A review of my cookbooks and food blogs

As I said in my previous post in the food category, I would give a review of the cookbooks I own in a second post. I’m most interested in Asian cuisine, specifically Indonesian, Indian and Surinamese cuisine. Suriname lies in South America but it does have a predominantly Asian character considering it’s a fusion cuisine heavily influenced by the former two cuisines and many other culinary traditions. Why the interest in Indonesian and Surinamese cuisine one might ask? The colonial heritage of the Netherlands influenced this, Indonesia and Suriname were colonies of the Netherlands. As a consequence some of their inhabitants migrated to the Netherlands and they are notable minorities in our country today. They operate quite a few eating establishments (some restaurants, but maybe more fast food establishments), and therefore their cuisines are relatively popular in the Netherlands compared to other European countries. I’ve grown to like their food and became interested in preparing it myself. In the Netherlands Indian restaurants can also be found, although it’s not as popular here as in the United Kingdom unfortunately.

While I do like Dutch cuisine, I think our cuisine is not as exciting as the three Asian cuisines I’ve mentioned. Dutch food is never spicy and the use of spices is limited. Gravies are simple, often boring and based on meat, the use of sauces is also limited. Asian food by contrast can be very spicy, but mild dishes can also be good. A lot of different spices are used in general and a lot of different ingredients can go into a single dish. Due to the use of so much spices and ingredients the taste of dishes can be far more complex. There are many different gravies and sauces. The three Asian cuisines are a lot more varied and creative with their use of ingredients.

Because the interest in Indonesian and Surinamese cuisine is low in the Anglosphere when compared to the Netherlands, all of the cookbooks I own for the Indonesian cuisine are Dutch. I do have a few English language food blogs in my bookmarks for Indonesian cuisine though. For Surinamese cuisine there are Dutch cookbooks as well, but so far I haven’t purchased them for budgetary reasons. Fortunately there is a Dutch food blog covering it.

For Indonesian cuisine, my favourite English weblogs are Indochine KitchenIndonesia Eats and Rasa Malaysia. All three cover other Asian cuisines as well. Good Dutch websites are Roy’s Indo Recepten and Tante Lenny’s Indonesisch kookhoekje. Of these, the former doesn’t contain the impressive food photography of it’s English counterparts and the latter contains no photos at all. It compensates with it’s sheer quantity of recipes though. The Dutch cookbooks I recommend are two titles authored by Lonny Gerungan, probably the most popular chef specialising in Indonesian cuisine in the Netherlands. They are De Authentieke Indische Keuken and Het Bali Kookboek (also available in English as The Bali Cookbook). To be accurate I should mention that the ‘Indische keuken’ is not the same as the Indonesian (in Dutch: ‘Indonesische’) cuisine, because it is the indigenous cuisine modified to colonial taste. The second title focusses on the cuisine of the island of Bali, which is different from the rest of Indonesia because of the Hindu majority living on the island.

The cookbook De Authentieke Indische Keuken contains a large quantity of recipes, but the majority of the food photography is bland and unappealing. The quality of the recipes is solid however and I’ve actually prepared a fair share of the recipes in the book with reasonable satisfaction. It compares favourably to other titles from my collection of cookbooks, some other titles are simply catching dust because they’re either uninteresting to me or impractical.  Certainly Indonesian cuisine is slanted more towards impractical on the scale of practical and impractical, because there are quite a lot of dishes which require a lot of effort and time to prepare, but the book also offers quick and easy recipes which is an important requirement for me. Because it covers the colonially influenced Indonesian kitchen, some of the ingredients used are native to Europe and the ingredients native to Indonesia are easy to acquire in the West.

