The measure of a good cookbook is, for me, the number of recipes in it that I'm eager to try. My copy of this one has masses of Post-It notes marking dishes that sound interesting: slow-cooked quail; ginger-garlic lamb; tender spiced pea shoots; deep-fried gram flour and lamb balls; and smoked chicken chunks.
If their English names make the dishes sound rather dull, the ingredients lists indicate they're anything but: as with most Indian cuisines, the creations of the Kayastha people have complex but balanced spices.
In her introduction, Preeta Mathur writes, "Kayastha cuisine holds a vast, largely untapped richness of family tradition; tenaciously guarded recipes that are passed down from generation to generation but are rarely documented. This compilation is a personal, culinary expression of what I learnt from my mother, and she from hers … My love for cooking is, indeed, a gift of my childhood - to which my father, an uncompromising foodie, made no mean contribution. Naturally, my mother from the very early days of her marriage developed skills of culinary virtuosity. This was amply manifest from the fact that despite being a vegetarian herself, the roasts and curries she cooked were absolutely lip-smacking and the envy of any die-hard chef …
"Rummaging through brittle and yellowed notes and jottings, looking for old and unique recipes became a joyful pursuit … I observed that, in cooking, almost everyone used andaaz (approximation from experience) rather than exact proportions and quantities; thus each hand promised different aromas and flavours with deft and subtle mixes of various ingredients. Standardising the andaaz has been an interesting challenge."
Other enticing dishes include pomfret with green chillies; slow-cooked stuffed bitter gourd in gravy; spiced lamb with vermicelli; shallow-fried bread stuffed with minced meat; stuffed chicken in saffron gravy; and spiced lamb with mashed potatoes.
The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India by Preeta Mathur