In this guide, we will walk through the essential Indian spices and their flavor profiles. In addition, I will answer frequently asked questions on where to purchase spices, how to cook with them, and how to store them.
Indian cuisine is known for its incredibly rich and complex array of flavors. Many of those flavors come from a variety of spices, herbs, and produce. As a beginner to Indian cooking, the sheer number of Indian spices can feel daunting.
That's why I've put together an easy-to-use guide walking through the most *essential* spices and how to use them! Let's get started.
My Expertise in Indian Cooking
The goal of this guide is to teach you the most critical techniques and patterns common to many regions within India with the hope that you can feel comfortable delving into this wildly delicious cuisine.
- I don’t claim to be an all-encompassing authority on Indian cuisine. I grew up watching my mother and grandmothers cook, and over the years I picked up many of their lessons, tidbits, and techniques.
- To supplement my family’s recipes, I read a number of cookbooks and researched several food history texts focused on Indian cooking (all of which are referenced throughout the guide). That being said, my family’s cuisine, specifically Maharashtrian cuisine, is only a small subset of the incredibly expansive culinary repertoire of the country.
- In other words, India is quite literally HUGE and extremely diverse, and no one restaurant or blog can represent the entire country.
1. Introduction to Indian Spices
If you have ever perused an Indian store or read an Indian cookbook, you have likely noticed a striking number of ingredients, particularly spices. Cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground coriander, whole chilies, chili powder, turmeric...the list goes on.
What flavor does each of these individual Indian spices add to a dish? How should they be prepared? Where can I find more obscure spices, like asafetida or amchur powder? The list of questions goes on and on, perhaps as long as the list of spices.
By now, you might be feeling overwhelmed. Though Indian cooking employs a wide variety of spices, there are helpful patterns and techniques to guide you through the process. Most Indian dishes utilize a few key spices, and certain Indian spices are specific to particular regions.
The everyday Indian cooking I grew up with was not overly complicated or lengthy — many dinners were on the table within an hour. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you will feel excited, rather than overwhelmed, and ready to approach cooking with spices with confidence.
Indian spices are typically used in a few different ways — the simplest method is to add them raw to a dish. Another way is to dry roast (or toast) spices then grind them into a powder. The spice powder can be mixed into a crunchy salad or added into a simmering curry.
Toasting spices transforms the flavors of the spice; spices can become nuttier, sweeter, or less bitter. Blooming spices in oil, also known as tadka, chhonk, or phodni in various regions of India, extracts the essential flavors from the spices to intensify their bite.
Below, I’ve created a tiered spice profile guide to get to know the most important spices in Indian cooking. Start with the essential spices, then build out your spice box over time. I’ve also noted where you need the whole, ground, or both versions of the spice.
I’ll discuss equipment a bit later, but I highly recommend a spice grinder so that you only have to purchase whole spices and can grind them on a regular basis. That way, your ground spices are always fresh (plus this method is cheaper than buying both versions).
And yes, I did individually taste many of these spices at home to come up with a flavor profile 🙂 Of course, there are many other Indian spices, but these are the most commonly used by my family.
Essential Indian Spices
These spices are used in most Indian dishes, easily accessible, and heavily utilized in other cuisines. If you were to start cooking Indian food today, I’d recommend buying the below five spices.
Cumin (Jeera): Small, thin, dried oval-shaped seeds with ridges. Cumin seeds can be lighter in color or black. Lighter (brown cumin seeds) are warm, earthy, and pungent. Black cumin seeds (sometimes confused with nigella seeds) are slightly smoky and sweet. Black cumin seeds are used in a select number of recipes, but the lighter brown cumin is more common.
Usage: Tadka (whole spice), often ground with coriander (called dhaniya jeera) to flavor curries and dals, can be used in garam masala (ground), sometimes added raw to salads, flavor component in some rice dishes (whole).
Should I purchase whole or ground?: You’ll need both whole and ground in recipes, but ground cumin loses potency quickly, so I recommend keeping the whole seeds and grinding them to a powder when needed.
Coriander (Dhaniya): Small, round seeds typically with a whitish-yellow, beige, or brown color. These come from the same plant as cilantro. Orange/citrus, nutty, and fresh aroma and flavor.
