INDIAN-ISH: A New Cookbook That Dangles Between Cultures

Priya Krishna’s boundary-breaking recipes make Indian cooking accessible, and brings easy, fusion dishes to the table.

There are many moments in my life when I feel Indian-ish — when I rock a saree but need an aunty to put it on for me, when I speak Kutchi with questionable pronunciation, or when my Punjabi friends are surprised I’m Indian because I’m not Punjabi.

This also happens when I cook Indian food for extended family and friends, and it usually ends with me apologizing for serving a ‘diluted’ version of my ancestral dishes.

“My kids don’t really eat chillies,” I say. “But I’ve got Frank’s Hot Sauce if you need to add some spice.” I believe my foremothers roll in their graves every time I utter those words.

Hearing similar stories shared by North American Asian children of immigrants, I can see there are enough of us in this space of dangling between cultures that I am definitely not alone.

When I came across a tweet by Priya Krishna talking about her new cookbook, INDIAN-ISH, I jumped on the opportunity to grab a pre-launch copy to try recipes and share my thoughts with Cold Tea Collective readers! The cookbook is officially out on Amazon now.

What is INDIAN-ISH?

Straight from Priya’s website, this cookbook is “a witty and irresistible celebration of one very cool and boundary-breaking mom’s ‘Indian-ish’ cooking — with accessible and innovative Indian-American recipes.” That means these are simple recipes that can be served on a weeknight without compromising Indian flavours and quality ingredients. There are some creative substitutions which health nuts will fall in love with (hello, Quinoa Kheer!), and can also make it easy for someone who might not necessarily have paneer on hand but can find feta in their fridge (I’m looking at you, Saag Paneer Cooked With Feta!).

Photo: Mackenzie Smith

When you open INDIAN-ISH, you are immediately invited into a fun and captivating space where Priya shares her background as a food writer — it sounds like a terrible job but Priya assures us it’s pretty awesome. She also mentions her journey to becoming proud of her roots, as well as her mother’s influence on Priya’s life in the kitchen and elsewhere. There’s no doubt her mom, Ritu Krishna, is a magician — someone who can turn leftover sabzi into grab ‘n go Indian taquitos, or roti into a perfect pizza crust. She is also a world-wide traveller with an education in software engineering.

What You’ll Find

At the beginning of the book, you are put at ease by some FAQs that Priya answers honestly and humorously. Right away, she lets readers know whether olive oil works just as well as ghee or if canned tomatoes can be used instead of fresh ones. She also explains that even with an Indian restaurant down the street, you are doing yourself a favour by utilizing her cookbook. And her fabulous explanation of why there’s no curry in this book comes with a little lesson in colonialism. Don’t skip the FAQs!

Another strong recommendation is to read the Spice Guide. Not only will some key ingredients make sense, it includes a column called ‘in-a-pinch substitute’ so there’s no need to panic if you don’t have asafetida (you can just use garlic powder!).  

The cookbook also reveals unique sauces and mostly vegetarian meals, although there is a section called “One Chicken and Three Fish Recipes”. Wine-lovers will also appreciate Ritu’s “Handy Guide to Pairing Wine and Indian Food” at the back of the book.

Photo: Amazon

What I Made

For my family of five which includes 3 children who never agree on anything food-wise or otherwise, I decided to try the Pav Bhaji on Potato Rolls and the Quinoa Shrimp Pulao. When Priya’s intro to Pav Bhaji included the phrase, “the most forgiving of all recipes in this cookbook”, I knew right away this was perfect for the way I like to cook – without fussing too much over details. The pulao can also be made in under 20 minutes which is a gift in a busy home.

Pav Bhaji

While the recipe tasted as if it required plenty of effort, it thankfully didn’t. Using everyday ingredients, this was a hit with our family! In fact, I had a feeling it would be so good that I made a little extra to give to our neighbours who love veggie Indian food, and it was also a thumbs-up from them. This dish is versatile; assemble it at a picnic, take it to a potluck, or drop it off to a sick friend.

Note: I couldn’t find potato rolls at the grocery store so opted for Kaiser buns — making a great substitute if needed!

Photo: Taslim Jaffer

Quinoa Shrimp Pulao

This is another quick and easy recipe, and a fun way to throw shrimp into your week. Plus, you can feel good about this dish because it’s quinoa — a complete protein! Traditionally, pulao is made with rice; every Asian who eats rice several times a week will tell you it’s time for a change. Quinoa is it, folks, and it’s used several times in this book. The lime and cilantro topping at the end is a combination that can’t be beat, and when combined with the shrimp, it reminded me of eating fresh ceviche in Mexico.

Photo: Taslim Jaffer

This Book Is For You If

  • You want easy, weeknight recipes that don’t compromise taste or quality.
  • You want some Indian dishes in your repertoire that don’t require extensive cooking lessons.
  • You are Indian-ish and are raising Indian-ish kids, and you really want them to know what cumin tastes like.
  • You value food and family stories.
  • You have read this far and are still interested.

Follow Priya Krishna on Twitter @PKGourmet and read her foodie thoughts like all the amazing things roti can do, yogurt’s many myths, authentic Indian snacks you can find on Amazon, and more.

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