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Just One Indian Cookbook

Okay y'all, I'm starting in on the first of my food goals for the year: learning Indian cooking. I got a bookstore giftcard for Christmas with just enough money on it to buy one single cookbook - which one should I get? I'm looking for something that covers a wide range of regional dishes but mostly doesn't require specialized equipment like a tandoor. I'm also hoping for something with clear, step-by-step instructions, since I've never done this before. Basically the Indian cuisine version of the Joy of Cooking. Suggestions?

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  1. I think Madhur Jaffrey has done the most of any Indian chef to make traditional cooking accessible to Westerners. "Indian Cooking" is her seminal book, I believe, and ranges from basics like sausage curry to advanced dishes like shahi korma. It's one of my most well-worn cookbooks and a very affordable starter item should you purchase it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JungMann

      I agree with Madhur Jaffrey's books. I prefer them to Julie Sahni's, although I do use a few Sahni recipes--dal and uppma especially. For vegetarian cooking, I recommend the encylopedic Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi, although I have found that you need to cut the salt and oil a bit in most of her recipes,and I don't recommend her dal side dish recipes. You can't make tandoori dishes that really taste like tandoori dishes without a tandoor, but you can make many, many other dishes without any special equipment at all. I use my wok to make many of the dry vegetable dishes.

      1. re: PAO

        Devi's book is good for technique but her ingredient lists are sooooo long! Nobody I know cooks like that at home. I would recommend it only after you've gotten your feet wet with one of Jaffrey's books.

    2. Indian cuisine varies greatly depending on the region, so it would be helpful to know some of your preferences - e.g. dairy-heavy Northern Indian, or the more rice- and coconut-focused Southern dishes...those are two VERY broad generalizations and there's much more to it than that (i was just using them to give you an idea of the differences), but ingredients & methods really may make a difference in determining which book is best for you.

      check out these threads for more details & discussion...


      8 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        i'm not sure north indian is more dairy-heavy, goodhealthgourmet, even as a broad generalization. but southern cuisine definitely involves more rice and coconut.

        1. re: cimui

          moghul (northern indian) cuisine is definitely more dairy-oriented than the southern indian cuisine, in my experience. but maybe that is because i'm thinking of all the lamb with cream combinations, see here: http://www.answers.com/topic/moghul-i... milk/cream-based sweets, too.

          and julie sahni's "classic indian cooking" is an excellent, comprehensive resource. http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Indian-... at the amazon link, you can get a "best value" combining sahni's book with
          madhur jaffrey's "invitation to indian cooking." $36. but i'd look at abebooks.com , too. edit: forget amazon, look at abebooks! get a bunch of books for what you'd pay at amazon for one or two! "sahni" search: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/Searc...

          or on alibris: http://www.alibris.com/search/books/a...

          jaffrey: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/Searc...

          alibris: http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?bin...

          janet jarvits cookbooks site: http://www.cookbkjj.com/

          and indian food is more than curries, so make sure the book covers breads, sweets, snacks/appetizers, beverages.

          1. re: alkapal

            >> moghul (northern indian) cuisine is definitely more dairy-oriented than the southern indian cuisine, in my experience. but maybe that is because i'm thinking of all the lamb with cream combinations, see here:

            hi al, i'm thinking of all the dishes and drinks that contain yogurt and the consumption of plain yogurt with almost every meal in the south. there is less cream (and paneer), but lots and lots of yogurt.

            1. re: cimui

              hmmm, true. it would be interesting to see if the yogurt predilection migrated down from the north, or arose indigenously. i'm gonna google-snoop for some food history timelines. yogurt from central asia. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq2....
              the fact it is cooling to a spice-hot palate and is easily made in a warmer climate i'm sure helped spread its usage.

              this is interesting, from clifford wright: "The first unequivocable description of yogurt is found in a dictionary called Divanu luga-i turk, compiled by Kasgarli Mahmut in 1072-1073 during the Seljuk era in the Middle East (1038-1194). Yogurt spread rapidly throughout the Levant, but it hardly penetrated the Western and northern Mediterranean."
              ---A Mediterranean Feast, Clifford A. Wright [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 184-5).

              in sri lanka, they use coconut milk, not cream. http://books.google.com/books?id=SMlB...

              1. re: alkapal

                hmm, yes, that would be very interesting to know (esp. since some of my s. indian relatives would be so irritated to know that anything good came from the northern barbarian invasions ;)!

                on a wholly unrelaed note, i also wonder how yogurt got to be so popular in china.