Usage: Tadka (whole spice), ground with cumin to flavor a dish, can be used for garam masala (ground).
Should I purchase whole or ground?: You’ll need both whole and ground in recipes, but ground coriander loses potency quickly, so I recommend keeping the whole seeds and grinding them to a powder when needed.
Red Chilies (Lal Mirch): Globally, there are many types of dried red chilies. In the US, you can easily find chile de Arbol, a spicy pepper. Many folks use dried Kashmiri red chilies, as they are much milder and impart a beautiful red coloring in dishes. They are not always actually grown in Kashmir, and Kashmir grows many different kinds of chilies so the name has become a representation of a milder chili (or a variety of chilies) grown in India with a bright red hue.
If you can't find Kashmiri red chili powder, you can use less chile de Arbol or sub a mix of cayenne pepper and paprika (not smoked). It won't be a perfect substitute but can work in a pinch.
Usage: Tadka (whole and ground), ground for curries, vegetable dishes, lentils, snacks.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: You’ll need both whole and ground in recipes.
Turmeric (Halad): Earthy, bitter, musky flavor. Its yellow hue is used more as a coloring than a flavor -- add too much of this and your dish will taste too bitter and/or earthy.
Usage: Tadka, mixed in with dals, curries, rice dishes
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Fresh, whole turmeric is truly a beautiful yellow root, but you do not need it. Ground turmeric is more commonly used here.
Black Peppercorns (Kali Mirch): Sharp and spicy peppercorn used across the globe.
Usage: Tadka (whole), can be used in garam masala (ground), used in dal/rice dishes as a flavoring (whole), ground in black pepper curries.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole, ground black peppercorns lose potency quickly, so I recommend keeping the whole spice and grinding them to a powder when needed.
Note: As a sixth “essential” ingredient, I would recommend purchasing pre-ground Garam Masala powder, a mix of several warming spices. Or, you can buy all of the individual spices listed below in the Intermediate section to make it fresh at home. Garam masala is not typically very spicy (though there is some black pepper); instead, it adds sweetness, warmth, and earthiness to your dish.
Intermediate Indian Spices
These spices, many of which are used in desserts, are quite essential but there are plenty of savory dishes without them and some are trickier to find. You will likely already have a number of these at home if you make any sort of spiced desserts. In savory dishes, they add an additional complex layer on top of your essential spices.
Cinnamon (Dalchini): There are two types of cinnamon -- Chinese Cinnamon or Cassia Bark is milder, sturdier, and tougher to break. Ceylon cinnamon is stronger, sweeter, and more paper-like. While they have slightly different flavor profiles, they are often used interchangeably.
Usage: Tadka (whole), flavor for pulaos or biryanis, whole or ground in desserts, garam masala (ground)
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Mostly whole
Cloves (Lavang): Sweet, spicy, and slightly bitter. Cloves are very strong, so I always start with less when flavoring a dish.
Usage: Tadka (whole), flavor for pulaos or biryanis, desserts, garam masala (ground)
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Cardamom (Ilaychi): Sweet, spicy, slightly minty flavor. Black cardamom is intense and smoky, and green cardamom is milder. Green cardamom can be used for many dishes, though black cardamom is used sometimes as well. You can substitute black cardamom with green cardamom, but the flavor profile will be less smoky.
Usage: Tadka (whole), flavor for pulaos or biryanis, desserts, drinks, garam masala (ground)
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole and ground
Black or Brown Mustard Seeds: Pungent, nutty, and spicy. Black or brown mustard seeds can be used, though yellow cannot be substituted. My mom and I discussed moving this spice to the essential section, as it is very commonly used, but it’s a bit more difficult to find and is not absolutely essential.
Usage: Tadkas, dals, and curries, often used alongside curry leaves.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Fenugreek (Methi): Sweet, maple-syrup like flavor, bitter when raw (this is typically the classic flavor you taste when you think of a “curry”). It's actually a common ingredient in fake maple syrup! The seeds must be cooked for a long time to bring out the sweet notes, while the leaves can be added to finish a dish. I'd prioritize getting the leaves over the seeds. Leaves can be bought dried or fresh.
