What’s the USP? ‘Quick and easy everyday meals’ boasts the front cover – something you might not expect from Indian cuisine. As much as Britain loves Indian food, it’s clear that for those of us without an Indian background to influence our home cooking, there are two distinct camps. You have what we’ll call the ‘Dishoom Cookbook Show-offs’, who see authentic Indian flavours as something one can only achieve by committing the better part of the weekend to toasting dry spices, creating luscious sauces and slowly stewing a difficult-to-come-by cut of meat that they had to bribe the butcher to source for them. And you have the ones who fry up some chicken breast chunks and dump a jar of Patak’s Tikka Masala on top before serving alongside a sachet of microwaved rice.
I have, it should be made clear, repeatedly found myself in each of these camps. A mercenary in the ongoing war: flavour vs. convenience. Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian, then, should be a dream addition to my shelf – rich and delicious Indian food that can be pulled together in around half an hour.
Who wrote it? The ‘Chetna’ in question is Chetna Makan, who placed 4th in The Great British Bake Off in 2014. Though her initial foray into cookbooks, The Cardamom Trail, focused on bakes with a distinctly Indian flavour profile, her four titles since have steadily tipped the balance away from baking and into Indian cooking. This title, her fifth, does feature a chapter on ‘Bread, Rice & Noodles’, but even here the breads are fried or grilled. Hardcore GBBO fans will have to make do with the Butter Almond Biscuits, the Rose & Pistachio Cake with Cardamom Toffee Sauce or the Glacé Cherry & Orange Cookies – all tucked away at the tail end of the book.
Is it good bedtime reading? Not really – there’s a three page introduction to the book, which is mostly tips to help you make the most of your time. After that, it’s straight into the action – no chapter intros, and only a short paragraph to lead into each recipe.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? For the most part, no – Chetna’s approach to home cooking is built around doing so in the UK. As such, spices tend to be fairly commonplace. Occasionally you might need to visit a specialist to find dried fenugreek leaves or amchur – but you’ll usually be able to Google an easy substitute in a pinch.
What’s the faff factor? Decidedly non-faffy. The whole point, after all, is to create a meal in half an hour. And unlike some chefs on a time limit (I’m looking at you, Jamie), Chetna’s recipes won’t have you charging around the kitchen juggling awkward tasks, or expect your ingredients to have magically chopped themselves beforehand. Everything I tried was done in 30-40 minutes, even working at my decidedly leisurely pace.
Part of this comes down to shortcuts – Chetna makes no secret, and has no shame, about her use of tinned tomatoes or pulses. She encourages the reader not to be shy of pre-prepared ginger and garlic options – an opinion I’ll happily go ahead with. If you need me to finely slice or chop these, I’m all for it, but you’ll never see me mince garlic again as long as I live.
How often will I cook from the book? If you’re looking for a way to liven up your weekday dinners, you’ll get a lot of use out of Chetna’s book, which has enough variety to offer at least a couple of meals a week.
What will I love? The simplicity is one thing, but more than anything else, it’s the sheer range of ideas on offer. Chetna hasn’t allowed the thirty minute dinners brief to diminish any of her ambition, and tucked away among the more familiar faces of butter chicken are a vibrant green Yoghurt Lentil Curry, ambitious but delicious Peas-stuffed Fried Flatbread and an entirely unexpected breakfast noodle dish, Upma Vermicelli.
What won’t I love? Not everything I tried was a hit. My Black-eyed Bean & Mushroom Curry looked delicious in the book, but came across decidedly flat. A recommendation for a longer, gentler cooking option might have turned out better, but in the half an hour I was working to, the result was disappointing. Other dishes, though, come out gorgeously. The Masala Chicken looked ugly and unconvincing, until the moment it hit the pan, and suddenly came together into a warming delight.
Killer recipes: Coconut Curry Leaf Prawns, Peanut Haddock Curry, Malvani-style Chicken Sabji, Tamarind Aubergine Curry, Paneer Pav Bhaji, Ginger & Chilli Chutney
Should I buy it? I’m not sure there’s a greater challenge in Britain’s kitchens right now than how to keep cooking interesting. The pandemic, working from home and the constant effort of, you know… existence. Oof. It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling fatigued and uninspired in the kitchen at the moment.
Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian is a wonderful balm to that – a chance to inject authentic flavours and a little variety into your dinnertime, and all for a small commitment of time that will leave you the rest of the evening to dedicate to something you love: Love Island, perhaps. Scrolling through TikTok until 3am. Or my personal favourite: ever-spiralling climate anxiety. Either way, it’ll be nice to do it on a full stomach.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Chetna’s 30-minute Indian: Quick and easy everyday meals
£20, Mitchell Beazley
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas