I love cooking. I love learning new cooking techniques. And I love Indian food. The intense, complex flavors make me just want to eat forever. My favorite two dishes at my local Indian restaurant, Raja Mahal on E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, are Chicken Tikka and Lamb Sagwala. Every bite bursts with rich flavor and a delicious spiciness that I just had never created on my own before.
I had a gift card to Barnes and Noble, so I decided to use it on an Indian cookbook. Every time I went I would flip through the options, but I just couldn't decide. I knew I definitely wanted authentic recipes. I knew I wanted it to be filled with newsy details and descriptions, the recipes to be clear and easy to follow, and gorgeous photos to garner my interest and let me know what the finished dish is supposed to look like. I like to read the cookbooks just as much as I enjoy actually creating the dishes, and the little stories about each dish get me excited to make them.
I decided that the best way to choose would be to try them out for a while. I went to my local library and found Madhur Jafffrey's memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees, but no Indian cookbooks. (It is a rather small branch.) I took home the memoir and Ms. Jaffrey's descriptions of her childhood foods made my mouth water. When I discovered that she was a cookbook author, I knew I wanted to check out her books. I loved the fact that she learned how to cook through the letters she and her mother wrote back and forth while she was studying in England. It gave me confidence that her instructions would be clear and that she would understand the difficulty of procuring certain ingredients outside of India. I put five of her books on hold and was able to pick them up within a week. I checked out Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, From Curries to Kebabs, Flavors of India, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, and An Invitation to Indian Cooking.
I spent one day just reading the cookbooks and marking all the recipes in each book that I wanted to try. I noticed that a lot of the recipes were featured in several of the books, which made it easier to eliminate. I decided against Quick and Easy Indian Cooking because it didn't have many recipes. Alternately, although it contained a ton of recipes and had lots of fun descriptions and little stories, my copy of An Invitation to Indian Cooking didn't have any pictures. It was also the oldest of the bunch. From Curries to Kabobs turned out to be recipes from all over the world, anywhere that used the spices from India. While fascinating, this was not what I was looking for. So that took it down to Indian Cooking (henceforth referred to as IC) and Flavors of India (FOI). I began cooking.
I joined a CSA this year, so I had a ton of greens. The first day I made Saag (Kale). The second dish was Sookhe aloo (Potatoes with ginger and garlic). Both from IC. They were fabulous and fairly simple to make. My sister and I gobbled them up.
I then invited a friend to dinner for the next Friday. I knew it would take a while to make all the dishes I wanted to try, so I started making the samosas on Thursday. They took forever! But they were well worth it. Anytime I make a filled pastry it takes me at least one entire day, and it certainly was slow going. But that is really more my lack of experience with rolling out dough.
On Friday I made Hare dhaniye ki chutney (Fresh Coriander Chutney) to go with the samosas, Mughlai saag (Spinach cooked with onions), Xacuti (Chicken with a roasted coconut sauce), and Peelay chaaval (Aromatic yellow rice). All the recipes were from IC except the Xacuti, which was from FOI. I later discovered a version of it in IC too. The dinner went really well. Everything turned out delicious, and I was absolutely in love with the coconut chicken.
The next week, I made Whole Green Lentils with Spinach and Ginger, which was a bit plain, but probably would have been better if I had the right amount of spinach. I also made Kashmiri koftas (Kashmiri style meatballs) which were delightful. Every bite was just so incredibly flavorful. I loved all the whole spices and the yogurt sauce made it truly decadent. I made Baigan ka raita (yogurt with eggplant) for a sauce. All recipes were from IC.
IC is a great cookbook because it has a lot of different recipes, the layout is easy to understand and use. I like that it is divided up in to separate chapters for each type of food (meat, poultry, vegetables, etc.) It has pictures, nice descriptions and suggested pairings. I really liked FOI because it is divided up by region. Each section gives a history of the region, the foods, and Jaffrey's wonderful descriptions of the time she spent there. I loved reading these sections. Many of the recipes were in both books, though they were usually slightly different in portion sizes.
Through this experience I realized that Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking was the right cookbook for me! I ordered it online and it will be arriving later this week. If I get a second book, it would probably be FOI, because I love knowing where each dish is from, and there were a lot of regional dishes that aren't in the IC. But I realized that I simply find IC easier to use, so it is best one to get first.