Usage: Used in spice blends (ground), sautes, curries, tadka (seeds)
Should I purchase whole or ground?: I’d purchase the leaves and seeds (if you have a spice grinder) or ground powder (if you don’t have a spice grinder)
Asafetida/Asafoetida (Hing): Onion/allium like aroma and flavor. It comes from the sap of the stem/roots of a plant in the celery family and is a ground powder. It is very pungent, so you need to store it in an airtight container, but when cooked it mellows. Used as a substitute for onion/garlic, especially important for Brahmans and Jains that cannot consume onion and garlic. You need very little of this to impart a flavor.
Usage: Tadka or mixed in with dals, curries
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Ground
Nutmeg (Jaiphal): Nutty, sweet, warm flavors.
Usage: Used in garam masala, desserts, drinks, and other spice blends.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole (you can grate it finely in dishes)
Saffron (Kesar): Floral, aromatic. Stains foods a beautiful yellow-orange color.
Usage: Used in desserts, drinks, pulaos, biryanis.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Ajwain (Carom): Oregano/thyme flavor.
Usage: Tadka (whole), curries, dals
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Fennel (Saunf): Small oval seeds with a slightly licorice-y, anise like flavor. When cooked, the anise flavor mellows significantly.
Usage: Tadka (whole), curries, dals. Some people snack on them raw or coat with sugar for candied fennel.
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Advanced Indian Spices
These spices are either used for a specific set of dishes and/or are more difficult to source. Prioritize these last to purchase, once you’ve gotten a handle on some basic Indian dishes.
Indian Bay Leaves (Tej Patta): Long, brownish-green leaves. These are different from bright green bay leaves you typically see in Western cooking. Indian bay leaves are more cinnamon-like in aroma.
Usage: Tadka (whole), sometimes added to flavor rices or other curries
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Whole
Black Salt (Kala Namak): Black salt is quite pungent, with a sulfurous smell. It is used in chaat masala and other dishes to add a slight funk.
Usage: Chaat masala, chutneys, salad
Dried Mango Powder (Amchur): Very tart, slightly sweet, and fruity. It has a tartness level similar to sumac (which could be used as a substitute), or in a pinch lemon juice works too though it's typically used in dishes that don't need the additional moisture (like chaat).
Usage: Chaat masala, pakoras
Should I purchase whole or ground?: Ground
2. What Is Curry Powder?
You may have seen Indians shaking their heads in disappointment any time someone brings up the phrase “curry powder” in reference to Indian food. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Even the word “curry” itself is a bit of an odd term. In “Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors” by Lizzie Collingham, Collingham states that
The idea of a curry is, in fact, a concept that Europeans imposed on India’s food culture. Indians referred to their different dishes by specific names and their servants would have served the British with dishes that they called, for example, rogan josh, dopiaza, or quarama. But the British lumped all these together under the heading of curry.
The word curry likely comes from the Tamil word “kari” or the Kannada / Malayali word “karil”, both originally meaning the spices used for seasoning or sauteed vegetables/meat dishes. The Portuguese and British, then, at some point, transformed the word into curry.
My family speaks Marathi, and we don’t have a Marathi word for “curry”, but there are a number of dishes that have a similar consistency to what we would think of as a curry in the Western world.
For example, our fish “curry” is called fish kalvan (pronounced call-won). A chicken “curry” is called chicken rassa (russ-ah). Some Indians will not use the word “curry”, while others do, as it’s a bit of a controversial term. The word “curry” often groups distinct dishes into one term, and so the individual nuances of those recipes get lost.
Now, back to curry powder itself. There is no one, all-encompassing spice powder that is used in every single Indian dish. As I mentioned previously, different regions in India use different spices, and some are whole, and some are ground.
While some cuisines do use a curry powder, like in Japanese curries, the generic, yellow “curry powder” seen at my grocery stores is not actually used in Indian cuisine.
3. What Are Spice Blends?
There are, however, spice blends. Spice blends are pre-ground spices used to create particularly popular dishes, like Tandoor Chicken or Chaat Masala or Chicken Tikka Masala. A masala, by the way, is a mixture of spices — sometimes they can be ground powders, but other times the “masala” refers to a wet mixture of spices cooked with other aromatics, such as onions and garlic.
The most common spice blend is Garam Masala, a warm (garam means warm) blend of cardamom, coriander, black peppercorns, cumin, and several other spices. Garam Masala is used in many, many dishes.
