it came and was really excited to make the vindaloo.

6. As with any Indian cookbook, most recipes are suitable for people with the most common food restrictions: few or no recipes use peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, wheat, soy, corn, and most are vegetarian. Many are dairy-free and vegan. They use little sugar and starch, so are fairly low glycemic index.

Weaknesses:
1. Avoids some obvious short-cuts: Someone who is using their slow cooker will want other short cuts that don't compromise flavor, such as pre-ground spices, frozen spinach, and canned tomatoes. Is someone who is using a slow cooker also going to grind their own coriander or dip a single tomato in boiling water to peel off the skin before cutting it? I only grind my own spices when I'm making a huge batch of curry paste that will last me a year.

2. Logistics are off. She tells you to buy 8 spices, but so far I haven't found a single recipe that uses 2 of the spices with no other special ingredients. 1 lb of mustard greens filled my entire 6 qt crockpot leaving little room for the 1 lb of spinach and spices, onion, garlic, ginger that I was supposed to add afterwards. Thankfully I was using frozen spinach, but 1 lb of fresh spinach would not have fit.

3. She buys into the fat-free fallacy that it's better to make enormous quantities of fat-free food than moderate quantities of normal-fat food, so most of the dal/bean recipes are fat-free. On a flavor basis, that's a huge negative: flavor is less full, texture is more gummy, and the hot spices are harsher than if made traditionally in oil. (The only times I've ever seen people get chemical burns in their mouth from hot peppers were when they were in fat-free dishes, so I think there's a real change in the quality of peppers when cooked in oil versus not.) On a health basis, it's also a huge negative. Fat-free food has a higher glycemic index than traditional food, so many people overeat when they eat fat-free food, and certainly they do not save calories.

4. The recipes make enormous quantities. The keema recipe calls for 4 pounds of ground meat (vs. ones I found online use 1 lb at a time). Dal recipes use 3-4 cups of lentils. Why contribute to American epidemic of huge portions? She gives directions for halving the recipes, but it's distracting to do that for each of the dozen ingredients in a recipe.

5. It's mostly legumes, with only 7 meat recipes, ~12 vegetable recipes, and no fish. Of the 7 meat recipes, she says a few aren't traditional, and three include dairy in a central role (e.g., butter chicken) so a given person might not even be able to use all 7 recipes without tinkering if they have food restrictions. (A little known fact: people with food allergies often rely extensively on Asian cookbooks because they avoid most common allergens. Normal people buy Asian cookbooks because they want to try cooking something new. People with food allergies buy Asian cookbooks because they can't eat half the recipes in western cookbooks.)

6. She gives a single time for how long a dish takes to cook, but she doesn't explain how your choice of crockpot size affects that time. She gives 2 choices of crockpots (4 and 5 qt) for making the cauliflower, but gives only one cooking time (3 hours). I used a 4 qt crockpot and it was still crunchy after 3 hours; presumably the 3 hours was for a 5 qt crockpot. As I learned from "Not your mother's slow cooker", cooking time varies with how full a crockpot is, with fuller crockpots taking longer to cook. Similar experience with the dry dal.

7. The first two recipes that I made were disappointing. Besides taking different amounts of time to cook than expected, the Aloo gobi (cauliflower with potatoes) was gritty with spices. You actually feel the vast quantity of spices as you eat it because there are tablespoons and tablespoons full of different spices. It's not a smooth feeling that you have from aloo gobi that you make on the stove. My guess is that the spices don't get a chance to dissolve into the oil. I served the aloo gobi to guests, and some of them loved it, and others weren't so excited, so it's personal taste. My boyfriend made lamb vindaloo, and there was the same thick grittiness from undissolved spices. My suggestion for the future will be to make spice pastes ahead of putting them in the slow cooker. The dry dal I made with urad dal, and it tasted raw after even twice as long as it was supposed to cook, and I didn't like the taste. And so I added water and cooked it overnight, and it still did not taste good. So I ended up with cups and cups of this dal that is barely palatable --- I ate a couple of servings, but threw 3/4 of it out, which I virtually never do. Maybe I just don't like urad dal, though, or maybe mine was old.

Btw, one reviewer mentioned how expensive it was to buy the ingredients. If you can find an Indian grocery, they shouldn't be. I went to my local Indian grocery (Patel Brothers, which is a national chain), and bought the full set of suggested spices for my boyfriend, some extra spices for myself, 4 lbs black chickpeas, and some other groceries, and my total was 25 dollars. And this is 7 and 14 oz bags of spices, not the small bottles from supermarkets.

I'm glad that I have this book, but since I already have to tinker with the recipes such as by adding fat and halving the recipes, I think that I would have been better off with a good Indian cookbook and using the slow cooker whenever there's a long simmer time, as I've done in the past.
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Tracked by 7 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 34 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 7, 2011 1:59:19 PM PST
David says:
I notice a wide range of cooking times also -- I think my cooker runs hot anyway, but i can never use the high setting for as long as she suggests without it all drying out. Overall, I'm happy with the recipes and it's been a great guide for kickstarting me into the world of easy Indian cooking.

Posted on Feb 7, 2011 6:35:23 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 7, 2011 6:36:02 PM PST]

Posted on Feb 7, 2011 6:36:32 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 7, 2011 6:36:50 PM PST]

Posted on Feb 8, 2011 2:38:11 PM PST
L. Logan says:
Most Indian cooks use a pressure cooker which cuts the time of cooking lentils enormously. A red lentil dal will cook in 3 minutes after soaking for 1/2 hour. Chickpeas, pinto beans, other large legumes cook in 20 to 40 minutes. A great investment! If you know someone who travels to India have them buy you at least two. I use one mostly for legumes and the other for cooking rice. Get a metal bowl with flat lid to fit inside. Then it 3 whistles and turn it off. The rice comes out perfect. This is the inside scoop on Indian cooking.

Posted on Feb 10, 2011 10:41:38 AM PST
J. Bernstein says:
Since a large portion of the population of India is vegetarian, I don't think it is very much amiss for the majority of the recipes in this book to be vegetarian. It makes up a very large portion of Indian cuisine. Also, no where in the book did the author say this was geared towards people with dietary restrictions, so I don't see why combining meat and dairy is unreasonable. If you have ever read through an Indian cookbook you would realize that a vast majority of curries in traditional Indian cooking include dairy.

Posted on Mar 17, 2011 8:54:33 PM PDT
N. Williams says:
If you are looking to keep it Kosher, realize that it is Indian cooking, not Jewish cooking, and don't find fault with the author if it doesn't fit your Kosher dietary requirements.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2011 3:56:51 PM PDT
Huh? Kosher? Where did that come from?

Posted on May 21, 2011 7:59:24 PM PDT
Sarah,
your review is very well laid out. As an avid cook & Indian food lover, thank you for taking the time to give thought and attention to explaining your experience with the recipes.

Posted on May 28, 2011 8:59:08 AM PDT
Amber says:
I consider your item #5 (heavily vegetarian) a strength. Indian cuisine is heavily vegetarian, so why shouldn't an Indian cookbook also be heavily vegetarian? I find it ironic that anyone would complain there's not enough meat in a cookbook when 95% of cookbooks are so meat-centric they're virtually useless to vegetarians. This one is a welcome change.

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2011 7:50:52 PM PDT
W. Boytim says:
N. Williams was referring to the Meat and Dairy comment made by J. Bernstein.. in Jewish tradition you did not boil your meat in the milk of the animal - therefor rendering it unkosher (is that a word..?) ...
Or maybe the person who removed their post said something about the cookbook not being Kosher...
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