Cookbook Confidential: An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

A classic cookbook filled with timeless recipes.

             My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe ( came up with the wonderful idea to have an on-line cookbook club with some of her blog buddies. What a fun, and great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review them. Then, you decide if the book is worth your shelf space! Please go to her site for other reviews of this book! ~ Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen

While I enjoy Indian food, I’ve always felt a little out of my league when attempting to cook it in my own kitchen. So many regions, filled with their own specialties and techniques, it can be quite intimidating, and confusing.

“An Invitation to Indian Cooking,” by Madhur Jaffrey

      Madhur Jeffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking” has been around since 1973, the little book familiar at least visually to most of us. I dusted off my mother-in-law’s copy, still in pretty good shape for its age, and browsed through the treasury of dishes that all seemed to call my name. I knew this one was going to be fun.

50th anniversary

      The book has indeed stood the test of time, and this month a 50th anniversary edition will be released. That’s quite a recommendation on its own. I understand it has been revised, the introduction brought up to date, and includes a forward by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Thumbs up!

      I would definitely recommend this book for your cookbook shelf. Jaffrey’s story of coming to America from Delhi, via London, and finding the Indian food available here at the time quite sketchy, she cooked for family and friends and then wrote her recipes down. 

A maneuver in self-defense

In fact, she said her introduction that “The cookbook was written as a gradual maneuver in self-defense.” At first, people who were curious about her cuisine were invited to dinner, but that became a large undertaking, so she started writing down her most popular recipes, and they were handed around eagerly. Inevitably, the cookbook took shape, and has been instructing us ever since. 

Old school, but easy to follow

      It’s an old-school book in many ways. There are no glossy illustrations, but what it might lack in illustration, the clear and detailed instructions are all that are needed. The food is primarily from the Delhi region, with few of her favorite extras from other regions as well.

Madhur Jaffrey said it is important if you are not familiar with Indian cooking, to grind measure, and set out all the ingredients before you start to cook.

What you get

      The chapters include: soups and appetizers, meat, chicken and eggs, fish and shellfish, summer cooking and barbecued foods, vegetables, rice, dals, chutneys and pickles, breads, and desserts. There are also sample menus both with and without meat, notes on flavorings and spices, am kitchen utensils and equipment. One can feel fully armed to tackle a flavorful Indian meal.

My menu

  • Cabbage Stuffed with Potatoes
  • Green Beans with Ginger
  • Saffron Basmati Rice
  • Cucumber Raita
  • Fried Potato Skins          

      For our feast, I chose to center the meal on her recipe for Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes. I had just picked up a big head of cabbage from our CSA, and was planning on making my mom’s stuffed cabbage recipe, so I just made a little switch. Now, making any stuffed cabbage dish is time consuming and a bit fussy. But this was going to be Sunday dinner, and a little fussing is always part of the deal. 

A lovely recipe

      The cabbage was a hit. Beautifully spiced, with just a bit of warmth from the cayenne. If I make this again, I’ll add just a bit more than the ¼ teaspoon. It made a lot of stuffing, and I put more in each leaf than she called for. I rolled up 13 little stuffed leaves, and had enough left over to stuff five peppers for another night’s supper! And, I didn’t use all that head of cabbage, so there was a slaw later. Additionally, the cabbage wraps were delicious reheated for breakfast the newt day.

So, how long would you cook a green bean?

      I was intrigued by the green bean cooking methods. They were all fried then simmered very low in a relatively small amount of oil, sort of a confit, for 40 minutes! That seemed like such a long time to me, so I had to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised that the beans were well cooked, but were not mushy at all like canned beans (which was where I thought they would end up) they still had texture, and the flavor was really delicious, just a bit of heat from the chili, I’d probably add more next time.

There must be rice

      There had to be rice at the meal, so I made a simple saffron rice with her trick of dissolving the saffron in warm milk and adding in streaks to the almost cooked rice. It was quite delicious.