                1. re: cimui

                  if it "originated" in central asia, the barbarians and nomadic tribes (with goats and sheep, thus yogurt....) ranged widely all over asia, spreading their foodways. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_...
                  and, there was the "silk road" trade routes transmitting culture and foodways across asia, from the caspian sea and the arabian peninsula to central china and s.e asia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road

                  i didn't know yogurt was popular in china. but, it makes sense. it is an easy product to manufacture -- even in sparse grazing conditions -- and healthful, too.

                  sam fujisaka, weigh in, please.....

                  1. re: alkapal

                    speaking of the silk road, have a look at this cookbook: http://www.mage.com/cooking/SR.html#c...
                    read the excerpt. very interesting. the author seems to really know her stuff!

                    (go hoyas! -- for the cookbook author!)

                    1. re: alkapal

                      her persian cookbooks seem to be the best around.

      2. I don't know of an Indian Joy of Cooking that covers the whole country. There are good, comprehensive books for particular regions or styles of cooking, and there are more generalized books that cover various Indian preparations of every type of protein, etc., but aren't comprehensive of regions. Madhur Jaffrey is a good place to start. Though she doesn't explain traditional technique as well as some, she's very accessible

        1. Julie Sahni's Complete Indian Cooking is a truly great resource in my opinion- a meaty intro that talks about the cuisine in different regions, lots of technique info, and more recipes than you could make in a year.

          1. I bought how to cook everything indian recently and it has some very good recipes. simple to follow and pretty authentic. the author is monica bhide. The other bonus was that its cheap to buy and try out. before investing in a beautiful comprehensive book.

            1. Madhur Jaffrey's "Ultimate Curry Bible" is my current book of choice.

              Not only covering the cooking of Bangaldesh, India and Pakistan it also explores the "export" of curry to other countries where folk migrated to and how it has been adapted locally.

              1. I like Camellia Panjabi's "50 Great Curries of India" a lot. There is a limited number of recipes (though many more than 50, as there are some rice, chutney, dal, pickle, etc. recipes, too. It has some great intro material on history, ingredients, techniques, and even Ayurveda. Lovely photos. And the recipes are fantastic and very clear. Highly recommended!

                1. I don't own this one, but I've looked through it at the bookstore. I think it would fulfill your requirements pretty well. Some of the Indian cookbooks that I do own are either better for someone already familiar with Indian cooking or too specialized for me to suggest just one of those. If I didn't already have several Indian cookbooks I'd probably buy the one at the link.


                  1. "660 Curries" is pretty comprehensive, educational and the recipes (at least the ones I have tried) always work. I have forgotten the author (mea culpa) but it is a new book and easy to find.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Sinicle

                      I love 660 Curries. It's yielded the best results of any Indian cookbook I've used.

                      1. re: Sinicle

                        I too have had great results from this book.

                      2. You might want to start with one or more of the videos on Manjula's Kitchen. I think she does a good job of making the steps clear and it's always good to get to see the authentic process with something from another culture.

                        She has a whole library of vegetarian dishes. http://www.youtube.com/user/Manjulask...

                        1. I have over 20 Indian cookbooks but the following 8 are my favorites. Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking is perhaps the best for the beginner but A Taste of India is by far the best overall and it has chapters for each of the major regional cuisines. Listed according to my preference. All but a couple were found at Half Price Books for under $10.

                          The Collingham book is a new one for me. Not really a cookbook but rather a history of how Indian food evolved in response external forces (potatoes, tomatoes, & chilies, etc.). I’ve found it very interesting so far.

                          Jaffrey, Madhur A Taste of India
                          Jaffrey, Madhur Indian Cooking
                          Panjabi, Camellia 50 Great Curries of India
                          Bharadwaj, Monisha The Indian Spice Kitchen
                          Iyer, Raghavan The Turmeric Trail, Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood
                          Sahni, Julie Savoring India
                          Jaffrey, Madhur An Invitation to Indian Cooking
                          Mohan, Rocky Art of Indian Cuisine

                          Collingham, Lizzie Curry, A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors

                          1. madhur jaffrey is not bad for north indian, though as someone mentioned, the preps are sometimes more involved than they have to be. i learned most of my basic non-south indian techniques by following her recipes from <<indian cooking>>.

