Prerna Singh of Indian Simmer talks about her favorite Indian-American food mash-ups and Indian babies’ first foods.
Here, the blogs you should be reading right now with recipes and tips from their creators.
The Blog: On Indian Simmer, Prerna Singh weaves together recipes from her central Indian heritage as well as dishes inspired by living in the US.
You’re from central India, according to your bio. What recipes come from where you grew up?
Yes, I was born in a small town in central India and grew up in a few others. I remember growing up hearing stories from my grandma that in yesteryears, soil in the region was not very fertile for several vegetable and fruit crops but was excellent for grains and lentil agriculture. So the regional cuisine greatly comprised dishes made with lentils, like spicy fritters made by soaking and then grinding several lentils—like gram, urad, moong, etc.—together into a paste. She would prepare Bharwan Baigan (Stuffed Eggplants) and Kaddu ki Sabji (Squash cooked with Fenugreek Seeds and Garlic) and would serve them for lunch with Mirch Ka Achar (Pickled Red Chili Peppers) and hot puffed Roti. Then Palak ki Kachori, Indian Stir-Fried Noodles and Jalebi were common for breakfast.
When you came to the US, what were some food surprises for you—whether related to Indian food or not?
It was mostly pleasant surprises. I see several cuisines gaining popularity in India now, but eight or 10 years back, things were quite different. There sure were pizzas, burgers and love for Chinese food (Indochinese to be specific!) but Indian food was what we were normally exposed to on a daily basis. So when I came to the US and got exposed to a whole new world of crêpes, sushi, burritos and pot roasts, not to mention different cakes, pies and countless varieties of cheeses, it rocked my world! There were so many new flavors to explore and so many new things to learn. I was ecstatic!
You create some Indian food–American food mash-ups. What are some of your faves?
I grew up eating jeera nankhatai (cumin shortbread cookies) from our local baker who made those nankhatais on a coal furnace. He shaped each one of them with his hands, with all of them looking literally identical. With that in mind, I tried to create Sweet and Savory Orange Cumin Shortbread Cookies, which became quite a hit. Then Beetroot Gnocchi in Spicy Coconut Sauce and Shrimp Sizzlers with Tandoori Masala, I hear, have won several hearts too. Our latest family favorite is the Fish Ro-Taco, where we grill fish with some Indian spices, wrap them in roti, and top it with some spicy chutneys and guac. Oh, it’s a killer! I need to share the recipe on my blog soon.
You often write about your daughter. In your culture, is there a way certain foods are introduced to babies and children?
In Indian culture every milestone in life is marked by a ceremony or celebration. So is the introduction of solids to a baby. When the baby is five- or six-months old, an annaprashan ceremony, which literally means “feeding the first grain,” is held at home. Sweet kheer (rice pudding) is prepared, family and friends gather and with great celebration, the pudding is fed to the baby. From there on, the baby is fed all kinds of baby food—liquid strained from a simple, nonspicy lentil soup, mashed fruits and vegetables. Green pea puree mixed with starch strained from cooked rice was my daughter’s favorite. She loved munching on pillowy mini idlis and veggie parathas once she had a few teeth to bite with.
What are some of your favorite blogs right now?
Oh, this would make a very long list! But if I have to name just a few (and I might be biased because these bloggers are also some of my dearest friends, too), I absolutely love Kulsum’s Journey Kitchen, Shayma’s Spice Spoon and Brian’s A Thought for Food. I am a sucker for great writing and these people take you to a different place with their beautiful words, not to mention their breathtaking photography.