To cool things down

      To round things out, while the cabbage and bean were simmering, I mixed up a batch of cucumber raita, one of my personal favorite additions to the plate. I also saved my potato peelings, fried them up, drained them on paper towel, sprinkled with salt and cumin, and served as a little crispy garnish.

      We definitely felt like we feasted on flavor from afar!

Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes

  • 5 medium-sized potatoes
  • 7 medium-sized onions
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 3 ½ tsp. salt (I used less)
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, I used it)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 medium-sized head of cabbage

The filling:

Boil the potatoes, then peel and dice them up. 

      Peel the onions, cut in half lengthwise, then slice into thin half circles.

      In a large skillet, heart 6 tbsp. of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, frying, stirring, and separating the rings until they are brownish but not crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes.

      Add the fennel and cumin seeds and cook another 7 to 8 minutes over lower heat. The onions should look reddish brown now, almost caramelized.

      Add the potatoes and mash everything up with a masher or back of a slotted spoon. To this mixture, add the garam masala, 2 ½ tsp. salt (I used about a teaspoon), cayenne, and lemon juice. Mix it all up and let it cool.

The cabbage:

      Cut off the tough stem end, remove any dried outer leaves, and place in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Let it boil for five minutes, remove the cabbage from the pot, and carefully remove the leaves. You might need to put the cabbage back in the water. I used about 13 leaves for the recipe.

      Be careful with the leaves, and pat them dry. Cut the tough stem end out, a little triangle of the toughest part. Place a tablespoon of filling (I used a heaping soup spoon in each as my leaves were quite large). Fold up the bottom, then fold in all the edges. Gently give the packet a squeeze to remove any excess moisture.

      In a 10-inch skillet, heat the rest of the oil over medium. Squeeze each stuffed leaf again in toweling to remove moisture, then place seam-side down in the hot pan. You will do this in batches. Brown on all sides, setting aside as they brown. 

      When all the pieces are done, lower the heat, arrange the stuffed leaves in tightly packed layers. Add two tablespoons of water, cover, and cook over a low flame for 10 to 15 minutes.

      Carefully remove to a warm platter.

Green Beans with Ginger

      I was definitely skeptical about this one, cook the beans for 40 minutes! But, the beans were delightfully delicious, just tender, and filled with flavor. I halved the recipe, and it came out fine.

  • 1 ½ lb. fresh green beans
  • Piece of ginger 2” X 1”, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ fresh green chili (optional) sliced fine
  • 2 tbsp. fresh Chinese parsley, coriander, or cilantro
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 ¼ tsp. garam masala
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste

      Wash the green beans and trim the ends. Slice into fine rounds, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. When all the beans are chopped, set aside in a bowl. (I chopped roughly into ¼ or slightly larger pieces).

      Put the ginger in the blender with 3 tablespoons of water and blend at high speed until it is a smooth paste.

      Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Pour in the ginger paste and turmeric. Fry, stirring constantly for two minutes, then add the chili and parsley. After a minute, put in the beans and cook for another minute. Add the cumin, coriander, 1 tsp. of the garam masala, lemon juice, salt, and 3 tbsp. warm water. Cover the skillet, turn flame to lowest and let beans simmer slowly for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

      Serve them in a warm dish with the last quarter teaspoon garam masala sprinkled on top. It can be made ahead and reheated.

      They go well with nearly all chicken and meat dishes. They can be eaten with plain boiled rice and Moong Dal, or served with hot pooris or parathas or chapatis.

Saffron Basmati Rice    

      I followed her instructions on making rice, adding the saffron. 

First, I rinsed the rice many times until the water was almost clear, added fresh water, and soaked for a half hour. Follow your rice instructions on whatever proportion of water to rice. Bring to a boil, cover it tightly, then either reduce the heat to a low simmer, or pop in a 325-degree F. oven for a half hour.

In the meantime, dissolve a pinch of saffron in a couple tablespoons of warm milk and let sit. When the rice is nearly done, drizzle the saffron milk over it in streaks.

