2017 saw the release of a bevy of fascinating South Asian cookbooks that took on traditional cuisine and technique and reimagined them through the lens of health, history, and/or identity. Gone are the days where desi cookbooks offer the same tired table of contents and inventiveness is looked upon as unauthentic. Instead, this year brought us regional Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan cookbooks many of which are authored by Desis drawing upon their lived experiences of having a hyphenated identity.
Any home cook looking to expand and elevate their cooking repertoire could deeply benefit from each and every one of these books. South Asian American home cooks, in particular, looking for cookbooks that mirror their regional culinary heritage and/or a confluence of culinary traditions will certainly find inspiration in many of these books.
We found it impossible to rank these cookbooks so instead, we’re sharing all our favorites in no particular pecking order.
2017’s Most Amazing South Asian Cookbooks:
1. “Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films” by Sri Rao
Author Sri Rao is a celebrated producer in India and with this cookbook, Rao adds chef to his list of powerhouse skills. Bollywood Kitchen provides masala-packed recipes and a list of Rao’s most favorite Bollywood films. He’ll teach you about Bollywood’s legacy, its actors, actresses, directors and more. You’ll learn which dishes pair best with what Bollywood film adding a new spin on dinner and a movie.
2. “The Food and Cooking of Pakistan: Traditional Dishes From The Home Kitchen” by Shezhad Husain
First of all, let’s talk about the beautiful, mouthwatering images you’ll find in this collection of Pakistani recipes. Stunning images accompany each recipe along with hundreds and hundreds of other photos. With about 450 images total, chances are, you’ll feel inspired to bust out your kadhai and get to cooking. Nehari, haleem, kebabs, gol gappay, qormas, kunnas, tikas, and biriyani are some of the 85 (yes, 85!) recipes you’ll have access to. Insights into Pakistan and its rich cuisine can also be found within the pages of this magnificent book.
3. “Rasika: Flavors of India” by Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam, and David Hagedorn
Rasika is a restaurant in Washington D.C., but not just any restaurant mind you. It’s one the best Indian restaurants in the U.S.A, with Chef extraordinaire Vikram Sunderam at its helm. Sunderam has been showered with accolades and the coveted four stars in the span of his culinary career. Despite his creating wonderfully complex and nuanced dishes, his cookbook remains, if not easy, then certainly approachable to we common lay folk. We finally have access to his most prized recipes like his famous palak chaat. Dishes aside, there are also valuable recipes for the many pastes and sauces he uses as integral components of his cooking repertoire. This cookbook boasts 120 recipes delivering on quantity and quality.
4. “Sri Lanka: The Cookbook” by Prakash K Sivanathan and Niranjala M Ellawala
This cookbook brings you a variety of curries, vada, and sambal recipes and calls for ingredients such as jackfruit and coconut, to chilies and okra. It has 100 mouthwatering recipes and photos. 100! This cookbook isn’t just a collection of recipes though. It’s also an exploration of the Island’s ingredients and looks at Sri Lankan cuisine and recipes from a historical perspective while providing travel photography of the varied people, kitchens, and culinary customs found there.
5. “Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey through India” by Chetna Makan
This cookbook is hardly chef Chetna Makan’s foray into Indian food. Her 2014 cookbook The Cardamon Trail was a bestseller and she has her own YouTube food show by the name “Food with Chetna.” Whereas The Cardamon Trail reflected on baking with Indian flavor profiles, Chai, Chaat & Chutney teaches the home cook how to recreate street food in the comfort of one’s home. Each recipe comes with photographs so there is no guesswork for how the final product should look. The recipes are clearly tested, well-written, and easy to follow. This book has recipes for both pan Indian street foods along with regional street foods, making it a collection worth owning.
