After Madhur Jaffrey, one of India’s best-known food writers, began publishing her recipes in the 1970s, the Indian cookery-book scene exploded. Hundreds of others have followed suit, offering a wider view of Indian cuisine and broadly categorising the culinary expertise of various states under a few categories.
Cookery books today tend to focus on India’s rich culinary heritage at the micro level, featuring cuisines particular to certain states, such as Rajput (Rajasthan), and even the food of specific communities, such as the Jains and the Iyengars.
These books are being written not just to share hard-to-find recipes but to preserve heritage that is fast disappearing. Treasured recipes were once handed down the generations – easy enough when extended families lived, cooked and ate together. Today, with smaller families and working parents, writers are scurrying to hunt down, document and preserve these old recipes.
Here are five books that, while not representative of all of India, offer a cross-section of unique compilations that go beyond butter chicken and dal tadka.
Kashmiri Cuisine Through the Ages by Sarla Razdan (Roli Books)
The Kashmiris are famous for their wazwan, the multi-course wedding feast served at banquets comprising around 36 different dishes, usually featuring meat and chicken. It’s a gourmet spread that challenges even gargantuan appetites. An elaborate and lovely piece of pomp, it is rounded off by a cup of kahwah, a green tea flavoured with saffron, almonds and cardamom. One exotic recipe to get your hands on is al posh mond – pumpkin flowers dipped into a paste of rice flour and red chillies and fried until crisp.
Dining with the Maharajas by Neha Prasada and Ashima Narain (Roli Books)
This extraordinary book on the culinary traditions of Indian royalty includes 1,000 recipes that have never been published before, plus trivia: did you know that the chefs of the Patiala royals boasted more than 140 recipes for pulao, the popular cousin of biryani? Rampur’s royals used to serve a minimum of 200 dishes at a daawat (banquet). And the Sailanas had skilled chefs who made “puris” (deep-fried, whole-wheat puffs) which, when torn open, revealed a live bird.
Why Onions Cry: Peek into an Iyengar Kitchen by Vijee Krishnan and Nandini Sivakumar (Prism)
Traditional Iyengar Brahmins in Tamil Nadu do not cook with onions or garlic (according to Ayurveda, onions and garlic stimulate base passions such as anger and lust). But they make up for it with a cuisine that does magic with spices, lentils, tamarind and yogurt. The dishes are light, healthy and non-greasy, focusing on locally sourced vegetables and fruit, such as karuveppilai kuzhambu (curry leaf sauce) and orange tholi thogayal (orange peel chutney).
Kayastha Kitchens Through India by Preeta Mathur (Roli Books)
Members of the Kayastha caste are found throughout India by virtue of their past as administrators and ministers under Mughal rule. Given that meat dishes dominated their royal courts, this cuisine is heavy on mutton, and is rich and delicious, with recipes that call for succulent meat swimming in aromatic sauces in which whole spices, such as black cardamom, are used. Some dishes such as siri, in which parts of a goat’s head are cooked in multiple spices, would take hours of preparation but Mathur has simplified the complicated recipes to suit modern lifestyles.
Savour Mumbai: A Culinary Journey Through India’s Melting Pot by Vikas Khanna (Westland)
Vikas Khanna, the man behind the Michelin-starred Junoon in New York – a branch will open soon in Dubai – says Mumbai played a big role in the evolution of his palate. The variety of recipes – from chicken cafreal (Goa) to khubani ka shahi tukda (Lucknow) – is a testimony to the city’s cosmopolitan composition. Khanna also offers interesting insights into a Mumbaikar’s eating habits. For example, cashews are expensive and thus used whole in dishes so they are visible to guests.