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Jan 16, 2009 07:10 AM

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: milk/cream-based sweets, too.

          and julie sahni's "classic indian cooking" is an excellent, comprehensive resource. 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 , 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:

          or on alibris:



          janet jarvits cookbooks site:

          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.
              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.

              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.
                  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.

                  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:
                    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.