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Annapurna: Gastronomic Delights from my Fiji Indian Childhood – Nalini Naidu

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★★★★

When I glance at Mum’s recipe books with her special repertoire of dishes – turmeric-stained or splattered with some cake mixture – I am reminded of the love in these little treasures

A recipe book from the heart!

Naidu shares her favorite recipes from her childhood in the Fiji Indian area in a delightfully written book.

She begins with a brief synopsis of Indian cooking – with lovely explanations of the vibrant and rich history.

I enjoyed reading her explanation of how this book came to be and what influenced her selection of items.

Cooking in India dates back centuries and constitutes the intermingling of various nationalities. The result is a product which is often a complex influence of culture, religion, climate and preferences.

The recipes were well-formatted and laid out. There were a few pictures to accompany the more difficult recipes (which I much appreciated).

There are recipes both familiar (banana cake) and completely foreign (gulgula) to me – but all sound fun and delicious.

According to the author, all of the recipes are passed down from her mother, aunts and others close to her during her childhood – I really liked the personal touch!

Often, she would cite whose recipe she borrowed for her book through sparse sentences like this:

Bhatura
Fermented puris, so rich and delectable! Introduced to us by Aunty Ratna.

However, as someone who is unfamiliar with these recipes, I am left trying to puzzle out what the recipe is based on the context clues (some sort of fried bread).

I would have preferred a slightly longer explanationsthroughout the book – i.e. describing who Aunty Ratna is and why her recipe was included. In addition, for the more regional recipes, I would have liked to see a bit more explanation about what is so rich and delectable about fermented puris.

In addition, the recipes are vague at times:

Easy Fruit Cake
Simply had to include this family favourite from my Fua (paternal aunt).
SERVES 10-12
1 cup brown sugar
450g mixed fruit…

Sometimes, I would be left with more questions than answers – should I used chopped fruit? Dried fruit? Candied fruit? What sort of fruits would work best in this bread?

So far, all the ones I’ve tried have turned out amazing.

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I have had only passing experience with eating chicken curry (p54) and I’ve never made rice (p80) on the stove before (always have used a rice cooker) so I was hugely nervous to make it all by myself.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been.

I bought nearly all of the spices from the local supermarket but there were a few I couldn’t find (curry leaves (whole), fenugreek seeds and tumeric) but, as Naidu said in her book:

I see my recipes as a starting point with suggestions, not necessarily about having a precise set of ingredients and instructions.

I prepared the curry sans my missing ingredients – and it tasted amazing! 

I honestly have no idea what those spices/seeds would have done, but hey, the author said it was OK to do a bit of experimentation.

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I served the curry along with a Tomato and Cucumber Salad (p73) – and my husband loved it (and he’s one picky eater, let me tell you!)

The recipes were clear, precise and were not overly wordy. I liked how the author was so casual about the cooking ingredients and methods.

At times, the measurements used depended on the receptacle the particular ingredient was purchased in…Expertise on measures was gained through observations, practice and judgement.

However, the star of the show (and, what really made him go WOW) was the banana cake (p94).

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His exact words were:

“If you don’t take it away, I will eat this entire loaf right here and now.”

Talk about a compliment! 

I am eager and excited to try out more of the recipes – I think I will do Samosas and Idli next – wish me luck!

For my readers, I hope this book is a cultural journey that will be rewarded with recipes, cooking tips and the history of Indian cuisine in Fiji.

P.s. For those curious about the origins of the title:

“Annapurna: is an offering for any occasion – religious, social or the need for nourishment.

With thanks to the author for a free copy in exchange for a honest review

Interested in this one from Nalini Naidu? Buy it here:  Amazon

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