When ready to serve, gently fluff the rice, breaking up any clumps with a careful hand.

Cucumber Raita

      To round the meal out, Jaffrey said raita goes with just about any Indian dish, and this was really fast to make.

      In a mixing bowl, combine 1 grated cucumber (squeeze excess water out) 2 cups plain yoghurt, 1 tsp. salt (or to taste) 1/8 tsp. freshly grated black pepper, ½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin, and 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (I added a bit more). Pop into a bowl, sprinkle with a little more toasted cumin and some paprika, and chill until ready to serve.

The wonder continues: Oscar Peterson, a lovely yellow shrub rose, still blooming Nov. 17, after being snowed on twice and surviving sub-freezing temperature. And yet, more roses budding out.

© Copyright 2023– or current year, The New Vintage Kitchen. Dorothy Grover-Read. Unattributed use of this material is strictly prohibited. Reposting and links may be used, provided that credit is given to The New Vintage Kitchen, with  active link and direction to this original post.

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53 Comments Add yours

  1. Eha says:

    How delightful that Madhur Jaffrey, an absolutely historical teacher and charming lady should be remembered by at least three present-day food lovers for her work this week . By the time her lovely face graced many a kitchen table I was preparing this type of food, native in 23 countries of the world, at least three times a week . . I still do, making pretty certain I call them not ‘curry’ but by their correct names . . . a number of my friends in GB et al were taught by her . . . by all means prepare and enjoy . . . but she carefully taught for the Western palate of the time . . . many of us have been talking how considerably differently most recipes are made today . . . but lovely to see ‘an old friend’ remembered !!!

    1. It’s such a good basic book my friend! I want to come and eat at your table.
      When she write the book, I’m sure she was frugal with the spices that so many folks were not familiar with, but our tastes really have changed over the last 50 years, so we want more spices.
      I am definitely going to be more careful about the word curry now!

  2. Sheree says:

    I have an original version of this book! I love cooking Indian food and it’s not difficult.

    1. What a treasure! The food is so flavor.

      1. Sheree says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    Madhur Jaffrey’s book has been on my list of books-to-purchase for a long time now. I grew up for a while in the Indian Subcontinent (West and East Pakistan, the latter now Bangladesh) … and what can I say? I just love their cuisine. That said, I never got around to cooking Indian food until relatively recently … and compared with Italian I find it ‘hard work’, haha, in that there are indeed so many spice ingredients, and steps to follow, etc. and of course the method does not come ‘instinctively’ to me. An Indian friend, Mukula, who used to live near Frascati held a cooking class for us circa 2016 and everything she made just ‘popped’ taste-wise, so I picked up a few tricks from her. Still, when I follow her recipes, they are never as good as I remember hers, sigh. Last January my husband asked me to cook an Indian meal for former colleagues of his – and I kid you not, I spent 4 full days preparing the dinner – and was it worth it? By golly yes. Thank you Dorothy, for reminding me about the book … and well done you, the recipes you made look fab!

    1. Thank you so much for these lovely memories! I certainly know what you mean about the methods not coming to one by instinct if you didn’t grow up watching and experiencing the techniques and aromas. I also think, like just about any cuisine, we tend to really just toss in the spices by feel and don’t actually measure, so I suspect more gets tossed in. I think I measured generously with the spices here, and it all came out delicious.
      That is one reason I always tell folks to keep tasting as we cook; what is warm to me might be hot to you!

  4. brwbmm says:

    I learned the secret to cooking Indian food many years ago when I was friends with an extended Hindi family, originally from Bombay. The secret to their fabulous cuisine was mom, grandma and auntie (living together) and cooking together all day long – every day.
    I also took a class in Indian vegetarian cooking and was discouraged by the thing they did with spices – for each dish, typically three sets of spices, prepared separately at the beginning, middle and end of the recipe.
    One of my favorite Indian treats is Carrot Halvah, another recipe that traditionally takes hours to make, slowly stirring a pot.

