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Book review: Masala Lab by Krish Ashok

My Wednesday review  needs a disclaimer: at times, it might read like I`m plugging the book wholeheartedly and sans subtlety. Well, I don’t know the author from Adam and have no desire to swell his coffers because of an undue fondness for said individual. However, this book is one you need to buy, make untidy notes in the margins, and follow faithfully. In other words, it`s a keeper.

MASALA LAB by Krish Ashok, Penguin Books.

Krish Ashok, a software engineer by profession and home chef by enthusiasm, lays out the science of Indian cooking in this marvellous book, spiking it with some sharp wit and a lot of grandmotherly wisdom, with such frequent references to this hitherto mysterious thing called the Maillard Effect that the book could actually be called an ode to that very effect.

Food is ultimately just chemicals, and Indian cooking, says Ashok, is considered all art, no craft. His effort is, therefore, an attempt to compile a playbook of the science behind our culinary practices. Which sounds way more pedantic than it actually is. Mainly because he sure as hell concentrates on the thing that matters most: mouthfeel.

Ashok happily demythifies some long-held beliefs about the harm caused by baking soda; tells us why brown is the colour of magic; how retrogradation,  where each grain separates and creates its own identity, is much like a teenager reading Ayn Rand; why the first knuckle of your index finger is the one-stop marker; the downside of iodide salts; why 24-hour marinades for meat are no good at all; why anyone who thinks raw radish is a good idea should be shredded and thrown into a tub of mayo.

He also gives us the mantra needed  to develop that crucial  culinary confidence: don’t let anyone treat you like upma. You are biryani.

The book will not make you a chef, the author states firmly, it will make you a better home cook, though. Good enough for most readers, I`m sure.

Indian culinary practiceskitchen playbookKrish AshokMasala LabPenguin Booksscienc eof Indian cooking

Sheila Kumar • April 7, 2021


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