Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Girija Sankar

Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors
by Lizzie Collingham
Oxford University Press|USA, March 2007
Paperback: 352 pages, 34 halftones & 5 maps
ISBN: 978-0195320015

Every time I stir a pot of some tomato rasam (a home-cooked version of the mulligatawny soup that you might find on an Indian restaurant menu) I conjure up images of my mother, my mother’s mother, and then her mother making the same rasam, using the same proportion of lentils to tomatoes to tamarind, with a good bit of rasam spice mix thrown in. The aroma of the simmering tomatoes, tamarind and red chilies, so essential to this recipe, and so quintessentially South Indian, engulf me as I stir the concoction, slowly losing myself to the sepia-toned nostalgia of home, food memories and the heavenly aroma of garlic on ghee. The food of my forefathers. And mothers.

Romantic? Yes. Overly romantic? Why, yes, according to Lizzie Collingham. The recipe for rasam may be quintessentially Tamil, but not what goes into it. Chances are, my ancestors’ rasam tasted a lot different from what I make today—not merely because my Roma tomatoes are the chemically frozen kind. The red chilies and tomatoes, native to the New World, were introduced to the Indian palate by the Portuguese via the Spanish, and the tamarind, native to Africa, came perhaps by way of the Portuguese.

In Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Collingham offers up a fascinating study exploring the history of Indian cuisine from around the time of the Mughal empire. A historian by training, she takes us through India’s rich, vast and varied culinary history, offering up a veritable “biography of curries,” as she calls it.

Curry documents the history of central Asian, Persian and later European influences that over time created, converged, and interacted to produce what can loosely be called Indian cuisine. Beginning with the Mughals, its narrative meanders through the Portuguese and later British colonization, then moves on to the global diffusion of Indian food, beginning with curry, a uniquely British invention and contribution to the globalization of Indian food. An entire chapter is devoted to the sustained marketing efforts of the British in selling a hitherto unknown and strange brew to the natives: tea.

The chili, which many still mistakenly believe to be native to the Indian sub-continent, was a new world crop that was introduced by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Christopher Columbus set off in 1492 to capture the lucrative spice trade by means of a new sea route for Spain. On landing in the Caribbean islands, he chanced upon a local spice, which he believes is a pepper. It wasn’t; it was a type of chili. Columbus not only mistakenly anointed the Native Americans as Indians, but he also misclassified the chili, which in itself would have been an amazing discovery, as a pepper, something that the Europeans had come to enjoy and crave. The chili—with the spiciest variant now grown in India—soon grew to replace the long pepper or the Piper longum in spice mixes and quickly became a staple of the south Indian diet.

Collingham’s deep passion for the history of Indian food is matched by her writing. Charming, witty, and honest, her prose provides just the right mix of scholarly and popular writing for both casual readers and students of culinary histories.

As I season yet another pot of rasam with spluttering mustard and cumin seeds, I ask myself if the new world chili and tomato make this rasam any less South Indian. Probably not, since food, Collingham might agree, is not a mere summation of ingredients. Food is the collective memory of taste, texture, color, and the aroma of spluttering mustard and cumin seeds passed on from my grandmother to my mother to me.

My recipe for Tomato Rasam:


2 tbsp of ghee/clarified butter
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced, roughly chopped or whole. (I prefer minced garlic).
lime-sized ball of tamarind, soaked in a bowl of warm water
6 cups of water
2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp of rasam spice mix (also available in Indian grocery stores)
2 tsp of turmeric powder
¾ cup of cooked toor dal (yellow pigeon peas, available in Indian grocery stores)
2 tbsp of vegetable oil (olive oil works too)
3 tsp of black mustard seeds
3 tsp of cumin seeds
handful of cilantro springs, finely chopped
handful of curry leaves, if available

  • Heat the ghee in a 1.5 quart saucepan on medium-high.
  • As soon as you can smell the aroma of melting ghee (an aroma like none other), throw in the garlic. When garlic turns golden brown, add the tamarind water (squeezing the tamarind to extract as much juice as possible); add up to 4 cups of water, including the tamarind extract.
  • Bring to a boil, and then add the chopped tomatoes.
  • Bring to boil again, and gently squish the tomatoes until well-blended.
  • Add the spice mix, turmeric, and salt to taste.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until an orangish froth begins to form.
  • When frothy layer is evident, mix in the cooked toor dal with 2 more cups of water and turn heat back up to medium-high.
  • In a separate pan, heat up the vegetable/olive oil; throw in the mustard and cumin seeds.
  • Remove from heat when seeds start spluttering and add to tomato/toor dal mixture in saucepan. Stir.
  • Remove saucepan from heat, taste and add more salt if necessary.
  • Garnish rasam with cilantro and curry leaves.
  • Serve with white rice, south Indian potato curry, and papadams.

Serves up to 4.

My own private heaven will serve this rasam every day.

June 11, 2011