This is a bit different in The Bali Cookbook. This title has dishes with papaya, cassava en jackfruit for example, which are a bit more difficult to find. While Indonesian sambals (sauces) can be found easily in Dutch stores, you have to make the Balinese sambals yourself. The photography in this book compares well with the best food photography seen on foodblogs. Preparing the recipes in this book is a bit more challenging due to the ingredients and my first attempts were not successful, but it’s too early to judge the title. The author writes that for the Balinese people vegetables and fruits are the most important in their cuisine because meat is an expensive special treat and because they don’t like fish. Even so, he spends 96 pages on meat, egg and fish dishes and 30 pages on vegetable dishes (excluding rice dishes and sambals). I have the same problem with his other title. I do have to praise both titles for their extensive descriptions of the culture surrounding the cuisine; most other cookbooks don’t give it as much coverage as these titles do.

There are only two Indonesian vegetable dishes which I like very much: gado gado and sambal goreng buncis. In principle I like tempeh, which originated in Indonesia, in but the amount of oil needed to fry it scares me away. Maybe the Indonesian cuisine is not very suitable for vegetarians, or the people writing the cookbooks should make a completely vegetarian cookbook for the Indonesian cuisine or at least a cookbook with a dominant share of vegetarian recipes. I’m not sure.

This is not a problem when it comes to Indian cuisine. There are tons of foodblogs in my bookmarks, some even entirely vegetarian, so I’m going to give a selection of the ones containing the largest collections of recipes instead of listing all of them. Sinful CurrySailu’s Kitchen and Sashi’s Tasty Bites present a large and interesting selection of recipes in an interesting, compact manner. Some blogs do not cover Indian cuisine exclusively but are still interesting, such as eCurry and Mahanandi. Indian Simmer is notable for the jaw-dropping food photography. But what is even more helpful for those who want to get acquainted with Indian cuisine are the websites which provide videos demonstrating the preparation of the dishes, such as Manjula’s Kitchen, Madhura’s Recipes, ShowMeTheCurry.com and the YouTube channel of Sanjeev Kapoor. The person running Manjula’s Kitchen is Jain so she doesn’t cook with onions or garlic, which is interesting if you want to avoid the strong smell in the kitchen when onions are cooked with spices or the bad breath caused by garlic. Some of the videos in Sanjeev Kapoor’s channel are an interesting mixture of what I believe is Hindi and English, which is a bit confusing but still understandable. In some videos the cook Singh appears, who is my favourite chef on YouTube.

So if you have all these websites providing recipes and even video demonstrations, why would you need cookbooks? Good question, when I asked the person who sold me De Authentieke Indische Keuken second-hand why she sold it she told me she didn’t use it much any more because she looks for recipes on the internet. I don’t think cookbooks have become obsolete, but it’s certain they’re no longer a requirement if you want to learn to cook. Ironically, the Indian cookbook which I like most, Miss Masala, is a collection of recipes based on what the author posted on her weblog. It’s meant for busy people who want to prepare dishes quickly, but it’s not your typical cookbook because it alternates between recipes and the author’s musing about her experiences of daily life. The book covers the classical, tried-and-true Indian dishes which are commonly seen on the menus of restaurants and also some invented recipes. The two other titles, Indian Food Made Easy and Anjum’s New Indian which are both authored by Anjum Anand who is known for the TV show on BBC, lean more towards invented recipes. Because I’m a beginner I’m more interested in learning the classic dishes than newly invented recipes, but because I haven’t got much experience yet with Anand’s books I won’t judge them yet. With Miss Masala I do have experience and I’m quite satisfied with the results, which is why this book is my favourite.

I love the huge variety in Indian cuisine. Northern Indian cuisine uses ingredients which grow in my backyard here in the Netherlands as well, such as potatoes, cauliflower, green peas and spinach, which makes it very convenient if it’s important that ingredients should be easy to get. On the other hand Southern Indian cuisine satisfies the desire for exotic dishes well. But most important is that it has tons of different and easy vegetarian recipes.

There is one Dutch food blog covering the Surinamese cuisine very well, Surinaamse Keuken. At the moment the blog is unusable due to an overhaul it’s being given unfortunately. I have no experience with the cuisine at all, but I definitely want to try some recipes at some point in the future. Another cuisine I want to try my hand at is the Thai cuisine after visiting a Thai restaurant in the Netherlands. I specifically want to get the vegetarian and vegan Thai cookbook written by Mai Kaidee.

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