Not much has changed since Apicius. Most cookbooks are still handwritten notes and even though fairly generic, many women still guard their recipes like gold. Till recently, very few Indian women, especially in small towns, would willingly share their recipes .To get the exact ingredients of a dal makhani in North India was a task that required sleuthing skills and Holmesian questioning.There was always the option of catching the cook behind the memsahibs back and grilling him.
It sounds so Victorian but in a sense it was. Women were not encouraged to work outside , and their only realm of influence was the home . Socially acceptable work was running a boutique or a school in the home. Beyond that there were few ways in which a woman could give reign to her imagination or creativity.Where many women were so much more ambitious and smarter than their husbands , food was often a weapon of oneupmanship.Recipes were guarded like gold.
Old recipe books whether of Roman or Eastern origin gave the ingredients but never exact amounts. Much was left to the imagination.Great cooks were celebrated and feted and the feasts they prepared were talked about long after.
Now with the huge number of cookbooks available it is pretty tough to select ones that will be really useful to the average cook. Sadly some of the best Indian cook books look like nothing on earth...no appetizing pictures, bad typefaces and cheap paper as well as indiscriminate copy editing with ingredients missing or instructions misplaced. So they need imagination and determination to cull the best recipes from them.
Others look so good it seems unbelievable that the recipes are generically bad; they are compilations of recipes picked out from here and there with photographs bought from photo agencies that often have nothing to do with the given recipe.
Years of coming up with awful food productions have helped me to make a list of pretty decent cook books. I have tried to keep the variety of Indian cuisine in mind and have listed as many books giving recipes from different regions as possible . As usual there are so many books about Tandoori and North Indian food which has become popular the world over. The real gold lies between the covers of those unassuming little books with authentic home cooking written by some dedicated housewife. Sumaithu Paar was originally a three volume tome written by Mrs Ammal as a labour of love. Every Tamilian bride got one set much as 'The Joy of Cooking' as become a must have on every American brides gift list.
This list threatened to become the Top Twenty... but I restrained myself.And cheated a bit. Note 2 a and b.
- 1.Indian Cooking;Madhur Jaffrey. Publishers: Barron's Educational Series; Expanded edition (September, 1995) ISBN: 0812065484 Written in a way that can be understood by everyone, with authentic home cooking recipes, this is a good introduction to North Indian cooking .
- 2. a. 500 Easy Recipes.A New Approach.Narayani V. Nayak . Published 1965. Reprinted 1978. Great Konkani recipes. Much better than the famous 'Rasa Chandrika' . I will be bringing out a new book with all her wonderful recipes later this year.Please check with me to order advance copies around October 2014.
- 2.b Moti Mahal -Tandoori Trails- Monish Gujral. Roli Books . ISBN 8174363165.From the original Moti Mahal in Old Delhi, an interesting background to the pioneers of popul ar tandoori cooking .North Indian
- 3.The Complete Vegetable Cook Book- Vasantha Moorthy .A guide to Cooking Vegetables in over 300 Ways.UBS Publishers ISBN 81-7476-009-1 An excellent book with a home cooked South Indian flavour.
- 4. The best of Sumaithu Paar:The Classic guide to Tamil Cuisine.Meenakshi Ammal.New Delhi. Viking 2001.ISBN 0670 049 .A selection from the original volumes.
- 5. Dakshin.Chandra Padmanabhan.Publishers: Periplus Editions. ISBN 9625935274
- 6. Life and Food in Bengal-Chitrita Banerji. Reprint. New Delhi. Penguin 2005.ISBN 013032739
- 7.Annapurna-Mangla Barve. Maharashtrian Cooking . Mumbai . Publishers: Asoka Kesava Kothavale : Majestik Prakasaha, 1992. This has been a best seller in Marathi and might be available in English soon.
- 8.Jamva Chaloji- Katy Dalal .Parsi delicacies for all Occasions.Publishers.Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd. Bombay. ISBN 81-87111-06-2 A bit on the rich side but worth trying.
- 9.Wazwaan-Traditional Kashmiri Cuisine.The Waza brothers. Publishers:Roli Books. ISBN 81-7436-171-5 . Fabulous Kashmiri food written out fairly well. Just cut down on the amounts of ghee and oil specified.
- 10.Cooking Delights of the Maharajas-Exotic Dishes from the Princely House of Sailana- Digvijaya Singh. Publishers:Vakils, Feffer and Simons. 10th ed. 2002.Mumbai . ISBN 81-87111-14-3 .You might have to work out what some phrases mean, as the language is not very clear, but the recipes are superb.
P.S.Please note comments and links below from Lindy at Toast to get copies from other booksellers.
P.P.S.Other readers favourites with links also mentioned iin the comments section.