Book Review: Indian Spice Kitchen

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see that Monisha Bharadwaj’s Indian Spice Kitchen is back in print. It is, quite simply, an indispensable reference work for Westerners who are just beginning to learn how to cook the myriad regional foods of India.

It contains comprehensive listings of all of the major spices, legumes, flours, vegetables, herbs, grains, nuts and cooking fats used in the kitchens of India, with a full two-page description, historical overview and information on how and where to buy these ingredients, along with recipes for each ingredient and many photographs, including close-up identification photographs for each ingredient listed.

It is amazing in its wealth of detail and information, especially considering how very thin it is. It is very concisely, yet clearly written, so what could be a huge, unwieldy, encyclopedic tome which would become a dust collector on a hidden bookshelf somewhere, is instead a handy reference guide made to be whipped out at a moment’s notice for a quick perusal whenever needed.

Bharadwaj’s writing style is breezy and conversational without being silly–reading this book is rather like having her take you on a personal tour of her kitchen cabinets where she pulls out spices, and while describing the details of their history and use, having you smell, touch and taste them. She is just that way–a very approachable author whose work is unpretentious while still being utterly essential.

When I taught my classes in beginning Indian food, and especially my introductory classes in Indian spices, I always brought copies of this book along for my students to buy–at a discount, because I could get them at a quantity discount. Everyone loved it, because they said it was like they could carry me home with them, tucked in their briefcase, just in case they didn’t remember every little thing I said about each spice. It really helped my students and I remember that it really helped me a lot when I was a beginner, overwhelmed and scared to death to even try to cook Indian food beyond the one or two recipes I had dared to try in my youth.

Now, even though I am no longer cowed by Indian recipes, I still refer to Bharadwaj’s book, especially when I see a dal or bean at the Indian market I don’t immediately recognize. That way, I can learn the Hindi and English name of them quickly and easily, as well as see a recipe which uses it as a featured ingredient.

It is one of the best supplements to any Indian cookbook you can have in your kitchen.

If you or anyone you know is passionate about Indian food and cookery, this book would make a perfect Generic Winter Holiday gift. I promise.

And, if you were not aware, a free copy of this book goes to the lucky winner of my A Gift of Indian Spices prize for A Menu For Hope, which is still ongoing for the next several days.

4 Comments

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  1. This is one of my favorite books! Sadly, mine fell in a dishpan (don’t ask) and is a little warped around the edges. I toyed with getting a new “fresh” copy, but decided battle scars only make it look more loved. I read it like a novel. It’s got lovely essays on spices. And the recipes are fairly good too, although that’s fairly incidental to my passion for this book. Highly recommended.

    Comment by Diane — December 20, 2007 #

  2. I just ordered this book yesterday along with her other book, India’s Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide. I can’t wait to open them up!

    Comment by Roxanne — January 23, 2008 #

  3. The one thing that I would add is that the recipes in this book are really good as well. We’ve made at least ten of them and they’ve all been great. So – it’s a great encyclopedia for the ingredients AND a great source for yummy Indian recipes.

    Comment by Mary — February 10, 2008 #

  4. Love this book! It is one of the best references I have on spices, and I have quite a few (have always appreciated spices as I’ve been vegetarian most of my life). The recipes are also winners ;) To anyone looking to expand their knowledge of Indian food, this is the book!

    Comment by Shalee — August 24, 2009 #

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