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Need Indian cookbook and.or recipe tips

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I am hosting a buffet dinner party with India cooking. A couple of people are bringing various curries and I plan on making one meat dish, a veggie dish and perhaps a pulse dish. I have Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking and have once made her vindaloo pork with decent success. Here's my problem -- I love to cook but most of my cooking is Italian influenced. Generally pretty straightforward stuff. Indian cooking is a lot of work and I find Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking to be seriously labor intensive and rather intimidating. Maybe there's no good answer here, maybe that's just the way great Indian food is. But if anyone can suggest a simpler cookbook (that produces yummy results) or perhaps dishes that can be prepared mostly in advance, I would greatly appreciate it.

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  1. Due to the various spices in Indian food, I find that curries and vegetable dishes tend to improve with a night in the fridge. However, if you're making meat dishes that aren't in a curry, (i.e. roast tandoori chicken) I would make it the day of, it does tend to try out by reheating.

    As long as you have the spices on hand, it shouldn't be too labor-intensive, just a long list of ingredients.

    If you want to cheat a bit and simplify for your party, you can use pre-made curry pastes, or make your own in advance.

    1. Try Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. It simplifies some of the preparation and still produces very tasty dishes. As xtal says, many recipes improve with a day or two to mellow and blend the many spice flavors. I always make large batches of favorite dishes and freeze what we don't eat immediately. That way if I want to serve an Indian dinner, I can select different pre-made foods and serve them as a single meal. I also buy the breads if these are to accompany the rest of the food.

      To me most Indian cooking involves getting all the ingredients in place. After that it's no more labor intensive than most European cuisines.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cheryl_h

        That's exactly what I was going to suggest. I have both Madhur Jaffrey's Invitation to Indian Cooking and Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. The Quick and Easy is considerably less labour-intensive, but still flavourful. The quick recipes do lack some of the complexity of the more intricate recipes, but if you're not a purist and are looking for an Indian "influenced" meal rather than a classic Indian meal, it will definitely do the trick. I personally like her style and have had great success with her recipes.

      2. You said you had 'decent success' with Jaffrey's pork vindaloo. That doesn't sound like an overwhelming endorsement. Have you made any of her dishes that you have been crazy about?

        I propose a theory. Maybe, just maybe, the lackluster result wasn't your fault, but the fault of a less than stellar recipe.

        As a television persona and actress, Ms. Jaffrey is incredibly endearing, but her recipes... eh?...

        Maybe if one lived in a part of the country where good Indian restaurant food was unavailable, then maybe Jaffrey might have some appeal. When you get into areas with Indian populations, though, Indian restaurant cuisine wipes the floor with the quality of results these recipes produce. And I'm not just singling her out. There's not a cookbook in print that will produce results comparable to a halfway decent Indian restaurant. The problem lies in the fact that Indian restaurant food is rich, greasy, short order country food and cookbook authors are city dwelling, urbane and sophisticated intellectuals. They just don't get it. At least not the ones I've come across. Hopeful someone will eventually come along that does- because the world needs a good Indian cookbook.

        My advice... get an Indian restaurant to cater the event for you. Or, if your budget wouldn't allow that, see if they'll sell you bulk quantities of their sauces. Then all you have to do is cook up the meat/veggies and add them to the sauce. Piece of cake. When I've bought sauces from Indian restaurants, they've pretty much charged me soup prices for it. Without the meat, it's very inexpensive for them. The other nice thing about purchasing sauces is that you can buy them a few days in advance. I would say 3 days is pretty comfortable.


        1. A creamy mild korma sauce - for adding to Lamb meatballs or steamed veggies
        2. A rich tomatoey tikka masala gravy - for adding to either chicken or cubed Indian cheese (paneer)/peas
        3. The generic oniony brown sauce- for adding to either cauliflower or pulses (dal)

        As long as you have a good restaurant nearby, these dishes will put Madhur Jaffrey to shame.

        6 Replies
        1. re: scott123

          That's funny, I feel exactly the opposite. As someone who is half-indian, has spent time in india, and grew up eating a lot of indian food, i think that most indian restaurant food sucks. first of all, it is usually only punjabi food, which is just one of the many many types of indian cuisine. Like most cuisines, some things are often better at a restaurant (ie tandoori dishes if you don't have a tandoor at home), but most things are better at home. The best indian food I have eaten is in homes, not in restaurants.

