The Cafe Spice Cookbook
84 Quick And Easy Indian Recipes For Everyday Meals
By Hari Nayak
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Hari Nayak : My name is Hari Nayak. I'm the author of The Cafe Spice Cookbook, 84 Quick and Easy Indian Recipes for Everyday Meals.
Suzy Chase: You wear many hats, Indian chef, restaurateur, author and food and dining consultant. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran cook at Swedish and French New York City restaurants. What drew you back to Indian cuisine?
Hari Nayak : Growing up in India I wanted to come to the CIA and learn everything else other than ... I wanted to stay away from Indian cooking and say, "Okay, let me go out and go to the CIA, learn what the Western cooking has to offer". That's what excited me and came to New York. I've never worked in an Indian kitchen in New York for many years. What I saw in New York and in the US, Indian cooking in the late '90's and the early 2000's it was the cooking, the cuisine was very misrepresented. People were not aware of how regional and how beautiful our cuisine was. So I felt there is a market here and there is something that I need to do. As a chef, going back to your roots is what I believed in and it started as just the love. I missed cooking Indian food and that's how I got back into it. I think now I don't see myself going back and doing anything else.
Suzy Chase: What is the Cafe Spice story?
Hari Nayak : It's a brand. I worked as a culinary director for the Cafe Spice brand, which is the largest and the fastest growing Indian brand in the country. It is synonymous with all natural products, quick service restaurants and we make Indian food that is available in retail markets. The Cafe Spice Cookbook was conceptualized with the same objective in mind there, to provide the readers the recipes and the tips to prepare quick and healthy Indian dishes using ingredients that are readily available in any supermarket without any fear or hassle or fuss. Cafe Spice has the same philosophy. We want to spread the joy of Indian food and make it available in the market. We have a beautiful large kitchen in upstate New York. We make all our Indian food, handcrafted, taken care, authentic Indian food that is ... make it accessible to everyday people. The demand for our cuisine is increasing everyday so we are growing really fast.
Suzy Chase: Let's start with going through the main techniques of Indian cooking.
Hari Nayak : So I think the heart and soul of Indian cooking or what I call the diwa in Indian cooking is the spices and able to understand how to use the spices and how it reacts with food is the key. People get intimidated with all these different spices in your pantry. I feel it is if you understand these spices, how to use it, that's the key for cooking Indian food. There are a lot of simple techniques. It's not complicated. It could be as simple as stir frying or sauteing using one simple spice like cumin seeds to it could be ... The same recipe could have ten different spices. As simple as stir frying and sauteing your vegetables with a simple spice is also very flavorful. Bringing in flavors from spices. Another important technique that you follow in Indian cooking is your roasting and grinding of spices. I always recommend to people to buy spices whole, not ground as much as possible. One of my favorite tools in Indian cooking is the spice grinder or the coffee bean grinder. I can't live without it. You pretty much take whole spices, roast 'em in a dry pan or a skillet and then grind your spices and add it to any dishes, any everyday dishes. You can feel the flavor coming out. That's the beauty of Indian spices.
There's another technique that we use in Indian cooking it's called tempering. It's infusing the oils with flavors of spices. You take a little pan, add your oil and add whole spices or powdered spices into the hot oil and then you are basically infusing the oil with the aromas of spices and adding it into the dish whether it's meats or vegetables or lentils. Another technique of browning of onions and garlic. It's so important in Indian cooking that you determine the color of your curry or the sauce by how brown your onions are. The darker the onions, the darker the curry. Unlike Western cooking where when you're making a sauce, you're using flour or a roux to thicken your sauces, in Indian cooking or Indian soups or lentils, you never use any flour or any thickeners. It's natural thickening by adding onions or herbs or we use nuts and coconut, yogurt and cream to thicken our sauces and give flavor. That is very unique to our cuisine.
Suzy Chase: Thanksgiving is right round the corner. I saw a cranberry and meyer lemon chutney recipe on your Facebook page. First, tell us what chutney is and talk a little bit about that recipe.
Hari Nayak : Chutney is a condiment or a relish that is very common in India. Chutney literally translates to mash or a chopped ... it's literally translation to that. It is a relish or in Western cooking what is called relish or a dip. It is not a side dish, it is an accompaniment, compliments well with your curry. It could be made with various ingredients, vegetables, fresh fruits, dried fruits or even lentils. It's a very essential part of Indian eating habits. You take a little bit of chutney along with your meal. It complements well if you're having something spicy, your chutney could be a little milder and could be based with fresh fruits or yogurt. If you're eating something mild, you would have a spicier chutney that would accompany a meal. It could be a lot of chiles, a lot of spices in it. It's generally more stronger and sturdier in flavor than your accompanied dish. Cranberries are something that is not available in India but it's something that I said "Okay", cranberries, that was my way of saying "Okay chutnies are not with Indian, chutnies are everyday dips and relish that are used in every cuisine".