    1. What a wonderful history of experimentation in this exquisite cuisine. Yes, I can see the women all hovering around the food, adding a bit of this and that, and turning out flavorful meals to nourish the family. I will definitely have to give the Carrot Halvah a try, we are well into slow food times here in the North Country!

  5. writinstuff says:

    I love Indian food and I make it so much my Hubs says I might have some Indian DNA, lol. This dish looks beautifully delicious and totally new to me. I guess I’ll be trying this out soon. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! It was all delicious, and the stuffed cabbage was eagerly devoured by my husband and welcomed reheated for breakfast the next day with an egg.

  6. What a wonderful book review Dorothy! I’ve heard of Madhur Jaffrey but my being Indian never ventured to check out her cookbook. But as you mentioned Inidan cuisine is varied with each region having its own cuisine, and me being from Southern India and Jaffrey’s cuisine is from North India I am now intrigued. I love the recipes you posted! Do you know I’ve never heard of Indian stuffed cabbage? And Ive always wondered how the Indian restaurants get green beans so delicious -now I know its in the cooking time! Im going to try the green beans recipe and now have the 50th anniversary cookbook on my holiday wish list. Happy Thanksgiving Dorothy!

    1. Thank you so much Kalpana! I think the great variations in the cuisine is what so many people find intimidating, and even confusing if one did not grow up with these wonderful spices floating around in the air. But in the last few decades, our curiosity about so many types of cooking has opened many doors.
      The green beans were a revelation. Basically, they were confit beans which gave them a luscious flavor, and they did not feel overcooked at all.

  7. Your dishes here all look fabulous. That does seem like a long time to cook Green beans. I trust you completely so will give this a try.

    1. I was amazed! I think because they are essentially confit in oil, the long cooking time made them tender but not mushy or off colored.

  8. The food looks so good!

    1. Thank you! It was really tasty.

  9. Eha says:

    Dorothy – If I am allowed back for va moment? I have carefully read all the comments so far with my Sunday morning mug of coffee – may I make one extra one! Most writers here equate ‘curry’ with ‘India’ which surely is only a small part of the story!!! India does have over 60,000 different dishes Westerners (I am one !!!) call ‘curry’ – but they are entirely different north and south, Kashmiri, Rajasthani et al. But, for instance, I cook Goan mostly and Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Thai etc and just love some of the fusion food from Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam and even Japan ! Nought to do with India! They are SO easy to make and take SO little work (tho’ may take some time cooking!) Wherever you go in the world: North Africa, Middle East, the South African countries you mix and match spices according to local custom > such huge fun! Please do not think this is all Indian . . . and, however much I admire and respect MJ her cooking and seasoning somewhat left us with the horse-and-carriage travel! Also – naturally these foods are not based on a meat/potatoes/vegetables style of serving !!! One just prepares as many different dishes of varying kinds as are needed for the number of people to be fed and places them on the table at the same time !!! Truly all of this is SO EASY!!!

    1. So true! The Spice Trail influenced so many cultures. Cumin cinnamon, ginger, cloves, anise, fennel, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, bay, turmeric, so many more, all strategic parts of the cuisine of so many lands as we traded and enjoyed these amazing flavors. Mexican cooking would not be the same without cumin. French Canadian would not be the same without cinnamon and cardamom. We trade flavors, make them our own.
      I have always loved the idea of the cultures where, as you said, many different dishes are offered up without thinking about a meat/starch/veg design. That’s how I cook most times, and it is most agreeable to all. We love to nibble, taste, experiment. Mix things together, and enjoy.

  10. Suzassippi says:

    I wish I could have eaten these! I enjoy cabbage and this sounds wonderful. While I love Indian food, and enjoyed it often in South Africa and occasionally here in Oxford, I can’t say I would ever take the time to prepare it. I hardly have energy to prepare anything these days with everything on my plate, but perhaps some day I shall try! One of my favorite meals was when one of our PhD classmates from India invited us to her home for a meal, and it was like nothing I had ever eaten before. That being said, I do love reading your posts and looking at your food!