          I do agree, however, that jaffrey's recipes can be needlessly complicated and therefore intimidating. I've heard julie sahni's books are good, tho I don't use them. For an encyclopedic book on indian cooking, try 1000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra. Some things in there seem very simple, but others are complicated. find some of the simple recipes and try them.

          Here are a few other tips from someone who cooks indian food a lot:

          1) you don't always have to grind your own spices. yes, it can make things taste better, but toasting and grinding spices is incredibly time consuming, most indians don't do it for their daily meals, either. Jaffrey's memories and recipes are from another time, and Indians don't have that kind of time to cook anymore. Think of it as like making fresh pasta. if we all thought we had to make fresh pasta every time we cooked pasta, we'd never do it, right? Italian grandmas used to make their own pasta back in the day, but these days most italians buy their pasta 99% of the time. So get pre-ground spices and use them.

          2) make some south indian dishes. A lot of south indian dishes don't depend on a base of spices cooked with onions (which can be time consuming) instead, they are often quick-cooked veggies flavored with spiced oil or butter added at the end. Much much faster to make.

          3) If you have an indian grocery store near you, or one with indian products, use them. Use the premixed spice blends. check the ingredients list first to make sure they are nothing but spices (ie. no msg, no preservatives, etc) and use them. Tandoori spices or pastes, sambar powder, chat masala--many indian cooks use these things. Also, if you really want to save time, get the premade ginger and garlic paste in a jar. Not as good as fresh, but it will do in a pinch.

          Finally, use your common cooking sense. I take shortcuts with recipes all the time, and Indian food should be no exception. Most indian dishes don't rely on unusual or complicated techniques. Think of curries as stews, and dals as thick pea soups, but with some different spices added. Think of chutneys as indian salsas. Silly, perhaps, but it helps get over the intimidation factor.

          Good luck with your dinner!

          1. re: missmasala

            I agree with missmasala. Most Indian restaurant food is pretty lame, as is most other food in most other restaurants.

            I adore Madhur Jaffrey even if she IS an actress and a tv personality. She's had many shows on the BBC and I've seen lots of them. She was one of the first, if not the first, to actually GO to Hanoi or Jakarta, visit local restaurants and families and broadcast information about real food from Southeast Asia. Her book Eastern Vegetarian Cooking was published in 81 and was one of the first books to explore veggie cooking from Korea, India, and the Middle East. She helped me discover idlis, dhoklas, and a wonderful fish curry.

            She has been writing cookbooks for more than 30 years, and I've found many recipes that have become favories in her many books.

            1. re: missmasala

              Thank you so much for this reply! Your comparison to Italians making pasta really brought it home for me, since I know how rarely my mother, born and raised in Abruzzo and the best cook I know, makes homemade pasta. My next step is to post on the boards to find the best Indian Grocers in NYC. Thanks again!

              1. re: vvv03

                Where in NYC do you live? here are two good ones:

                In jackson heights, patel brothers is a comprehensive indian grocery store that will have everything you need

                in manhattan, the little india section (lex and 28th) has a few stores. Kalustyans is probably the most comprehensive, but it isn't solely indian. there are others that are smaller but only carry indian products.

                can't remember the exact address of either, but i'm sure you can google them.

                if you go to one, be sure and pick up some fresh curry leaves and try them in a recipe. To me, they really bring home the taste of south indian cooking.

                1. re: missmasala

                  Thanks again, Missmasala! I live in Brooklyn., I will probably try the Jackson Heights one.

                  1. re: vvv03

                    I live in brooklyn, too. apparently there's a patel bros. also on 4th avenue in the 50s somewhere in sunset park, but it is small. the one in jackson heights is big and comprehensive.

                    if you do go to jackson heights and are making lamb curry, you can get lamb shoulder (better for curry than leg) at the butcher counter in the trade fair supermarket around the corner. or, if you live near atlantic avenue, the halal butchers there will also carry it.

                    also, i haven't shopped there in years, but when i lived near it, the pathmark in the atlantic center carried a surprising number of authentic indian items.