So here we have Thanksgiving coming up and you have your regular cranberry sauce that is used with a few basic ingredients, with orange juice, cranberry, sugar. So just by adding a few whole spices like cinnamon and start anise and cumin, I'm sauteing onions and adding cranberries, you're just changing the whole flavor profile of ... that is so common and just bringing in, adding a few spices and ingredients into your everyday cooking, you can change ... You'll be surprised what the results are. That's Thanksgiving, you want to have cranberry sauce, try it with a little bit of spices in it. Same with your turkey, I would say I have a recipe in my book for roasted chicken that are ... that's marinated with Indian spices and yogurt. Why don't you try it with turkey this time. I feel it can create a whole new dimension to holiday meal.
Suzy Chase: So Daniel Boulud is your mentor. What was the most valuable thing you learned for him?
Hari Nayak : As a young chef I always tend to do something crazy and try and use the most and newest techniques whether it's molecular or ... Trying to do something different and creative on a plate. What I've learned from these great chefs are just try and stick with the basics and stay true to your cuisine. You will have the best result on your plate staying simple, clean and fresh. That's the most valuable thing.
Suzy Chase: India has the world's largest number of vegetarians and wonderful variety of vegetarian options.
Hari Nayak : Yes.
Suzy Chase: You grew up in South India in Udupi, if I'm pronouncing it correctly, can you-
Hari Nayak : Udupi yes.
Suzy Chase: -Can you tell us about the particular vegetarian cuisine in that region called Satvik?
Hari Nayak : I mean vegetarian cooking is a way of life in India. For more than probably 80 to 90% of Indian population, not just in the south, there's all over India. Even though South people do have, ... There's a whole belt of sea ... It's a peninsula so we eat a lot of seafood, meats in the south but yes predominantly it's a vegetarian eating culture. It offers meat free nutrition. Proteins from lentils and pulses. You don't miss any protein. You have your lentils, your pulses that offer you that. I feel and most Indians feel that eating vegetarian and healthy it maintains a very healthy lifestyle.
Suzy Chase: It was interesting 'cause I read that in the region that you grew up in, they didn't use onions or garlic in the cuisine.
Hari Nayak : There is a part of the culture that do not use any onions or garlic in their cuisine. There is not in my household but I know a lot of families and friends that did even use onions or garlic. They feel that it creates negative energy inside them. There's a lot of different beliefs that people grow up with. The region I grew up in South India, Udupi, which is very famous for its vegetarian cuisine, you might notice in New York there are a lot of restaurants, which serve dosas, which are lentil crepe or rice and lentil pancake or crepe that is very famous, which originated from the region Udupi. A lot of vegetarian options that I grew up eating are from our region. It's amazing.
Suzy Chase: Last night for dinner I made your recipe for tomato and curry leaf quinoa on page 117.
Hari Nayak : It's funny that you had to pick that recipe. There are a lot of recipes in the book that are very traditional and that I grew up eating or a slight variation of it. This is a recipe that is not traditionally Indian. Quinoa is not an ingredient that it available in India, it's a South American grain. Why I did that is the whole misconception about Indian cook being so foreign or ... You can use everyday ingredients that are available to you in your own supermarket. What you like to eat, use that ingredient as your main ingredient and use Indian condiments and seasonings and spices to flavor up your everyday meal. That's why I came up with that recipe, and I love it. It's very flavorful. The curry leaves, the [inaudible 00:12:50] leaves, it follows the technique like I mentioned before, the tempering where you take the oil or in this case clarified butter, ghee, very fragrant, adding whole spices to it. You can add rice, the same method you can make a rice pilaf, you can make quinoa, you can make cous cous the same way. It's a traditional Indian meal but it has ... If you close your eyes and eat that dish it reminds you of the flavors of India.
Suzy Chase: It's a very, very easy autumn weeknight dinner for home cooks too.
Hari Nayak : Yes I think it's a great accompaniment for a main meal if you would want to serve it alongside roasted vegetables. You could eat it cold as a salad. You could serve it next to a roast or a meat dish or a curry. It's great. I eat it for breakfast.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Hari Nayak : www.harinayak.com. Harinayak.com you'll find everything that I do. I try to blog as much as possible. Social media is great. I'm very active on Twitter, Instagram on Facebook. You can Google my name or go to harinayak.com, you'll find me there.
Suzy Chase: Thank you so much for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Hari Nayak : Thank you so much for having me. It was my pleasure.