If you buy all the ingredients needed in the Essential and Intermediate Spices, you can make it at home, but it’s easy enough to buy it in the store. If you go to a local Indian store, you can pick out a few different premade spice blends to re-create your favorite restaurant dishes or street foods.
But many traditional, home-cooked dishes do not use premade blends from the store other than Garam Masala. Instead, you might find whole cumin seeds, ground coriander and cumin, turmeric, and chili powder in a quick stir-fried vegetable dish for example.
There are spice powders specific to a particular region, and some families even have their own particular spice blend but those are typically made fresh at home. The only other exception is for handmade blends that are more complicated, like a sambhar powder or rasam powder.
Most Indian home cooking involves a mix of whole and freshly ground spices. Premade garam masala can be used instead of freshly ground, and if you’d like to make a restaurant dish at home you can buy a premade spice blend. Regardless, there is no all-encompassing spice powder used in every single Indian dish.
That’s what makes Indian cooking so exciting — thinking about the infinite variations of different spices. Plus, grinding your own spices keeps them really fresh and vibrant. You can test this yourself some time, by purchasing a premade ground spice mix versus grinding it from scratch with whole spices to see the difference.
4. How to Cook With Indian Spices
I alluded to cooking with Indian spices earlier through a variety of different methods: raw, toasted, or bloomed in oil. Now we’ll go through each of these methods in more detail.
The raw form of spice can sometimes be quite overpowering compared to the cooked version. This may seem contradictory, given that blooming spices extracts more flavor. In my opinion, blooming a spice extracts more secondary flavors from a given spice, while the raw version typically has one dominant flavor.
For example, mustard seeds are quite bitter raw, but when bloomed in oil the bitterness mellows out leaving room for some of the more subtle flavors to shine. So, if using raw spices, I recommend using less to start to prevent their flavors from overpowering a dish. Additionally, make sure to really taste your spices in the raw form and see if it complements the other ingredients.
Heat: Add chili flakes/powder into a salad dressing. Garnish your dish with a sprinkle of chili powder.
Warmth: Grate whole cinnamon or sprinkle some ground cinnamon in your hot chocolate or whipped cream.
This method can be used when making any sort of spice blend from whole spices. For Garam Masala, I will toast all of the spices in a pan until aromatic then grind into a powder. The toasted spices have a nuttier, more caramelized flavor and a browned color — a result of the Maillard reaction from heating the spices.
How to dry roast spices:
Heat a small skillet over medium heat.
Add any whole spices, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or tilting the skillet to ensure they evenly toast.
Toast the spices until you start smelling a fragrant aroma and spices darken to a golden brown/brown color. You don’t want these to get too dark/burnt, or they’ll taste bitter.
If your spices taste bitter, you will have to throw them out, so make sure to watch cautiously during this process. It won’t take longer than a couple of minutes. If you’re new to toasting spices, you can even toast each spice individually, transfer it to a plate, then add the next spice for a blend to ensure each spice toasts evenly.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a spice is actually toasted, especially if it’s already brown! As a tip, compare your toasted spice to a raw version to observe how the color has changed. I learned this from a wonderful cooking class from Milk Street.
If you’re toasting any ground spices (like grated nutmeg), you’ll want to wait to add that until after you turn the heat off so that it doesn’t burn.
Once you’ve toasted the spices, transfer to a coffee/spice grinder and blend until it turns into a fine powder.
Blooming or Tempering Spices
Blooming/tempering spices (aka how to make a tadka/chhonk/phodni): There are so many different names for this technique that involves adding spices to a hot oil to extract the essential flavor compounds. In India, the most common names I’ve heard of are tadka, chhonk, or phodni. Phodni is the Marathi word, and it means to “break open”, as in breaking open the essential flavors from the spice. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the word tadka from now on as it is the most commonly used term to describe this process.
There are a few “rules” and tips with a tadka, but once you have the basic technique down you can experiment with different spices and oils.
The tadka process happens either at the beginning of a dish or at the end. That is, you will either start a dish by adding spices to hot oil and follow with aromatics, vegetables, etc. or you finish a recipe by pouring the hot, spiced oil on top of another dish. For example, when making a dish with cumin and sauteed spinach, you might heat your oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds, then add the spinach. Alternatively, to finish a dish, you could pour the hot spiced oil (the tadka) on top of a cool yogurt for spiced raita.