          2. Duguid and Alford's Mangoes and Curry Leaves is not only beautiful and a great read but the recipes are excellent and approachable.

            I also have Indian Home Cooking by Saran and Lyness. I have not been as tickled with it but I love the Lamb Keema in it.

            1. While I have cooked Indian meat dishes using individual spices, I have also been happy using premixed spices, especially the pastes. Currently I have 4 jars, mostly Patak's brand.


              5 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni. In addition to having bang-up recipes, she intersperses the sections with helpful tips and the most interesting vignettes. She also notes on each recipe how far you can make the dish in advance, and how to reheat it when it's time to serve.

                You can make nearly all of her dishes ahead of time. These are my personal favorites:

                --Potatoes in Fragrant Gravy (Tari Aloo) This dish is amazing! Halve the oil, double the spices, and make a quadruple batch. You can even freeze this dish and it is such wonderful comfort food on a chilly winter's night.

                --Chicken in Onion Tomato Gravy (Murgh Masala) Yum yum yum.


                I think that between chopping all of the ingredients finely, using labor-intensive items like ginger, and a lot of the "pre-frying" of onion and spices, it does feel like Indian cooking demands a lot of prep and initial cooking time. I feel like it's worth that time, however, because I can make big batches that freeze well and heat up even better then when they were fresh.

                She has great bread recipes, too, but doesn't include naan! I found a recipe on the internet years ago that uses instant mashed potato flakes, believe it or not. That naan is incredible, and I don't even have a tandoori oven. :)


                1. re: venera

                  I also love Julie Sahni and use her book a lot (Classic Indian Cooking, I think)

                  1. re: venera

                    Do you have a link for the naan recipe?

                    Edited to add: Sorry, meant to reply to venera.

                    1. re: Kiyah

                      Hi Kiyah,

                      Sorry for the delay in responding. I've been out of town.

                      Here's the cumin naan recipe I spoke of. Enjoy!


                      1. re: venera

                        Thank you so much! I was tickled to see a kofta recipe on the link as well!

                2. I think all Indian cooking is extremely labor intensive--plan on spending a lot of time chopping veg, grinding spice, toasting cumin seeds, etc. We made a biryani from "La Porte des Indes"--started at 5:30 and finally got it on the table at 10:30. It was spectacular, but we should have gotten up at dawn, like all good Indian wives do, and started the prep.

                  The alternative: Indian stores have packets of spice mix--for example, you can get tandoori mix. Marinate chicken in yogurt for an hour, toss in the tandoori mix and throw it in the oven.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: whs

                    whs, your post reminds me of a friend's story about an Indian women's magazine article on "recipes for working women," which apparently took only 3 hours for preparation and not 8....

                    1. re: whs

                      It's also possible to prepare the spice mixes the day before. You can even toast the mix after you get it together. That way it's less work all at once. One can also make curry powder which will keep for short periods of time and is certainly preferable to that stuff they sell at the store.

                    2. There is an EXCELLENT little no-frills cookbook called "Curries without Worries" by Sudha Koul, which was my first, and is my favorite Indian cookbook. I believe it's still in print. I also like some of Madhur Jaffrey's recipes.

                      Preparing Indian food is infinitely easier when one has devoted a $15 electric coffee grinder to use for spices only. I started buying all my spices in the little cellophane bags at CostPlus or the Mexican section of some grocery stores, and at this point, Indian cooking seems as much of a snap as anything else. Something like samosas though, I would always buy from a restaurant.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: allegro805

                        My library has this book. Which recipes do you especially like?

                      2. To expand on some earlier responses...

                        If you are any anywhere near an Indian, Pakistani, or possibly even a large middle eastern grocery, check out the spice aisle. You're on the lookout for Shaan Masala mixes. They're in a yellow box, and they are the best thing EVER. They're also extremely economical.

                        Shaan masala mixes come with very easy instructions on the back of the box. Sometimes you have to translate metric measurements, that's all. All of your spices are pre-mixed, and most of the mixes even contain salt. Without the cumbersone measuring and grinding of spices, most of the dishes come together pretty quickly, or are at least pretty hands-off.

