Cooking is an art. And I believe it since I am no artist. Cooking though is an existential essential, has had a catharsis of sorts over the recent past. When once cooking a meal was just a mundane responsibility today the story is very different. The culinary world has developed and emerged as a leading economic and cultural market. Cookbooks, cook shows and various marketing strategies have elevated cooking into a definitive skill set. Add to that the lockdown has allowed people to try their book hand at various dishes and delicacies of their choice.
Globally, there is a range of cuisines that highly please our palates. However, traditional Indian foods always have a special place in the culinary world. The blend of spices and flavours is a unique feature of traditional Indian foods that has mesmerized the international audiences as well.
There are details, precision and a lot of hard work that goes into preparing a dish. Of course, the common idea that usually floats around is that cooking is about passion. It is the desire to create something with a lot of love and care. However, there is a science to it too. And to understand it, cookbooks are one of the best resources, to begin with. For the amateur or experienced cooks, cookbooks provide a different take and perception, which can be both a learning and a refreshing change.
Why are cookbooks important for traditional Indian cooking?
Traditional Indian cooking is a lot more than just the recipes. It is about the ingredients and their true meaning. It is also about acknowledging the local flavours and incorporating them in the dish. The method of cooking is another significant aspect that defines traditional food preparation. Modern cooking has evolved with the usage of electronics and gadgets. And hence, cookbooks help in creating traditional meals with modern methods and utensils. Cooking experts understand the fine balance that is struck when tradition meets modern. And it is only then that the resultant effect is both delicious and beautiful.
Also, Indian traditional dishes are an amalgamation of many small steps. And it is their coming together that creates a perfect dish. Besides, undoubtedly it’s hard to categorize the traditional foods in a single bracket. There are so many regional variations and local ingredients that go into preparing a traditional Indian dish. And thus, a reference point or guide material becomes inadvertently important. Cookbooks, therefore, are a handy, quick and authentic medium to learn recipes and try them out at home.
So here we list the top 10 cookbooks on traditional Indian cooking that will help those who are not cooking artists. However, these are also great reads for those who enjoy cooking and look to understand the technique and purpose while preparing a dish.
My First Kitchen – Vikas Khanna
Vikas Khanna is a well-known name in Indian, as well as the international culinary world. This is one of the best books for beginners because it gives a holistic approach to the skill. There are more than a hundred recipes, besides many related tips.
Made in India: Cooked in Britain: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen – Meera Sodha
Meera Sodha’s Made in India – Recipes from an Indian family is a joy to read. She passed down recipes of traditional home-cooked dishes that she grew up eating with her family. It was not until she moved out of her home for studies that she realized what a great cook her mother was. This book contains recipes, family anecdotes, and a lot of fun.
Indian Housewife’s Recipe Book – Laxmi Khurana
This book is a wonderful assortment of traditional Indian meals. It opens your eyes to the fact that dal and curries can be made in umpteen numbers of ways. There are more than a hundred recipes in the book that range from the main course to snacks, starters, chutneys etc. Traditional recipes passed down from generations, Laxmi Khurana’s book is a perfect step by step explanation of recipes that are easy and tasty to cook.
India: The Cookbook – Pushpesh Pant
With around 1000 recipes, Pushpesh Pant’s India: The Cookbook is a comprehensive guide for ardent cooks. A great book for those who have tried their hand on Indian cooking, this book gives a deeper understanding of the dish, through historical references etc. There are also tips on the utensils to use, various ingredients, etc. Pushpesh Pant lives in Delhi unlike many other authors of Indian cookbooks who cater their culinary expertise at international locales. The recipes are varied and also of uncommon dishes, such as sambharachi kodi, bakarkhani roti and more. The chapters are divided into pickles, bread, chutney, pasta etc.
Indian Cookery – Madhur Jaffrey
Madhur Jaffrey is a traveller, food writer, actress and can be credited for a lot of westerners learning about Indian food. She has written quite a few cookbooks, including Curry Easy and Ultimate Curry Bible. However, Indian Cookery is regarded as one of the best cookbooks on traditional Indian food. The cookbook includes classic recipes, such as Chicken Tandoori and Rogan Gosh.
The Indian Cooking Course – Monisha Bharadwaj
Monisha Bharadwaj’s The Indian Cooking Course is an easy step by step guide for beginners. For those who love Indian food but really don’t know how to go about preparing it, this book is perfect. It explores various dishes across different regions of the country. However, it goes beyond just providing the recipe. In fact, it gives insight and background information on the different dishes. This helps in understanding the true essence of the dishes.
Prashad at Home: Everyday Indian Cooking From our Vegetarian Kitchen – Kaushy Patel
Kaushy Patel gets inspiration from her grandmother for instilling a deep love for Indian cuisine. This book explores the vegetarian recipes of the country and is perfect for those who avoid meat. Most of the meals in this edition are quick and easy to make.
50 Great Curries of India – Camellia Panjabi
This is one of the best cookbooks that introduce you to Indian curries. Authentic regional curries also feature in this bestselling cookbook. Camelia Punjabi was born in Mumbai, and she later moved to England for her studies. She began her culinary business and ran a chain of restaurants in London. In this book, some of the recipes to watch out for include the Sindhi curry, Madras lamb curry and more. The book also has wonderful illustrations to guide novice cooks.
Tasting India – Chef Christine Manfield
Australian chef Christine Manfield writes tasting India. The book is an amalgamation of his travel and food experiences in the country. The book gives an insight into Indian cooking from a foreigner’s point of view. Some of her recipes of the beetroot curry and coconut chutney are worth trying out. The book in total includes around 250 recipes of Indian food.
How to Cook Indian: More than 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen – Sanjeev Kapoor
Sanjeev Kapoor is a household name. Many credit him and Tarla Dalal for bringing cooking on a larger, digital platform and making it popular. This book uses easy ingredients to whip up authentic dishes and is handy for those whose kitchens are not always stocked with all culinary requirements. Though the book has no illustrations, the list without either one of the iconic Indian cooking masters would definitely seem incomplete. It is undoubtedly one of the best cookbooks on traditional Indian food.
Indian cooking has its distinct uniqueness and flavors. This is in spite the fact that it is hard to categorize the wide range of gourmet delights that are prevalent nationwide. With every region boasting its own kind of cuisine, the Indian cuisine is hard to define. Yet, on the other hand, there are certain dishes that are absolutely ‘Indian’. Cookbooks help to bring to forefront the different flavors of the regions and states of India. At the same time, they also help highlight the various meals and dishes that everyone can easily identify as being Indian. However, the biggest advantage of cookbooks lie in their authenticity and legacy. Recipes passed down from grandmothers are safely sealed and preserved in their pages. They are not lost through time, but reinvented and relieved with each passing generation.
Digital media is another wonderful way to spread cooking skills. However, the charm of cookbooks opened amidst the scatter of ingredients as soft music plays in the background is unmatched. Yes, artists are born with lots of handwork and help. And cooking is definitely an art that needs a bit of both.