It's an Indian summer of style, or so we keep being told. Every half-fashionable starlet has been seen sporting mehndi decorations on her hands. Bombay Dreams dominates the theatre columns; the expensive Devdas was the first mainstream Hindi film ever to be screened at Cannes. Channel 4 is screening enlightening documentaries on the Indian Miss Worlds, and Meera Syal is simply everywhere.
Cookbook publishers have also cashed in, with all manner of volumes in sari-bright colours telling us to spice up our lives and become instantly as wide of eye and red of lip as a Bollywood star. The most modish of all these books is Stylish Indian in Minutes (to be published in October by Kyle Cathie, £14.99). The author, Monisha Bharadwaj, looks like a model and intersperses her recipes with stills from great old Indian films. The recipes themselves (from the preview) are dinner-party-ish and highly glossed: a suave chicken curry with black pepper, some very manicured prawns, and rocket or stacked slices of tomato and avocado. The food looks nice enough, but about as Indian as Denise Van Outen's Kama Sutra dress.
Another designer offering is the reissued Fresh Flavours of India by Das Sreedharan (Conran Octopus, £15.99), which comes slathered with praise from Jamie Oliver ("the bloke's a complete genius and such a nice guy"). Here, the inspiration is mostly from Kerala - for example, uthappam (or griddle-cakes), topped with a geometrical assortment of red onion, green chillis and coriander leaves, or comforting banana dosas. Sreedharan's recipes have both taste and style, but, like so many other food books now, this is marred by a sterile, design-dominated look.
I preferred the less fashionable Food of India (Murdoch Books, £19.99) by Priya Wickramasinghe and Carol Selva Rajah. A splendid-looking and extremely useful trawl through the different regions of India, with recipes for fairly orthodox dishes such as aloo chaat, cardamom chicken, rogan josh, saag paneer, mango chutney and kulfis and lassis, well presented and explained, and National Geographic-style pictures of sweet-sellers and tea workers. As an appealing introduction to Indian cookery, this could hardly be bettered.
But also recommended is the altogether different Brit Spice by Manju Malhi (Michael Joseph, £16.99), a collection of what the author calls " Brit-Indi" cuisine. At first, I felt rather snobbish about it because it includes recipes such as chicken korma made with beer, "football vindaloo" and "spam masala". Yet the more you read Malhi's unpretentious prose, the more you see that the food she is describing does represent a real way of life, albeit not one noticed by the style pages.
When her parents came to England in the Sixties, it was difficult to find familiar ingredients, so they had to adapt the foods to hand, and construct dishes such as a curry of pilchards in tomato sauce. One of the greatest discoveries was that something rather like dal could be bought in turquoise tins from British grocers: baked beans. Many Indian families still spice their beans and serve them with chapatis. Malhi does something similar to mushy peas, a "fusion" which, for once, really works.
Masala mushy peas (serves 2)
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a frying pan and add a knob of butter, a peeled and finely chopped onion, I tsp chilli powder, 1 clove of crushed garlic and an optional pinch of asafoetida.
Fry this mixture for 5 minutes, or until the onions soften and become fragrant. Mix in a pinch of garam masala, I tsp ground cumin, I tsp ground coriander and a chopped tomato, and cook for 2 minutes.
Finally, add a 300g tin of mushy peas, and stir until warmed through. Serve "with creamy mashed potatoes or on toast".