12 Essential Cookbooks for Exploring Indian Cuisine
I was a late adopter to Indian cuisine as both an eater and a cook. My family didn't seek it out when I was growing up, and sadly, I fell prey to the common misconception that all Indian food is super spicy, and as someone with limited tolerance for the fiery foods, I never really explored it beyond Tandoori Chicken, Naan, and Sag Paneer. In fact, I was in my forties before I got introduced to the wide and glorious foodways of regional India, and nearly fifty before I had the courage to try and cook it for myself.
But here is the thing about Indian cuisine, once you get started, you won't want to stop! Exploring the various styles of Indian cooking is the most delicious rabbit hole to fall into as a cook, because not only will you be able to discover the dishes that most satisfy your palate and style of cooking, but you will also get introduced to new techniques and ingredients that will fundamentally improve your everyday cooking, whether the recipe you are making is Indian or not!
Kashmiri chili powder has pretty much replaced cayenne in my cooking, and making tadka, or blooming spices in oil, has become my go-to for many recipes like chili, gravy, and even my Bolognese sauce! Serving a cooling element on the plate, like a raita or pickle or salad, is now a standard practice at my dinner table, and easy quick fresh flatbreads are just as common for my bread basket as sliced baguettes used to be.
Whether you want to learn a specific dish that you already love, like biriyani or samosas, explore some new dishes that might be new to you like idli or masala dosa, or just want to begin to familiarize yourself with all the wonders the cuisine has to offer, the thing that has been most helpful to me is building a small library of cookbooks that introduced me to the basics and made me feel competent. These are all books that were originally recommended to me by friends who are either of Indian descent or cook a lot of Indian food, and most of them are professional chefs. If you want to start investigating your own relationship with Indian food, you cannot go wrong with any of these.
Invitation to Indian Cooking
Madhur Jaffrey is probably the best-known Indian cookbook author in the US, and for good reason. Her work has spanned decades, her television show was groundbreaking, and she continues to be a force in Indian cuisine around the world. If you only buy one book off this list, this should be the one.
Buy it: Invitation to Indian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey, Amazon
Classic Indian Cooking
One of the things I love about this book are the more than 100 line drawings to help guide your cooking. If you love visual assistance in your cookbooks, these drawings actually serve as a better guide than a lot of photographs can.
Buy it: Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sahni, Amazon
India: The Cookbook
This gorgeous book is the result of over two decades the author spent collecting and curating family recipes from all over India and includes recipes from every region. A terrific introduction to authentic and diverse Indian cuisine, with well-written and easy to follow recipes.
Buy it: India: The Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant, Amazon
One Spice Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors
One of the greatest losses to the culinary community during COVID was Chef Floyd Cardoz. He was not only a successful chef, restauranteur, and television personality, but he was known for mentoring others, and giving back to the community. This book helps to take the mystery out of many Indian ingredients and is a great resource for infusing Indian flavors and techniques into other cuisines. Perfect if you are up for injecting some Indian oomph into your everyday cooking without necessarily cooking Indian dishes.
Buy it: One Spice Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors, by Floyd Cardoz, Amazon
Mangoes & Curry Leaves
I love this book because it incorporates the vastness of food from all over Southeast Asia, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Really inspiring and exciting to read, and terrific fun to cook from.
Buy it: Mangoes & Curry Leaves, by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid, Amazon
My Bombay Kitchen
Focused on the very specific Parsi foodways, a small population in India with roots in Persia, if you are a fan of Middle Eastern food, you will find much about these recipes that is familiar and comforting. One of the most unusual and exciting styles of cooking in India, and super authentic.
Buy it: My Bombay Kitchen, by Niloufer Ichaporia King, Amazon
Dishoom is one of the most popular and famous restaurants in London, and the food cooked there is a love letter to Bombay. This cookbook of the restaurant's best dishes, is full of gorgeous photography, personal stories, and is a celebration of the food of Bombay in such a visceral way it will want to make you get on a plane!
Buy it: Dishoom Cookbook, by Samil Thakrar, Amazon
Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking
Many of the cultures of India are devoted to a vegetarian diet, but this book is a gift to omnivores as well. Over 500 recipes for authentic Indian dishes, it has become an amazing resource for me whether I am cooking for vegetarian or vegan friends, looking to do a Meatless Monday, or are in need of fun side dishes, snacks or condiments. Don't pass it by just because you are not vegetarian, it has much to offer any cook.
Buy it: Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, by Yamuna Devi, Amazon
Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food
This book has won numerous accolades, from a James Beard Award to being named Best Cookbook by The New York Times and the Washington Post, and for good reason. Sharma brings a scientist's mind to the art of cooking, and therefore all of his recipes work brilliantly and teach you technique with clear and concise instruction. He brings an immigrant sensibility and focus to his dishes, which include both traditional recipes and new twists.
Buy it: Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, by Nik Sharma, Amazon
The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook
If you want a book that can be a great place to perk your interests, look no further than this compilation of over 300 recipes sourced from all over India. I love it especially for the over 1500 photographs, which are often the inspiration for me to hit the kitchen. It is deeply researched and the recipes have clearly been well-tested.
Buy it: The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook: 300 Classic Recipes From The Great Regions Of India, by Mridula Baljekar, Amazon
The Complete Indian Instant Pot
If you have a multi-cooker or electric pressure cooker and want to cook Indian, this book is your new best friend. Many people shy away from Indian cuisine because they think everything takes forever to cook, but I am here to say that with these extraordinary recipes and your favorite piece of kitchen kit, you are minutes, not hours away from some of the most delicious Indian food of your life. These dishes aren't just good "for instant pot food", they are amazing food, full-stop. I have been able to cook a complete meal, including a main with two sides and a dessert in under an hour.
Buy it: The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook: 130 Traditional and Modern Recipes, by Chandra Ram, Amazon
My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen
When Gomez blends her southern Indian heritage with her current life in Georgia, magic happens. From Kerala style fried chicken, to a yogurt rice that I serve as a side to meals of every sort, to a game changing Sunday Beef Stew that has all the familiarity of your childhood comfort food, amped up with bright flavors that enhance the experience so that it is at once nostalgic and beguilingly new.
Buy it: My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen, by Asha Gomez, Amazon
Check out our complete collection of Indian Recipes.