Pemba Lama is an ex-Gurkha soldier, chef for the British army and the author of The Ultimate Nepalese Cook Book. The book is very close to Pemba Lama’s heart, as a £2 donation goes to the Gurkha Welfare Trust for every copy sold. Pemba recently cooked at a luncheon for the Dalai Lama, during his tour of the UK, for which he presented a predominantly vegetarian menu of dishes from his cook book. He was honoured when the Dalai Lamai signed a copy of the book; it’s very rare for him to do so. A preview of the book, including several of the recipes included, can be found at the dedicated website.
I asked my mum, to review the book, as she’s familiar with Nepalese cuisine, and of course, with Indian, which has much in common with it.
When Kavita asked me to review this book my first thought was, “I am going to enjoy this”, because I had very fond memories of Nepalese food from our trip there a few years back. When I opened the book and saw Pemba Lama’s picture on the inside sleeve, with such a gentle expression on his face as he handled the food, that view was strengthened.
Not good enough reasons? Well that is what first impressions are about!
Nepalese food is very similar to Indian food and the recipes seemed very familiar to me, only they had slightly different names.
Golebhera Ko Bhat (Tomato Rice)
My husband just had some dental work done, so I thought this would be perfect and it seemed so simple to cook. The end result did not disappoint me, it was gently garlicky and tasted delicious; it was superb! I have made it again for friends and they have all liked it.
I did however have a couple of minor problems with the recipe, which I could easily adjust, but someone who is not as familiar with cooking might not know to do:
The recipe gives only 400 ml of tomato juice for 300 grams of rice. Most recipes give double the amount of liquid to rice, perhaps a little less when the rice has been pre-soaked. I added water to increase the total liquid, and that worked fine.
The picture at the top right of the page shows a hand adding what look like nigella seeds to the pan but they are not listed in hte ingredients. Perhaps the picture is for some other recipe.
This is a recipe I will make regularly.
Pyazis (Onion Bhajis)
Next I tried a favourite of the English nation – Pyazis. This recipe can be found online, here.
Marinating onions in vinegar and salt for bhajis is new to me, but it worked and tasted pretty good.
Making the batter required a couple of tablespoons of extra water, which was not listed in the ingredients or given in the steps. The vinegar, in which the onions were marinated, wasn’t enough liquid to make a batter. The book says ‘soft and thick batter’ but I’m not sure quite what that means. It was not a problem for me because I am used to making onion bhajis but a first timer might not know what the batter should be like.
These were simple to make and quite tasty. A neighbour dropped in while I was making them and loved them.
One personal observation from a regular onion bhaji maker: the bhajis could have been lighter and crisper, perhaps a pinch of baking powder is needed in the batter?
Keema (Mince Meat) Curry with Peas and Potatoes
I followed the recipe carefully, as it is a little different to mine, both in ingredients and the order of the recipe.
I didn’t add any potatoes as they are listed as optional; I didn’t have any in the basket and was feeling too lazy to go out and dig some! The picture in the book also does not have any potatoes. Pemba’s recipe included one ingredient which I have not used in this way before – dark soy sauce.
I don’t eat meat any more but my husband and friends seemed to enjoy it. They all said it was great.
Alhaichi (Cardamom) Kulfee with Raspberry Coulis
I thought I would try the kulfi because this is something I make quite often myself and am familiar with different ways of making it. This one was made with tinned condensed milk and cream, instead of slowly simmering and condensing the milk at home over a long period.
I will definitely make it again, but need to tweak it a bit.
The recipe could have better instructions; it calls for “20 ml gelatine, melted” but doesn’t say how much powder/ leaf gelatine to use or how to melt gelatine. It says to “semi whip the cream” (singular), but doesn’t specify whether that’s the single and double cream together, or one or the other. I whisked both the creams together and it seemed to work.
I decided to make it without the mango, which the recipe mixes into the kulfee cream. I served it with raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries, but I made mine ‘sugar free.
The result was soft and delicious.
The book has a second dessert section written by Nicci Gurr, who was “invited to add a UK twist” to the book. Unfortunately I did not try any of her recipes. I would like to try some in due course., but being a diabetic, I have to control how many desserts I make. They all look good and I have no reason to think that the recipes in this section will not work.
The book has a pleasant cover which makes a good first impression.
The photos of Pemba lama are lovely, and you can’t help warming up to him. It’s obvious that he loves food and has shared some delicious dishes here.
However, I get the impression that the recipes are not written by him, but by someone watching him cook. Some steps are not very clear and some are completely missing, which leaves you to interpret what is required by yourself and I think this would cause anxiety to a beginner. I think the book would work best for people who have some experience of this type of cooking, because some adjustments are needed here and there in several of the recipes.
There are also minor errors, such as references to recipes on other pages, with incorrect page numbers given.
As with the Tomato Rice, there are a couple of recipes which have a wrong picture shown, such as a photograph of steamed broccoli with ginger and chilli for a recipe of curried potatoes and peas.
The index is not complete. Searching for the cardamom kulfi recipe above, it is not listed under kulfi, cardamom or ice cream but under pistachio and raspberry.
Despite these small issues, I loved the book and all the food I cooked from it. Definitely my kind of dishes.
Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of The Ultimate Nepalese Cookbook by Grierson Publications.