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Suvir Saran

“Takeout?” You can’t be serious. Especially, not after you start reading the recently released “Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food, with More Than 150 Recipes” by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Published by Clarkson Potter, the 272-page book (priced at $32.50) is filled with 75 color photographs showing some delicious and sumptuous meals.

The recipes by New York-based Saran, a restaurant chef, food consultant and cooking teacher are simple even for the novice cook to prepare at home.

Saran attended Sir JJ School of Arts in Bombay before moving to New York City to study at the School of Visual Arts. He was store manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, and later director of retail merchandising for the home collection at Henri Bendel. But it was his interest in cooking for friends and food followers that led Saran to begin teaching classes at NYU’s Department of Food and Nutrition.

He has contributed several articles on Indian food for “Food Arts Magazine,” and his recipes have appeared in “The New York Times” and “Los Angeles Times.”

Late last year, the New York resident opened an Indian restaurant, Devi, in Union Square.

Book cover
Here is an exclusive interview with Saran:

KhaasBaat: What spurred the move to New York City from Bombay? Studying?

Saran: It was my being totally disenchanted by Sir JJ School of Arts. The school provided no stimulation to my needs as a student. But the city, Bombay, is totally another story. Bombay was most fantastic and still remains my favorite city in the entire world. It has the best of all words possible and a grit and street savvy that is incomparable. I moved to NYC hoping to further my education in the field of visual arts. But it was a decision I made with great difficulty, for I was in deep love with Bombay and the ways in which it indulged me as a city and the myriad mysteries that it exposed to me daily.

KhaasBaat: One of the reviewers of your book wrote, "It's the first cookbook to really tackle Indian cuisine in America." Your comment.

Saran: Not sure I am the first one to tackle Indian cuisine in America. There are pioneering chefs like Madhur Jaffrey, who have left an amazing mark in the world of Indian food for generations to come. But yes, with the hard work of my editors Pam Krauss and Adina Steiman at Clarkson Potter, the structured and controlled recipe testing and notation by my co-writer Stephanie Lyness, and the photographs by Ben Fink have all helped in creating a first book on Indian cuisine that demystifies our cuisine in a new way. It makes Indian food look just like any other cuisine. As I worked on the food styling of the book, I found the designer in me working hard to keep the photographs simple. The mantra of that time became less is more. The photographs were shot using only stuff that anyone could find easily in America. We used no elements of design that could make one feel they were looking at something foreign and exotic and celestial. I wanted the book to have a very strong grounding in practicality and of the moment. There were plenty of books already written singing the praises of the cuisine of the past, documenting through their photography the artistic riches of India and bursting with recipes of the cream and oil laden curries that one would usually only find in restaurants. What I wanted to share was a book that made home style foods of the many regions of India find a first place on the pages of a book that was at once practical, accessible, easy to understand and modern. I wanted to share the food of my generation of Indians. A cuisine that was healthy, vibrant and fresh. And I am shocked that people are realizing for the first time that Indian food is not all about vindaloo, kurmas, makhani sauces and tandoori dishes. So, if I can take credit for sharing the time-tested gems of Indian home cooking in this book, then I must admit I have tackled something for the first time.

KhaasBaat: Do you think that Americans are slowly getting addicted to Indian food or does the spicy food make them wary of it?

SARAN: Americans are some of the most curious people in the world. Few if any people are so thirsty for what is new. I hardly feel we can blame the Americans for not having grasped the magic of Indian food earlier.

Indian food in America has been a food that is not always the most exciting and fresh and brilliant. Dull gravies, oily dishes, tough meats, stale fish and creamy dals and tomato ketchup based sauces have been used as a way of inviting these people to discover India and its food. Do you think that is a cuisine that will find many followers? Lately, there is a new effort to share food in a meaningful way and make it tasty, fresh and different. Steps like that are leading to a new excitement around the foods of India. Earlier, most all dishes in a restaurant would be cooked with some version or the other of the same base sauce. As an Indian, I would be ashamed of this cuisine, and so, hardly fault or expect any non-Indian to embrace it.

Also, I must add that Indian food is not always about spicy hot. Our cuisine is best when it is based on perfection in the balance between ingredients and spices. We also should never forget that chile (red pepper, cayenne) came to India only in the 16th century. How hot could Indian food be before then? It was hot in spices, not in heat. And that back heat, that extols Indian cuisine, is not offensive, but in fact one that makes it addictive. Now that we have new restaurants realizing that putting chile pepper into each sauce is not necessary, people will finally taste the true flavors of India that are delicious.

My mother always said that only bad cooks need to kill a dish with too much laal mirhci (cayenne). They are hiding their lack of culinary skills. As a chef now, I thank her for having given me that tidbit of advice years earlier.

These are exciting times for Indian cuisine. It is my hope that we can be proud of our culture and its cuisine and as a group of people, use that pride to ensure we do not make short cuts when showcasing our foods that make it get a bad name. I personally feel America and the world at large will continue to fall in love with our food and actually never tire of the diversity that exists in Indian cuisine. It is up to us Indian food professionals to continue sharing what is best from our culture and do that in circumspect settings.


My sister’s favorite corn curry:: Makayee Noo Curry


My older sister lives in Dallas. Every time I go to see her, she and my brother-in-law make a big fuss about the visit. They invite a lot of their friends and acquaintances to come meet me; this means many dinners at their home. And since my sister has bragged for months about my cooking prowess, I am now called upon to prove it. I invented this dish for one of those occasions. It was inspired by memories of eating similar Gujarati-style corn curries in Bombay while I was in art school there.

1 fresh hot green chile, stemmed and cut in half
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
A 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into large chunks
12 fresh or 16 frozen curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
¼ cup fresh cilantro sprigs (with tender stems only)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (optional)
3 whole dried red chiles
¼ teaspoon turmeric
6 fresh or 10 frozen curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
1/8 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 ears) or frozen corn

For the green paste, combine all of the ingredients in a small food processor and process to a paste. Set aside.

Combine the milk and half-and-half in a 2-cup measure or small bowl.

Combine the oil, cumin, and mustard seeds, if using, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover if using mustard seeds (they pop and splatter) and cook until the cumin turns golden brown or you hear the mustard seeds crackle, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the chiles, turmeric, and curry leaves and asafetida, if using, and stir. (Stand back if using curry leaves; they spit when they hit the oil.) Immediately add the green paste and turn the heat down to low. Then cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 more minute, scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the flour from sticking. Gradually add the milk mixture, about 1 tablespoon at a time at first, to make a smooth paste. Start to add the milk more quickly, adding the final cup all at once. Stir in the salt and the corn, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the corn is tender, about 4 minutes. Taste for salt and serve hot.

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