                            for south indian, i'd strongly recommmend <<the art of south indian cooking>> by vairavan and marquardt, for beginners. it's not an attractive book (no pix), but the recipes are very simple, minimalistic and clear. recipes are tried and true traditional recipes. many an indian bachelor i know received this as a survival guide when they came to the US to study.

                            1. Madhur Jaffrey's books, definitely. I particularly like "Invitation" which was one of the books I started with in the 70s- which has simple-to-complex recipes for meats and very good rice and veg recipes. She does a very good job of taking you by the hand and putting the cooking across in a non-intimidating way; her recipes will enable you to produce excellent satisfying dishes.

                              There are so many different cuisines in India (regional and community based) that a comprehensive and excellent compiliation would be difficult and most that I have tried have been unsatisfying, although there are many fine regional books.

                              Of the other books that have been mentioned, Ive never warmed up to Sahni so much tho she is well regarded; The Spice Kitchen is a great reference book and has some good recipes but its not as good an introduction to the cuisine - Lord Krishna's cuisine is a good into to one side of the vegetarian cuisine, but it is too limited - no onions and garlic, for example - I think Camellia Punjabi's book is probably quite good, and the few recipes Ive used have been fine, but the recipes are relatively complex and I dont think its as comprehensive as you want and need.

                              If you want some regional recommendations in addition to the above, I would be glad to make them.

                              1. i'd go for one with nice photos if i were starting out. sahni's doesn't have any -- at least the "classic." but as i said, her recipes are good.

                                1. Speaking of beautiful pictures...how would you compare Mangoes & Curry Leaves (by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid) to Sahni and Madur Jaffrey?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: pitu

                                    i don't have that book. wasn't it a cookbook of the month not too long ago?

                                    1. re: pitu

                                      Not at all comparable. I took it out of the library and started to read it but I dont feel they got very far inside the cuisine. It also has a really annoying semi-tourism boosting tone that set my teeth on edge. I dont think the Alford a Daguid survey method (tho I like their SE asian book very much ) works as well as an intro to the huge topic of the food of India.

                                      I think that Jaffrey and Sahni both present compact and rather full pictures of their cooking FROM THE INSIDE. If you make enough of their dishes, you will develop a feel for one important type at least and of the techniques and spices that will carry over into other regional foods.

                                      Fr. Kitchen mentions Neelam Batra's 1000 Recipes book. Ive cooked from it and its interesting how different her flavoring palette is - she uses a lot of dried methi, for example - she must be from a different community than say Jaffrey. I find this book less recommendable for a beginner than Jaffrey or Sahni despite the number of recipes.
                                      By the way, both her book and the Lord Krishna's Cuisine have very good recipes for various halwas, the rich, crumbly indian sweets, if you like those..

                                      1. re: pitu

                                        Love Mangoes and Curry Leaves. It is a great cookbook as well as in inspiring travelogue

                                      2. I don't think it is any more possible to write one comprehensive Indian cookbook than to write one comprehensive European cookbook. All the same, there are a lot of good ones out there as the many posts have indicated. But no one mentioned Neelam Batra's "1000 Indian Recipes" which does an amazing job of providing a panaroma of the cooking of the sub-continent. I think it is the closest thing to Joy of Cooking that I have seen.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                          Batra's "1000 Indian Recipes" is my favorite out of the dozen or so Indian cookbooks I own or have owned(including a couple of Jaffrey's and Sahni's classic), but I don't think it's really the best choice for someone just starting out with Indian cooking. It could be a bit overwhelming for the beginner. Lack of photos is also a point against it as a cookbook for the beginner.

                                          I had the opportunity to page through Suneeta Vaswani's "Complete Book of Indian Cooking" again yesterday and still think that one does a good job of covering the regions of India, providing photos, giving clear concise instruction in the recipes, and including enough basic information about the various elements of Indian cooking and the ways they're used in the different regions. Of course, it's not really "complete" but 350 is a decent number of recipes to try to acquaint someone with the regions.

                                          1. re: Chimayo Joe

                                            i agree. very important are step-by-step instructions on *techniques,* for these are critical in creating the depth and complexity of indian cuisine.

                                            1. re: Chimayo Joe

                                              I have Batra's "1000 Indian Recipes" too -- I think it's excellent!

                                          2. I live in Vancouver-- one of the most Indian-populated cities in North America. There is a restaurant here, Vij's, where on multiple dining occasions I have cried happy tears.

