With its multitude of spices, cooking techniques, and regional variations on flavor, Indian cuisine can feel like an intimidating one for home chefs. Luckily, we’ve been blessed with an incredible number of cookbooks that carefully break down the different varieties of lentils, for example, or the best ways to create the perfect curry mix.
It’s impossible to encapsulate all of India—a country with twenty-nine states and a population of over 1.3 billion—with one neat list, so consider this a humble starting point. The essential cookbooks included here range from regionally and “authentically” Indian to Indian-influenced. They also range from beginner-friendly to ambitious, which means that there’s something for everyone.
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Jaffrey is often credited as one of the pioneers who introduced western audiences to Indian cuisine. Though she’s since written dozens of excellent cookbooks, her very first one has become one of those must-have essentials for any home cook. Among the favorite recipes, which primarily highlight the food of Delhi, are whole wheat samosas, kheema, and tomato chutney. At the end of each, Jaffrey also offers serving suggestions and a few other dishes to pair, which makes this book especially great for hosts who love planning sophisticated dinner party menus.Buy Now
Though the original version was published in the U.K. in the 1980s, “Indian Cookery” was only recently reprinted and released in the U.S., complete with a gorgeous bright cover. Rushdie’s brother, who provides the foreword, is the novelist Salman Rushdie, and glimpses of the family writing gene become apparent throughout the eloquent descriptions, explanations, and stories about each ingredient. As with Jaffrey’s book, photos are eschewed in favor of instructions, so brainy home chefs who prefer histories over visuals will want to add this to their shelves.Buy Now
This hefty compilation is likely the most comprehensive curry bible you will ever read. In addition to penning cookbooks, Iyer is also a home cooking instructor, so each recipe is like receiving a mini lesson in cooking. The first few chapters lay out the foundations of building a good curry, from spice mixtures and pastes to accompanying sauces, then dives into the dizzying variations. Whether you’re a super advanced chef or one just starting out in the kitchen, there’s a curry here for you. The cookbook also fits nearly any diet; there are recipes for vegetarian and pescatarian curries, others featuring red meat and poultry, and various combinations of all of the above. In case that isn’t enough, there are also recipes for biryanis, aromatic rices, and breads like baati and naan.Buy Now
You might recognize Khan as the first British chef to be featured on the Netflix show “Chef’s Table.” Her debut book of recipes, released in 2018, demonstrates why. The unifying theme of the cookbook is feasts, inspired by the central role of food in Indian celebrations. As Khan writes in the introduction, “… there is no reason why each and every meal should not be a feast fit for royalty.” Fittingly, most every dish in the book is vibrant, joyful, and perfect for an everyday feast. Standouts include a magenta beetroot raita and a fragrant saffron chicken korma, both of which are also satisfyingly Instagrammable.Buy Now
Indian cuisine is known for excelling at the plant-based food game—which makes sense, given that India has the highest percentage of vegetarians out of any country. Sodha’s second cookbook focuses exclusively on vegetarian dishes, with 130 approachable recipes that’ll knock any herbivore out of their salad blues. There are variations on daal, curries, pickles, and chutneys, not to mention beverages like ginger tea and fruit lassis. Best of all, her recipes emphasize approachability with easy prep and minimal steps—which is probably why the book is a Chowhound community favorite.Buy Now
Fans of the notoriously chill and supportive baking competition, “The Great British Bake-off,” will recognize Makan from season five. In her newest cookbook, Makan puts down her cake pans and turns her attention to family meals, addressing the perception that Indian food is unhealthy or greasy. She writes in her introduction, “But this is the opposite of what you would find in any Indian home kitchen!” The impending recipes, most of which are plant-based and involve minimal amounts of oil, prove her point. Dishes like stuffed okra, yogurt curry, and cumin paneer salad are flavorful and refreshing. Your sweet tooth won’t be disappointed either—the book closes with a chapter on desserts like coconut barfi and spiced chocolate bark.Buy Now
As reflected by the playful title, Krishna’s cookbook focuses on food through the lens of Indian flavors and techniques, rather than attempting to define purely “authentic” Indian food. Most of all, it prizes family memories, hilarious stories, and comic pop illustrations courtesy of desi artist Maria Qamar. The result is homey and approachable recipes—like saag feta and roti pizza—that can easily be made on busy weeknights. They also provide a great introduction to a few common spices and cooking techniques that can be a starting point for further inspiration and experimentation.Buy Now
Named after the cylindrical stacked lunch pail that’s commonly used for packing lunch across India, “Tiffin” seeks to highlight the defining tastes of the country’s distinct regions. The resulting 500 recipes are organized geographically and include at least one from each of India’s states (a rather rare feat among Indian cookbooks in the west). Among the standouts are kutchi kadak, a spicy toast and potato concoction from Gujarat, and macrolyun patata, a Sindhi macaroni dish. If you’re looking to diversify your knowledge of Indian cuisine, “Tiffin” is a brilliant introduction to the sheer diversity that’s out there. Buy Now
On Twitter, Sharma once quipped that he had to leave America to be seen as an American chef. Scan through a few of the recipes in “Season,” though, and you’ll understand just how uniquely American his food is. Through dishes like masala chai apple cake, bacon salt, and bombay frittata, Sharma combines flavors from his childhood in Mumbai with his life across the U.S., from the Midwest and Washington, D.C. to California. The cookbook is also packed full with gorgeous photography that Sharma took himself, making it especially great for visual home chefs (or budding food photographers).Buy Now
Cook the Book: Nik Sharma’s Spicy Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookie Recipe
Fans of the modern Indian restaurant Rasika in Washington, D.C., rejoiced when the chefs released this cookbook and finally spilled the secret recipe to their famous palak chaat, or fried spinach. Of course, there’s a reason why Rasika is an award-winning establishment—the recipes here are often more time-intensive and complex than in some other picks on this list, involving more steps, longer wait times, and prep. But a handy glossary of ingredients and detailed instructions guide those willing to put in the time, and ambitious home chefs will be well-rewarded for their blood, sweat, and tears. In addition to palak chaat, dishes like sweet potato samosa purses and an eggplant lasagna might even change the way you view Indian cuisine. Buy Now
Get a Sneak Peek of Three Rasika Recipes: Crispy Fried Spinach with Tomato, Onion, Tamarind, and Yogurt; Steamed Sea Bass in Banana Leaf with Coconut-Mint Chutney; and Indian Spiced Sautéed Mushrooms and Green Onions
Header image courtesy of Amazon