                        There are Shaan masalas for every possible dish you could imagine in the Indian/Pakistani repertoire, even desserts. One word of warning--shaan masalas tend to be rather spicy. I would either increase the meat or vegetable in question by about 1/3, or decrease the spice mix you put into the recipe.

                        Highly recommended - Achaar gosht (a tangy meat dish), Seekh Kabab (Ground meat skewer kababs), Chicken Makhni (butter chicken).

                        Good luck!

                        1. Inspired by your post, I went back to La Porte des Indes tonight. I made the yellow & red lentil soup, which was fairly easy prep, but needs to simmer for an hour. The results were exceptionally good. Make sure to add salt. Also made the saffron rice, and the Parsee steamed fish as an entree. The rice is a pretty standard baked dish,and can be made ahead and kept warm. The fish involves running cilantro and a few other things through the food processor, spreading the mixture on the fish, and wrapping it in a banana leaf or parchment paper, and steaming it. None of it was extremely time-consuming, and the results were amazingly good.

                          1. The Women's Weekly "great cuisines" line is a really good one and there is an indian cooking one. The recipes are simple and easy and the ones I've tried have come out well. Lentils and pumpkin are easy dishes to make...and rotis are fairly simple...good luck!!!

                            1. I realized that in my rant further up the post I didn't actually give the original poster any concrete suggestions. so here goes:

                              make your meat curry the day before. it will taste better anyway. Use a recipe that is not Jaffrey, as hers can be too complicated.

                              You can make many dal dishes the day before as well. Make a simple one, such as masoor dal cooked with green tomatoes or tomatillos and then flavored with a spiced butter at the end.

                              make a salad or unusual raita, which are not time-consuming at all. One salad I make a lot that everyone loves is:

                              1 container grape tomatoes, halved
                              half a red onion, diced
                              one small bunch cilantro, chopped
                              half cup of chopped peanuts
                              juice of half a lemon

                              mix all ingedients together. If your peanuts are salted, add them just before serving. If they are unsalted, add salt just before serving.

                              also, just wanted to add one more thought. I think a lot of people find indian food intimidating because they think a meal must have many dishes. While it's true that for a special dinner I might put 6 dishes on the table, for everyday cooking, fewer are fine. I often just do curry, rice, and a salad, or dal, vegetable, and rice. That makes it more in line with every other kind of food that people might prepare on a daily basis.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: missmasala

                                Thanks again. Your recipe sounds great and not the least bit intimidating! I'm inspired!

                              2. Here's one more vote for Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking. Made the chicken in onion tomato gravy this weekend-so delicious. I find it easy to cook from as long as my spices are well-stocked! Also the lamb in yogurt cardamom sauce is one of the best things on earth. Both can be prepared in advance.

                                1. There is also an Indian foods section in The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, if you have that kicking around your kitchen. Altho I haven't made anything Indian at this point, I do trust Anna Thomas' recipes, as everything else I've made from her books has been splendid. The only vegetarian food that didn't make me wistful for meat.

                                  1. I'll have to look in the Jaffrey book for better specific specific dish suggestions than those below, but in general a simple meal is doable.

                                    I would suggest a work plan where you made a meat dish (say one of the simpler chicken curries) the day before your party. You can use the bottled ginger/garlic paste as an alternative to grinding everything up as a starting step in these. As everybody notes, the curries do improve as they sit.

                                    You can then make a simple pilaf and one or two vegges (the cabbage and green bean stir fries are particularly good and easy and just take a few minutes of cooking) or, say a dry fried potato dish (she has great recipes for these - you can boil the potatoes the day before leaving minimal final cooking time. a nice fresh raita or chopped salad of tomatoes, cukes, coriander leaf, cumin, fresh chile and lemon juice finishes the meal.

                                    As long as you have the spices, some onions and ginger and a bunch or two of fresh coriander, a good meal should be easily in reach.

                                    If you want to buy something to fill the meal out, get some samosas or parathas which can be freshly fried or baked as an app. There are good refrigerated chutneys available.