It’ll be hard for many Indian readers to contain their bafflement at parts of Indian-ish, the cookbook from which Priya Krishna’s PR-blitzy essays, currently popping up around the internet, are drawn. (You’ve probably already heard that chhonk, or tadka, is “so essential that practically every region has its own name for it.” In a multi-lingual country! Electrifying.)
Do not let your grandma see it: Krishna says that it’s as much an American cookbook as an Indian one, and she is right. In spite of sundry millennial fakeries, though, Indian-ish is a cool book for nervous and unpracticed cooks. Its recipes are drawn from the kitchen of a busy working mom - Krishna’s mother Ritu - and it is accordingly full of shortcuts, taste-enhancing tips, and fridge-emptying ideas.
Do not let your grandma see it: Krishna says that it’s as much an American cookbook as an Indian one, and she is right.
Ingredient substitutes abound, just the thing you need if you’re the kind of Bombay or Delhi cook who goes to Foodhall every week but doesn’t know what shallots are called in your local language (a) your vegetable seller definitely knows and b) just ask for Madras onions. If you have olive oil but no sesame oil on the shelf, you don’t have to eat pasta seven nights a week. Khichdi in olive oil is #valid, even if it isn’t very economical.
This is fundamentally the reassurance that many starter cooks may be looking for. No dish in this book is remotely intimidating. When you’re making achari fish Krishna tells you to use the oil at the bottom of a Mother’s Recipe pickle jar. “I’m a lazy cook,” she admits cheerfully at the start of the book. It helpfully includes instructions on how to cook rice, boil potatoes and make your own dahi, which may be more rewarding than any ten Buzzfeed Tasty videos can be.
I wish Krishna were less of a lazy researcher, especially in her more confident assertions about life and food habits in India, which betray some of the upper-caste ignorance that food writers here are already striving to move beyond. No, most Indian bakeries aren’t vegetarian -- in fact, almost none are, which is why the care with which they make eggless versions of their standard wares is remarkable.
The recipes in Indian-ish are presented with a wink and a grin. It’s hard not to appreciate the spirit. If you’re 23 and living alone, why wouldn’t you try making palak paneer with feta cubes? I can’t say I’m ready to follow instructions like “ketchup with noodles: trust me on this,” but less conservative tastebuds are welcome to try. Some recipes are just idiosyncratic Krishna family habits, thrown out there to try and stick: if you think you’ll like almond butter toast with chaat masala, let Krishna be your enabler. I do think including a recipe for “dosa potatoes,” which basically gives you permission and instructions to eat the masala stuffing without bothering with the dosa, was cheeky and funny.
The recipes in Indian-ish are presented with a wink and a grin. It’s hard not to appreciate the spirit. If you’re 23 and living alone, why wouldn’t you try making palak paneer with feta cubes?
And I did make Krishna’s “chile peanut rice,” a simple version of what South Indians often call “variety rice,” and which some of you may know as tadka-chawal. It was delicious and took me about ten minutes. I hope Indian-ish’s ubiquity will mean good things for one kind of cook in particular: the young householder who doesn’t necessarily enjoy cooking and doesn’t get any love for trying to put food on the table quickly.
Indian-ish made me think about moving out of home for the first time, sad without my mother’s cooking but too intimidated by her talent and competence to believe I would amount to anything in a kitchen.
Indian-ish made me think about moving out of home for the first time, sad without my mother’s cooking but too intimidated by her talent and competence to believe I would amount to anything in a kitchen. The generational guilt that surrounds making the chef life easy for yourself is entirely absent in Krishna’s writing. As Padma Lakshmi points out in an excellent foreword (more thoughtful, it has to be said, than the book itself), it is a love letter to Ritu Krishna. So yes, don’t show it to grandma; but it might tell you some things your ma needs to hear.
Getting there: Indian-ish is available to buy here.
This review was contributed by Supriya Nair.
Photo Credit: Sporkful
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