The oil you use matters. The oil should have a high enough smoke point to withstand the heat of the pan, so olive oil probably isn't the best idea. I typically use peanut oil, canola oil, or ghee. Mustard oil is also commonly used. Additionally, you’ll want to think about the flavor the oil adds — for example, coconut oil has a much stronger flavor than a neutral oil like canola.
You only need a couple tablespoons of oil (unless you’re making a large batch of food). You can reduce it further if you’re trying to use less oil in your cooking, as well.
To make a tadka, heat hot oil in a small pan at medium heat, then add your whole spices until they begin to sizzle and pop. Once the spices sizzle, you’re ready for your next ingredient. If you wait too long or the oil is too hot, your spices will burn and turn bitter, so you will have to start the tadka again. Similar to toasting spices, you’ll want to very cautiously watch your spices. For the pan, you’ll want as small of a pan as possible. The wider your pan, the more your oil will spread out, and the spices will fry less (or not be covered by the oil).
The order of the spices matters. If you add ground chili powder at the beginning of the tadka, then add cumin seeds, your chili powder will have already burned. Here’s a rough order, based on the propensity of your spices to burn.
Always start with whole spices, and more specifically seeds, like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, etc. Mustard seeds can withstand higher heat (medium), but cumin seeds need to be at a lower heat (medium/medium-low). Bay leaves can also be added at the beginning. Once the seeds pop, you’re ready for the next set of spices.
Whole cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves can be added next. Again, wait for the sizzle, then add the next ingredient.
Ground spices, like asafoetida, turmeric, and chili powder can be added now, as well as grated nutmeg and saffron. You can turn the heat down to low here, or even turn the heat off, to ensure it doesn’t burn, and make sure you have your next ingredient ready (for example ginger, garlic, or onion) to add to the pan to prevent the possibility of burning.
If making a tadka at the beginning, once the last spice for the tadka has sizzled, immediately add the next ingredient; if using to finish a dish, turn the heat off and immediately pour into the dal/curry/yogurt etc.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the process, experiment with different spices and oils! While different regions of Indian use different combinations of spices, don’t feel like you need to stick to these traditional pairings. Add your tadka into a non-traditional dish, like labneh or roasted broccoli. This technique can and should extend beyond Indian cooking.
Oh, and one more thing: you may be wondering when to use a whole version of a spice versus the ground version. Many of the recipes you’ll encounter come down to tradition and regional differences. A tadka with whole cumin seeds is common in my family’s cooking.
But on a deeper level, a whole spice flavors a dish differently than its ground counterpart. Ground cumin will change the overall flavor of a curry, but with whole seeds you will have some bites with a strong cumin flavor and some bites without the seeds (another great tip I learned from Milk Street).
So, feel free to veer from tradition and develop your own flavor palette based on this knowledge.
Recipes with a Tadka Technique
Looking for some inspiration? The following recipes use the tadka technique in both traditional and unique ways!
- Sour Cream Dip with Spicy Tadka
- Masoor Dal with Garlic Tadka
- Aromatic Slow-Roasted Salmon and Tomatoes
5. Where to Purchase Spices
There are several different types of stores that you can purchase spices at. I’ll walk through each of the options below with some pros and cons (as well as recommendations for each category).
Where possible, I recommend buying whole spices, but I know that is not feasible or realistic for everyone.You can also search "indian spices near me" to find a local store. I do not receive any affiliate commissions on my recommendations.
- Your everyday grocery store: Obviously, your local grocery store has a spice section. This section is not extensive, but will contain basic spices like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, turmeric, black peppercorns, chili powder, etc. You may have more trouble finding whole spices, as opposed to ground, and spices from large food companies may not have the most sustainable products. This is the easiest option, so I’d start here if you’re just beginning to explore Indian cooking. Recommendations: Most supermarkets and local grocery stores have basic, affordable spices.
- An Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store: Growing up, my family typically had two grocery store runs each week: one to our supermarket and the other to our local Indian grocery store. These stores usually have pretty much every spice you need in various sizes. The spices are extremely affordable but may not be the most ethically-sourced or sustainable products. Recommendations: To find an Indian store near you, head to this website. Patel Brothers is a very popular chain in the United States.