                                            Bittman writes that Vij's is "easily one of the finest Indian restaurants in the world." NYT

                                            Vikram Vij's cookbook, Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, is gorgeous, clear and yields terrific results. It covers a good range but there is no regional distinction. Straight up, it's not authentic. It's def more inspired. Perhaps it should be your second book. Certainly check out the recipes that they offer online. And hopefully stop by if you get a chance next time you're in Vancouver. I take all of my out-of-town guests first to Vij's. There are no reservations; often the wait is three hours. Luckily there is a sweet little lounge in the back of the restaurant and a few great bars nearby.

                                            "The lineups are legendary at Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, where genial proprietor Vikram Vij and his wife, Meeru, use local ingredients and original ideas to create exciting takes on the cuisines of India. Dishes such as marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek curry and Portobello mushrooms in porcini cream curry are far from traditional but spiced exquisitely, allowing flavours such as mango, tamarind and cardamom to shine through.

                                            The couple’s first recipe book includes delectable offerings such as grilled chicken breast marinated in lemon-ghee dressing with garlic and cashews and seared venison medallions with fig and roasted pomegranate khoa. Vegetarian selections abound, and there is also a selection of side dishes and accompaniments such as rice pilafs, chapattis (flatbread) and chutneys. Each recipe is accompanied by a suggested wine pairing."



                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: sophie.

                                              I love Vij's. We go there or to his next door cafe every time we go to Vancouver; we've been going since he was nothing but a hold in the wall, with just himself and his mom.

                                              His meat dishes in his cookbook are much better than his vegetarian choices, however.

                                              In my area, the vegetarian foods in Indian restaurants are almost always covered by sauce. But Indians don't eat all their vegetable dishes with sauce--there is a whole category of "dry" cooked vegetables, which I actually prefer. That is why I like Lord Krishna's cookbook so much. She has a whole section with "dry" vegetables--delicious.

                                              1. re: sophie.

                                                I have Vij's cookbook as well, and I like it. BUT watch on the salt recommendations! Examples:

                                                1) Vij's Family Chicken Curry calls for 1 TABLEspoon of salt for about three cups of liquid.

                                                2) Sturgeon and mussels in tomato cream curry calls for 1 TABLEspoon of salt in about 6 cups of broth.

                                                I say EEEEEK! Way too salty! I would start with about 1/3 the recommended amount and add more to taste.

                                                Another problem is that some recipes yield strange proportions of the different components: Example:

                                                3) I liked the sauteed arugula and spinach with paneer (after cutting the one TABLEspoon of salt back), but the recipe ends up with 2 pounds of greens for 9 oz of paneer. The photo shows the dish as I presented it, with maybe 10 leaves of greens per hunk of paneer. That was great, but it left me with a huge amount of leftover greens in coconut curry, which didn't make sense ot me. If I had put them all on the plate they would have totally overwhelmed the paneer.

                                                So...some great ideas, but some recipes need some attention.

                                              2. Thanks for the recommendations everyone! After some comparison at the bookstore I ended up getting Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking." My sister has already started campaigning for biryani, so maybe I'll give it a whirl this week or next.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: mordacity

                                                  Glad you got the Julie Sahni book...if you get hooked (and you will!) do also check out her Moghul Microwave cookbook. It is not always wonderful, but has THE best recipe for Saag Ghosh (Lamb slow-cooked with tomato, coriander and yoghurt) ever !

                                                  1. re: mordacity

                                                    key to biryani is the cooking of the cleaned basmati in the ghee. read the instructions & intro in sahni, and remember that longer cooking, without a bunch of stirring, is the key to deep, complex flavors. let the long, slow heat, and the mechanism of fat, work out/extract the deep flavors in the veg (and separately, the rice) prior to adding meat/veg to the rice.

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      Great tips Alkapal. I love biryani -- thanks!

                                                      1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                                        you are most welcome, and good luck. my sister loves biryani, but despite me sending her recipes, she has never made it. maybe she didn't want to fork out lots of dough to buy all the spices for indian cooking, just to make biryani. ;-).

                                                        this is important to note, and may seem contradictory to what i said above, but i was talking about the veg in oil -- not spices. (this will make sense when you read this: "The bhuna process, which involves stir-frying spices in oil without adding much water, is an important part of curry-making. A curry with the name
                                                        bhuna has a heightened flavour through prolonged frying - about 20 minutes
                                                        ~ during which stirring must be continuous to prevent the spices from
                                                        sticking to the bottom of the pot. The flavour of this dish comes from the
                                                        fact that the meat cooks initially in its own juices with the spices,
                                                        without any added water."

