5 Cookbooks To Teach You the Basics of Indian Cooking

published Sep 17, 2014
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(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

As a cooking instructor specializing in East Indian cuisine, I get asked for my cookbook recommendations all the time. While a lot of my recipes come straight from my family, or through oral traditions, there are a few cookbooks I refer to when I need to look up something or to get a basic recipe for a dish from a different region of India.

Read on to find out my top five books that will teach you all you need to begin to discover this ancient cooking culture for yourself.

Indian cooking varies significantly from region to region based on the availability of ingredients, and while it’s not complicated, the array of spices and strange terms can be bewildering to a beginner. Narrowing down my recommendations to just five books, though, is almost like asking me to pick a favorite child! But I managed it with a lot of difficulty and some honorable mentions.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by Madhur Jaffrey

Madhur Jaffrey is without a doubt the doyenne of Indian cookery. One of my first ever cookbooks was her excellent BBC publication, Foolproof Indian Cookery. Unfortunately, that particular book is now hard to find; however, this one is a perfect start to your Indian cooking journey. Jaffrey’s style is accessible, and she offers precise measurements and an excellent glossary to help you get started.

This is a very basic book, so don’t expect to find lots of pictures or stories. If you are looking for those, I recommend getting her Invitation to Indian Cooking instead, which is more of a memoir. At Home is all about basic flavors from the subcontinent for everyday dinners. The Punjabi lamb kebabs are excellent, but my real favorite is her take on the traditional Indian gravy, the karhi, also known as kadhi.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar

Mridula Baljekar is not as well known as some of the other, more popular Indian food writers, but her recipes are easily some of my favourites. In this cookbook, packed with 300 recipes and over 1500 photographs, she delves deep into regional Indian cooking with recipes sourced from all over India. This is a deeply comprehensive and well-researched book, and the recipes are all authentic and well-tested.

I love to grab this book when I am feeling uninspired and want to try something new. I am always amazed at how much variety there is in Indian cuisine, and this book is very reflective of that. Most of the recipes in this book are simple, and while they use traditional Indian ingredients, they should all be available at any Asian grocery. Recipes range from the everyday chapathi (or flaky flatbread) to the more unusual pigeon soup.

Try Baljekar’s pulaos. They are pretty much foolproof.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Rick Stein’s India: In Search of the Perfect Curry: Recipes from My Indian Odyssey – Rick Stein

Rick Stein is a popular British chef, known for his seafood restaurants and cookbooks. Created as a companion to Stein’s BBC program, this book was originally not on my radar until one of my website readers asked me what I thought about it. I’ll be honest: the reason I bought this book at first was simply for the mind-blowing photography, which is beautifully atmospheric and takes you straight to the heart of India. Browsing through the recipes, however, was a revelation, as every single recipe looks (and tastes) just amazing.

Warning: avoid this book if you haven’t eaten first! Just looking at the beautifully photographed food makes me hungry, but luckily, most of the recipes are easy and can be cooked with minimum of fuss. Rick Stein brings his trademark perfectionism to this book, and every recipe is carefully tested and turns out perfectly every time.

True to his passion, his Indian-inspired seafood recipes are fantastic, and I love that he included a recipe from my own hometown of Mangalore.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

How to Cook Indian: More Than 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Sanjeev Kapoor

This is the bible of Indian cookery, and Sanjeev Kapoor is the high priest. Along with Tarla Dalal, Kapoor redefined the concept of the celebrity chef in India. He was one of the first people to cook on television, and his show Khana Khazana has been the number one cookery program in India for forever. We all grew up watching him, and it’s no wonder — with over a hundred and fifty books — he is probably one of the least known, but bestselling, cookbook authors in the world (to be fair, there are over a billion or so Indians out there buying his books…).

This is one of his ultimate cookbooks, and it is specifically designed and written for North American audiences. With over 500 recipes, you can be sure that you’ll find a recipe for every season and for every event. There are no photographs in this book, which is disappointing, but if you really want to improve and learn more about Indian cooking, this is one book that you can’t be without. His street food recipes are excellent, and like Baljekar, he includes recipes from all over the country.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Spice Kitchen by Ragini Dey

This is a fairly new cookbook from the India-born Australian chef and restaurateur Ragini Dey. Like Rick Stein’s book, I loved the photography in this book at first. However, her recipes have very quickly become some of my best-used recipes. Each recipe is beautifully photographed and written with the Western reader in mind, but without losing its authenticity. She uses easily available ingredients, and her recipes are quick and packed full of flavor. My favorites are her vegetarian dishes, and I love making them up as quick sides for my Indian meals.

Honorable Mentions

Obviously, I cannot pick only five books, so here are a few more of my favorites!

What are your favorite Indian cookbooks, and why?