Exploring Indian Cooking

paper masala dosa1I didn’t grow up eating Indian food.  In fact, I don’t think I ate Indian food until I was 25 years old and starting to become obsessed with Bollywood movies!  But once I did try it, I was hooked, and I’ve come to rely on a handful of cookbooks whenever I’m craving something spicy.

If you’re intimidated by the giant list of spices some recipes seem to require, 5 Spices 50 Dishes is the book for you.  Ruta Kahate pares it down to 5 basic spices that you can buy in just about any grocery store, and shows you how to use them in different proportions to make 50 authentic, delicious Indian dishes.  She also has the best, clearest-written chapati (flatbread) recipe I’ve found.  Start with:  Railroad Potatoes, Masala Omelet, and Chapatis (or buttered toast, if you’re feeling lazy) would make a great weekend lunch/brunch.

Entice With Spice is my favorite Indian cookbook.  If for some reason I could only have one, it would be this one.  There’s a great guide to ingredients and techniques at the beginning, every recipe is photographed so you know what it should look like, and the instructions are clearly written and nicely laid out.  There is a good mix of North and South Indian dishes, too.  A bonus – nearly every recipe has instructions for freezing and re-heating, so you don’t have to wonder whether freezing something will ruin the texture or taste.  Start with: Lemon Rice, or make Aloo Matar (potato and pea curry) with Parathas (flaky flatbreads) – the leftovers are even better for breakfast the next day!

Playing around with Indian flavors, Modern Spice combines traditional spices and flavors with contemporary ingredients and techniques, resulting in recipes like Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney, Indian-Style Chili in Bread Bowls, and Saffron-Cardamom Macaroons.  There are more traditional dishes here, too, but geared toward American kitchens and ways of eating.  Start with: Green Beans Subzi, or Sunday Night Skillet Chicken and Rice.

Madhur Jaffrey is one of the best-known Indian food writers, and for good reason.  Her recipes aren’t always easy, but they are well-explained, and so deliciously described that I sometimes find myself craving food I’ve never tasted, just from flipping through one of her books.  Indian Cooking is a good basic book for beginning Indian cooks – she includes a guide to spices and other unusual ingredients, and gives suggested menus.  Start with: Minced Meat with Peas (Keema Matar), Delhi-Style Lamb Cooked with Potatoes (Aloo Gosht), Red Split Lentils with Cumin Seeds (Masoor Dal), or, if you’re feeling adventurous, Moong Dal Pancakes with Peas (Gujerati Poore).

Easy Indian Cooking is a good, basic, no-frills cookbook.  The recipes are nicely formatted and the picture inserts all look very appetizing.  This is a good book for those harder-to-find recipes that don’t always make it into the more popular cookbooks.  Start with: Upma (Semolina with Vegetables), Gajar ka Halwa (Caramelized Carrot Pudding), or Cauliflower and Potatoes with Ginger and Chile.

Vegetarians probably already know that Indian food is a vegetarian paradise, but if you’re looking for something new, Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India is worth your time.  South Indian food has a flavor all its own (one I’m starting to prefer to North Indian food), and the endlessly creative ways to use lentils, rice, yogurt, and vegetables will amaze you.  Cooking from this book will require a trip to the Indian grocery store, but once you have the staples you’re good to go.  Start with: Potato Masala, Ordinary Rasam, Semolina Pudding.