“It’s a Texas book as much as it’s an American book, an Indian book,” Priya Krishna says. “I just don’t think that all those things are mutually exclusive.” Her new cookbook, Indian-ish—which has received much acclaim since it came out in late April—collects the recipes her mother, Ritu Krishna, prepared while she was growing up in Dallas. Don’t expect Indian Tex-Mex or barbecue, though. Rather, this is a cookbook full of recipes from a working parent who took what she knew—Indian cooking—and adapted it to her busy schedule, her surroundings, and influences from her travels. “Texas is such a multicultural community, that was something my mom was really drawn to and inspired by.”
The recipes in Indian-ish are designed to be quick, nutritious, and packed with flavor. They’re also largely vegetarian: think spicy charred okra (Bindi), whole roasted cauliflower with green pea chutney, and green beans crisped in chickpea flour. Ritu Krishna’s travels appear in the form of Indian Ribollita, Malaysian ramen, and English Breakfast Baked Beans. In other words, it’s food that defies easy categorization—hence the “ish” in the title—and feels very 2019, with lots of fresh herbs and spices.
Krishna, who now lives in New York City, explains that the book is both a story of growing up as a second-generation immigrant kid and a guide to “everyday accessible Indian food.” “This is the food my mom made when she only had twenty minutes to put dinner on the table—it was all minimal fuss, minimal pans, easy cleanup.” Particularly intriguing are a handful of flowcharts that “illustrate how [Krishna’s mother] thinks about pairing ingredients and flavors in the Indian food she makes.” Quick, easy, healthy, delicious dinner on the fly? Yes, please.
Indian-ish also happens to be the first cookbook I’ve seen that gives culinary credit to a generation of women who are more often cited as having abandoned the kitchen in favor of careers. The cooking skills of Boomer and Gen X women are often described in terms of microwaves and convenience foods. But this book tells a far more complicated tale of a successful career woman who enjoys cooking, and smartly and expertly figured out how to fit it into her busy life. It’s a skill I recognize in my own mother, and one I expect is more common among this generation than conventional wisdom would have you believe.
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Krishna’s parents “are super excited [about the book] but kind of still in shock,” Priya says, laughing. After an event at UB Preserv in Houston, “My dad could just not believe that this food we just kind of eat every day at home would be made in this fancy restaurant.” It’s food that tastes best at home, in any case: when asked for her favorite places to eat Indian food at home in the Dallas area, Krishna mentions Taj Chaat House and Kwality Ice Cream, both in Irving. “But, to be honest, my favorite memories of eating Indian food in Texas are eating it at my mom’s house or one of my aunts’ or my uncles’ houses.” In other words? To find the best Indian food in Texas, make some friends.
Below, a recipe for Shikanji, a salt-and-pepper lime drink that cuts straight through the Texas heat (and makes an excellent Indian-ish margarita with a shot of tequila).
Shikanji (Indian Gatorade)
Think of this like limeade with a very satisfying curveball. Shikanji is the standard summertime drink that my mom’s family in India used to serve guests in lieu of soda (which was usually too expensive). Salt and pepper may not seem like the most obvious ingredients in a warm-weather beverage, but they add this indescribable addictiveness and lip-smacking tang that’s similar to the salty, energizing electrolytes in Gatorade—in fact, my dad literally calls this drink “Indian Gatorade.” Shikanji also happens to make a great base for a cocktail—add tequila, and you’ve got yourself an Indian-ish margarita (just ask David, my brother-in-law and our family’s official drinks guy). And yes, your arms will probably be sore from squeezing all those limes (roll the heck out of them before you squeeze them to maximize the juice). But the wildly refreshing payoff is totally worth it.
¾ cup fresh lime juice (from about 6 limes)
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup ice cubes, plus more for serving
Combine all the ingredients in a blender with 2 cups water. Blend until everything is fully incorporated and a thin layer of foam forms on the top. Fill four glasses with ice and pour the shikanji over the top, stirring with a spoon just before serving so the pepper is integrated throughout. Garnish each glass with one more tiny pinch of pepper.
Shikanji is excerpted from Indian-ish © 2019 by Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna. Photography © 2019 by Mackenzie Kelley. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.