A Pinch of Science, A Dash of Culture, and a Whole Lot of Flavors! : “Masala Lab” from “Krish Ashok” is a Must-have in Every Modern Indian Kitchen

Wok this Way

Even though summarising what the book offers in terms of advice is no piece of cake, here are some generalized guidelines that I hope will help draw a decent picture of what’s on the plate. All these below-mentioned tips have the single purpose of making delicious, flavourful dishes in a quick, easy, and, sometimes, cheap fashion:

  1. Why and how chemical reactions make food tasty in an easy-to-follow language
  2. How the science of spices enhances our sense of food
  3. How can we use household items, like baking soda or vinegar, to improve dishes
  4. How to elevate traditional Indian dishes to restaurant quality by using modern cooking techniques and tools
  5. How oil and ghee play a big role in creating rich, flavourful Indian dishes
  6. What the principles of cooking rice and dals are to create perfectly cooked, fluffy grains
  7. What the importance of balancing flavors and textures is, and the ways to achieve this
  8. How to use traditional cooking methods, such as clay ovens or tandoor ovens
  9. How to create fusion dishes that combine traditional Indian flavors with ingredients and cooking styles from other cuisines.
  10. What meta-recipes are and how to build your own

The book is peppered with fun examples and funnier charts and images to refer to when trying to understand cooking better. It also seeks to answer a lot of, “Wait, what does that do here again?” like questions you may have had when you saw the food being prepared in your house.

Hidden Flavors

Even though the book appears to be a simple nerd’s guide to Indian cooking, the author does a fantastic job of touching upon some underlying themes mostly related to Indian history, culture, and society. It gives a fresh idea about how food binds the following elements together uniquely:

  1. Food and Culture: The book elaborates on India’s rich and diverse food culture and its role in shaping the country’s identity. For example how the cuisine of South India is distinct from that of the North, including staple foods, reflecting the differences in climate, availability of ingredients, and cultural influences.
  2. Food and Science: The book delves into the scientific methods and principles to better understand Indian cooking and to improve traditional recipes. For example, what is the Maillard reaction, and why it results in the browning of foods when they are cooked.
  3. Food and Innovation: The book highlights the importance of innovation in the food industry and how traditional recipes can be adapted to modern tastes and trends. For example, liquid nitrogen creates frozen desserts with unusual textures and flavors.
  4. Food and History: The book provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of Indian cuisine, tracing its evolution from ancient times to the present day. For example, the Mughals brought new spices and cooking techniques from the Middle East, which then got integrated into Indian cuisine with time.
  5. Food and Society: The author explores food’s social and cultural significance in India, including its role in family and community life. For example, the importance of sweets in welcoming guests home and celebrating special occasions.
  6. Food and Health: The book sheds light on the health benefits of traditional Indian foods and the role that food plays in maintaining overall health and wellness. For example, the benefits of lentils, which are high in protein, fibre, and iron, and how they can help lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar levels.

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Bread, Broth, and Beyond

Krish Ashok makes no effort to label this as a traditional cookbook with recipes. In fact, he strives to set a tone and theme for the book that sets itself apart from the rest in several ways. In a market flooded with cookbooks promising to deliver the best recipes and cooking techniques, “Masala Lab” stands out as a book that tries its best to be a lighthearted yet comprehensive entry point to the world of Indian cooking, food science, and innovation.

Being an engineer by profession, Krish has used his expertise well to conduct experiments, document his findings, and dissect recipes like you would debug code. This scientific approach results in a deeper understanding of the processes and principles that go into cooking. The book’s focus on innovation sets it apart from other cookbooks that are content with simply dishing out recipes.

In addition to its focus on food science and innovation, “Masala Lab” provides an insight into the history of Indian cuisine, tracing its evolution from ancient times to the present day. The author examines the role of food in bringing people together and fostering a sense of community and touches upon food’s social and cultural significance. It devotes more attention to health and wellness as opposed to taste and presentation, which is also a welcome change from regular cookbooks. All these together make this book highly informative and a compelling read.

Masala Lab Krish Ashok

Hook, Line, and Tinker

In my opinion, Masala Lab shines by arousing your curiosity by asking day-to-day questions about cooking and then providing scientific explanations for the same. This approach makes the book engaging, in addition to being informative, as you are drawn into the cooking process while learning the reasons behind why certain ingredients and techniques are used.

For example, the author asks questions such as, “Why do we add baking soda to boiling potatoes?” or “Why do we add lemon juice to dal before serving?” The answers are then explored in detail, explaining the scientific reasoning behind the effects of these ingredients on the food to help you become more confident and knowledgeable in the kitchen.

Another example is the author’s exploration of the science of spices and how they interact with other ingredients to enhance the flavor of dishes. Starting with questions such as, “How does the addition of cumin enhance the flavor of a dish?” the author then provides a scientific explanation for how the volatile oils in cumin interact with other ingredients to create a more complex and layered flavor profile.

By following this question-curiosity-answer approach, Krish creates a cookbook that is both educational and entertaining. He invites you not to follow and copy but learn and understand. As a result, you will be able to develop a deeper appreciation for the rich and diverse culinary traditions of India. This also allows him to build towards his meta-recipes (templates for dishes, so to say) and take us on a journey of experimenting by ourselves, armed with the right set of utensils and ingredients.

There is no Secret Sauce!

This is the primary reason “Masala Lab” should be a must-have in every modern Indian home kitchen – Krish acknowledges and reinforces that there is NO secret sauce. He equips us with scientific reasoning to help us reach a “certain level of good cooking” by following cooking guidelines, urging us to stop worrying about our curries not being tasty, our rice/daal being too watery, or our chicken being overcooked.

‘Masala Lab’ can generate an active interest in cooking and a desire to experiment with kitchen ingredients. It can help you appreciate what our moms do three times a day and seven days a week around the year and how difficult it is to achieve consistency, delicacy, and consistent delicacy. He introduces us to the craft of cooking and sets us on a path to discovering the art on our own. 

Whether you are a pro chef, a home cook who makes 3-course meals daily, or just someone trying out easy-to-make 15-minute internet recipes on weekends, this book is a valuable resource for anyone. You should read it and keep it! 


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