- An online Indian grocery store: These online stores will have similar products to a physical Indian store, but can ship across the country if you’re in the United States. You won’t necessarily be able to order hot parathas from California, but spices will be just fine. Recommendations: Shalimar Indian Grocery or Amazon
- Specialty spice shops (eCommerce and physical stores): Typically, smaller spice shops have more ethical, sustainable practices and higher quality spices, but this obviously comes at a cost. For me, that price is worth it, because I cook so often and have the means to do so. Recommendations:
- The spices I purchased from Diaspora Co are truly the freshest spices I have ever used. In addition, they work extremely hard to ensure their supply chain is sustainable and ethical, while ensuring a fair wage for their farmers.
- I absolutely loved shopping at Kalustyan’s when living in New York. They have a massive store with literally every spice or specialty ingredient you could ever need in different sizes. I spent hours there every time I visited.
- Curio Spice has delicious, sustainably-sourced spices and spiced blends and is based in Cambridge, MA. They offer shipping across the US and have a variety of less common spices, like Ajwain and Amchur.
- Christina’s Spice is another local favorite of mine. In addition to having a number of whole and ground spices, they also stock specialty items like Atta flour (perfect for chapatis), and they ship across the US.
- I have never shopped at Burlap & Barrel but have heard great things, especially about their sourcing practices.
P.S. These options also apply to non-spice ingredients as well (with the exception of number 4). You’re most likely to find specialty Indian ingredients at your local Indian store (or online).
P.P.S. I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m judging them for where they’re purchasing their ingredients! It’s all about what you can afford and what’s realistic for you — I just hope by presenting you with this information, you can make an informed decision.
6. Key Equipment
Similar to tiering spices, I tiered my equipment for you, too (essential, intermediate, and advanced). I recommend starting small and expanding your equipment as you continue to enjoy using spices more often.
No special equipment: If you buy a mix of whole and ground spices, you won’t need any sort of spice grinder. Pre-ground spices are less flavorful, but you can still make a delicious meal.
Essential - coffee grinder: For many years, I used a basic coffee grinder to grind my spices. If you’re using your coffee grinder as a dual spice/coffee function, you can “clean” out the spice residue with white rice or salt.
Intermediate - wet/dry coffee grinder: I use this wet/dry grinder, and I absolutely love it! In addition to grinding spices with the dry grinder, I use the wet grinder to make masalas and pastes.
Intermediate - masala dabba: Once you have a collection of essential and intermediate spices, I highly recommend purchasing a masala dabba (spice box). A masala dabba can hold several of your everyday spices. I find cooking less overwhelming because you can easily bring the box over to your stove and add 2 or 3 spices at once, as opposed to going through your spice pantry and picking out several spice bottles each time you cook.
Intermediate/Advanced - tadka pan: I do not have one myself, but would love to purchase a tadka pan in the future. These are extremely small, high-walled pans that help concentrate the oil to fully surround the spices and prevent splattering. It is absolutely not necessary (I just use the smallest pan I have), but is really useful if you’re cooking Indian food regularly.
Advanced - Mortar and pestle: In addition to my wet/dry grinder, I also use a mortar and pestle. Some people say that this tool is truly the best way to release the most flavor from your spices because it “smash[es] fibers and cells apart to fundamentally transform their texture and release their full aroma and flavor.”
6. References & Further Reading
The various books and articles mentioned below are not simply just references, but also tremendously helpful sources of information for beginners and expert cooks alike.
Indian-ish by Priya Krishna: A great cookbook for those first delving into Indian cooking
The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma: This is not an Indian-specific cookbook, but it does explain a lot of the science behind cooking, especially for Indian techniques.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking: Madhur Jaffrey is one of the most iconic Indian cookery experts in the West.
Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham: A well-researched history of Indian food and the impacts of colonization on the ingredients, flavors, and dishes we consume today.
Indian Food: A Historical Companion by K.T. Achaya: An incredibly in-depth anthropological research of Indian ingredients and dishes throughout history. This book is extremely thorough and essentially serves as an encyclopedia.
Years of watching my family cook at home 🙂