With The Indian Grocery Store Demystified, of course. Author Linda Bladholm walks you through a typical Indian grocery store, aisle by aisle, shelf by shelf. Start with the rice aisle and learn the differences between basmati, gobindavog, red patni, and several others. Learn which rice goes best with what type of recipe, how to prepare it, and what it should taste like. Then head down the flour aisle (here's where you learn how to bake several variations of naan and the popular pappadum), to the spices and seasonings. "Without spices," says Bladholm, "one cannot even imagine Indian food." Be sure to stock up on the cardamom, cumin, coriander, black pepper, tamarind, and turmeric. Mosey down to the herbs, then on to fruits and vegetables where you'll be introduced to the sakriya, a small vine-grown yam, and the sweet-and-sour woodapple, indigenous to the Indian jungle. There's also a chapter on ayurveda, the balancing of mind, body, spirit, and environment, and which foods can help you achieve this balance.
Though a few recipes are included in the back, this is not a cookbook, but rather a preparing-to-cook book. Bladholm thoroughly covers a vast amount of information and makes you feel like you could stroll into your local Indian grocery and make smart, informed purchases. And if you're still a little timid, The Indian Grocery Store Demystified is small enough to stick in your bag to reference while you're there. --Dana Van Nest
[I]t's a perfectly economical vest-pocket guide that is a real gem. (Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times (also named one of the Times' Ten Best Cookbooks for 1999))