6. “Vibrant India Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn” by Chitra Agrawal
The recipes you’ll find within the pages of this cookbook are more commonly referred to as the “yoga diet” ie vegetarian dishes robust with ingredients like fresh produce, grains, legumes, and an abundance of fresh herbs as seasoning. This could easily be your go-to cooking bible for Indian vegetarian cuisine that’s light yet filling. And though true as that may be, this cookbook is further compelling for other reasons besides the high quality of its recipes. Whereas other Indian vegetarian cookbooks have become rather formulaic, chef Chitra Agrawal puts her hyphenated identity front and center with this collection providing her readers with a unique yet relatable approach to cooking. Agrawal gives a historical context for the many dishes she features, which hail from her hometown of Banglore. Maintaining the culinary traditions and techniques of South India yet seamlessly adapting recipes for home cooks in the USA, Agrawal vibrantly connects her two worlds of Banglore and Brooklyn without compromising taste and authenticity.
7. “The Karachi Kitchen- Classic and Contemporary South Asian recipes from Karachi, Pakistan” by Kausar Ahmed
Kausar Ahmed was born in Karachi, Pakistan, yet her reach goes beyond country borders. She’s a food stylist, a chef, a cooking show producer and host, and a cooking instructor in both the USA and Pakistan. To say she knows food and the business of making it look and taste delicious is an understatement. You will surely elevate your cooking repertoire if you follow the recipes in this book.
8. “The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook: 300 Classic Recipes From The Great Regions Of India” by Mridula Baljekar
The new deluxe large edition of this book was released earlier this year and it delivers everything it promised: recipes for 300 classic regional dishes running the gamut of local recipes to those of world-renowned kitchens. This vast collection offers an exceptional array of both veg and non-veg recipes. This cookbook was also the winner of the Best in the World Indian Cookbook at the Gourmand Food Awards.
9. “Vegan Richa’s Everyday Kitchen: Epic Anytime Recipes with a World of Flavor” by Richa Hingle
This cookbook combines your dietary needs with delicious flavors. You’ll get recipes for dishes from around the world that use peanut butter, chickpeas, tahini and so much more. These recipes all come from celebrated cookbook author Richa Hingle of bestseller Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen. This is her second cookbook and it does not disappoint. Recipes aside, this book also offers valuable techniques and ideas for menu planning and meal combinations.
10. “Deepa’s Secrets: Slow Carb New Indian Cuisine” by Deepa Thomas
Author Deepa Thomas realized it was the bevy of rices and breads that triggered her husband’s Type 2 diabetes. Everyone knows that diabetes is a big problem with the South Asian population, so it’s a good thing this chef reinvented her native Indian recipes so they are healthier. Thomas also made sure these recipes will save you time, help you lose weight, and incorporates Ayurveda into the recipes. Thomas is navigating uncharted territory here as Indian cookbooks seldom approach recipes from a low-carb angle. She excels at this approach. Her recipes “incorporate time-saving Western cooking techniques and breaking-news research on gut health and weight loss” setting this book apart from others. Also important to note is that royalties from this book go to a nonprofit that provides children with healthy meals
11. “Indian Food Under Pressure: Authentic Indian Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker” by Ashley Singh Thomas
Right off the bat I want to point out a big pro of this book: every recipe is gluten-free, can be made dairy-free, and adaptable to paleo needs. If that wasn’t awesome enough though, check it, every recipe in this book shows you how to make an Indian meal in a single pot. Ashley Singh Thomas, food blogger behind My Heart Beets, fell in love with her Instant Pot years ago and now we the reader get to benefit from her tried and tested explorations with said love-affair. The dishes featured in this cookbook offer myriad diverse recipes in that it covers cuisine from both North and South India.
12. “The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul” by Preeti Mistry and Sarah Henry
This cookbook combines chef Preeti Mistry’s experiences as a second generation Indian born in the United Kingdom and raised in the Bay Area, USA. You’ll get street food, comfort food, and restaurant favorites with Indian and American confluence. With over 100 recipes and images, this cookbook will surely excite both the novice and experienced home cook. This is a must-buy for those of you looking for an approach to Indian cuisine through a western lens.