    1. Thank you Suz! I love a variety of foods on the table, and how wonderful to have such a memory of a feast! While we want a full table, our plates do get filled up quickly!

  11. Suzassippi says:

    PS And how amazing about the roses! So gorgeous!

    1. Today, I was sitting in our dining area looking out the window in awe! Still blooming. Nov. 18th. i’m buying more of these next year!

  12. Eha says:

    Dorothy – promise this is the last time! Have you or others ever tried asafoetida with vegetarian ‘curry’-style cooking! Just a tad – oh what a difference it makes! Learned from an Indian TV cook some 30 years back . . . it does make a difference!

    1. I learned of asafoetida about ten years ago, and I used it in a few dishes with good results. It is sometimes hard to find here!

  13. I know zero about Indian cooking and loved reading about these recipes that are so different from American cooking!

    1. It is a fun book for an introduction to the cuisine, many very easy recipes.

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  15. You had me with the green beans and ginger! YUM!!!

    1. They were mighty good!

  16. Looks like a classic.

    1. Such a good cook book!

  17. Kevin says:

    An immensely influential chef, she brought the making of Indian dishes from core ingredients into the western mainstream.

    1. That she did! I’m glad I got the opportunity to review this book!

  18. Ally Bean says:

    Thank you for your review of this cookbook. It sounds like it’s one I need to get. I like everything you made. In fact, I haven’t had breakfast yet and am thinking about dinner possibilities already. 🤔

    1. I highly recommend them all Ally! My husband went nuts over the mashed potato stuffed cabbage, but then again, he ready for anything potato!

  19. Tracey says:

    My husband and I have his Mom’s copy of Jaffrey’s “Indian Cooking” and we love it. Most of the recipe’s are fairly simple and all of them are delicious. Thanks for such a comprehensive review.

    1. Thanks Tracey! I was happy to have my late mother-in-law’s Copy!

  20. I have never cooked Indian food and like you were, kind of timid to try. Then I read your review of the book and those recipes look delicious Dorothy! I did try curry a few months ago and was surprised I liked it. Thank you

    1. It’s fun to try different foods! There’s such a huge range of Different techniques, there’s much to explore.

  21. terrie gura says:

    Of course you found so many recipes to try, Dorothy; with all its plant-forward dishes and vibrant spices, this cuisine is totally in your wheelhouse! Wow, what a feast!

    1. It really felt like an Indian feast, especially when I put on Ravi Shankar to set the mood!

  22. I enjoy Indian food but I never tried to make it at home! All these recipes sounds so so good though 😋

    1. Thanks Ronan’s, they were all really tasty!

  23. Nancy says:

    What a wonderful book review that you brought to life! I love cabbage and stuffed with potatoes sounds sooooo good.
    And now about your roses!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Thank you! I’ve never had cabbage stuffed with potatoes, but I’ll certainly try this again.
      The rises got snowed on last night, so this finally might be it. You never know…

  24. We love Indian food Dorothy, Larry and I, but I never considered cooking my own dishes? This cookbook sounds fabulous and would make a wonderful Christmas gift for my son-in-law who is an accomplished cook! Thanks for the tip, and this, “dissolving the saffron in warm milk.” Hugs, C

    1. I loved that tip! It really made the rice special.

  25. Christy B says:

    The cabbage dish ~ I’d love to try it! Good for you to stepping into the Indian food realm, which my husband who likes to cook agrees with you can be overwhelming to make with all its spices and traditional techniques. How wonderful this book will celebrate 50 years, wow!

  26. Anonymous says:

    International foods are so fellowshipping. An awesome share for the brotherhood and sisterhood call to the season. The author has a very interesting background. Her book is a must have.❤️❤️☕️☕️

    1. Thank you! It was really fun to cook her recipes, and go back a bit in time as well.

  27. nancyc says:

    I think I’d like all of these recipes–they look and sound so delicious! 🙂

    1. They went together beautifully too, Nancy! A most enjoyable meal.

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