                                                        this is a good recipe for Lamb Curry With Spices Stir-Fried (Bhuna Gosht (Delhi)) : http://recipes.chef2chef.net/recipe-a...

                                                        the recipe is from a cookbook: "50 Great Curries of India" by Camellia Panjabi (Kyle Cathie Limited, 1994), which is described as "an excellent book of Indian cooking, with gorgeous photographs (highly recommended!!!)."

                                                        hey, all, this looks like a fun read: http://www.amazon.com/Road-Vindaloo-C...

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          Alka, have you ever tried using the Shan mixes for biryani? Amazing short cut.

                                                          1. re: adrienne156

                                                            adrienne, not yet. i've heard good things about shan. maybe that's the trick for my sister! thanks for the reminder. ;-).

                                                            1. re: adrienne156

                                                              uhmm shan mixes are good but.... very very spicy. almost too much heat to taste the rest sometimes. so use with caution. sometimes i add shan mix to my own spices to balance the heat and spice. the heat comes from cayenne as well as garam masala (clove, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper)

                                                              1. re: foodwich

                                                                shan, iirc, have many, many mixes. the biryani one is spice-hot?

                                                                1. re: foodwich

                                                                  Uhmm, did I ever say that they didn't have spice or did anyone else even mention that they were worried about heat levels? Also, as Alka said, there are over 50 different Shan mixes out there with at least 5 of them being different kinds of biryani/rice mixes with varying levels of heat.

                                                                  In any case, I haven't come across anyone who uses the biryani mixes in their pure forms and I would be more than happy to get anyone who is interested, the exact measurements from my mother if need be as I more or less eyeball it. Originally, I was taught to mix 2 parts pilau mix to to roughly 1 part sindhi biryani mix with some yogurt, fried onions, etc. in the bhuna and stud some chilies through out pot as the rice and meat are layered. Most people I know use two different mixes - the pilau and then another bombay/beef/etc. I know the beef biryani is on the spicier side, but would expect that anyone who is concerned with heat levels would use discretion in the application of the mix and adjust accordingly.

                                                                  1. re: adrienne156

                                                                    what combo of shan mixes, adrienne, for my sister who loves lamb biryani, medium hot? pilau and sindhi biryani, you say?

                                                      2. I'd suggest two cookbooks that are both excellent that have good-quality photos and excellent recipes:

                                                        Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal

                                                        Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran

                                                        I have every cookbook Jaffrey and Sahni have every done, as well as some
                                                        Indian authors like Neeta Desai and Tarla Dalal and these two books are the
                                                        best. They are lovely to look at and turn out delicious food everytime.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: HappyChow

                                                          I have both Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking and Jaffrey's modernized Indian Cooking (with her portrait on the cover).

                                                          I've cooked several things from Sahni, and all turned out very nicely. There is great discussion of technique, utensils, etc. My only gripe was that the recipes seemed toned down in the chili department, presumably to accomodate gringo palates. I suppose that could be remedied by just adding more, but I'd prefer if a range could be spcified to see that the dishes stay in balance.

                                                          Jaffrey's book looks very strong on vegetable and fish dishes, and includes more recipies outside the Northern/Mugali sphere.

                                                          Both books leave me wanting for more regional particularities and discussion of related considerations. Sahni has very few recipes from Southern India as far as I can tell, and Jaffrey doesn't often speak to regional origins. I've been directed to a book focusing on the cuisine of Kerala, which looks intriguing, but I can't recall the name.

                                                        2. An excellent beginner's Indian cookbook is 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, by Ruta Kahate. Not comprehensive like what you're looking for, though.

                                                          1. i just discovered this wonderful site, and it has a "regional" indian menu, down the bottom left : http://www.indianfoodforever.com/basi...

                                                            1. I agree with the posts recommending Madhur Jaffrey and Camellia Panjabi, but my first Indian cookbook was Smita Chandra's From Bengal to Punjab. It's was a tasty introduction for me as a beginner and I branched out from there to Camellia's outrageously delicious work.


                                                              1. This is such an informative thread! I wanted to ask if anyone has tried Monica Bhide's new cookbook, Modern Spice. I looked through it recently and was really intrigued but also a bit intimated.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: newfoodie

                                                                  why intimidated?
                                                                  I tend to have problems with these books that try to update Indian cuisine and make it more accessible to Americans and a modern lifestyle. Books like Jaffrey and Sahni's have plenty of recipes that are simple and delicious and authentic.