M3 THE MAGAZINE
Flavors and has appeared in numerous
radio and television shows across the
United States and Canada.
A winner of the Julia Child Award for
teaching, Iyer’s latest book Indian
Cooking Unfolded was released in July.
This year, he will add another feather to
his cap by becoming the first Indian-American president of the International
Association of Culinary Professionals.
Do Americans know more about Indian
cooking than they did two or three
To some extent yes. But this is true
mostly in big American cities. I have had
book tours in 40 places in America for my
latest work. But they are all big and medium sized cities, though I hope the radio
talks and television interviews I have
done recently will also reach smaller cities
and towns across America.
I hear from people in small cities in
Nebraska or North Dakota from time to
time and they tell me that they are occasionally cooking Indian food and they
want some clarifications, some more
My first book Betty Crocker’s Indian
Home Cooking, published through
General Mills, was considered to be a pioneering work.
It was meant to teach Americans Indian
cooking and give them the confidence to
do so. Everything in it had to be authentic
and yet basic and simple.
Yet I find there is still quite a bit of ignorance. Our cuisine has been around for
over 60 centuries and it is a pity that it has
not yet become mainstream American cuisine.
Some Americans think it is all yellow,
some think it is all red, and then there are
those who believe that everything Indian
has to be spicy. There is also a lot of ignorance about our food among Indians as
In what way?
Some (Indians) look at the fusion food
that I make and tell me it is not Indian. I
tell them, Indian food has been fusion
food for centuries.
Many other cultures have changed the
way we cook and eat our food. We have
taken so much from the invaders and colonizers and made it all our own.
Some of the things that we must have in
our Indian cuisine today, say potatoes and
tomatoes, and even chilies, were not
known to India, or for that matter to
much of the world, till 500 years ago.
Chilies came from Central America
through Spain and Portugal to India.
In my cooking, I also offer regional
Indian food, and naturally the use of the
spices varies. When I prepared a meal
with a few regional dishes at a corporate
luncheon, some Indians came to me and
complained that the food was not hot
Some even thought that for that very
reason it was not authentic Indian food.
I also get hate mail from time to time,
criticizing me for being a Brahmin who
cooks non-vegetarian dishes. I don’t bother to answer them.
When I first interviewed you over two
decades ago, you said you were largely a
I still am. And then, of course, people
ask me how I come up with recipes for
non-vegetarian food. I have believed that
if you know the science of cooking and
have a good knowledge of herbs and
spices, you can never go wrong.
I must also say that I taste meat and
fish, in bite sizes, when I cook, making
sure that I am doing the right thing.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I used to cook a lot when I was in college in India and experimented with food.
I was also curious about various Indian
In America, I worked at an Indian
restaurant while studying, and over the
six years, I learned a lot about commercial
My meals became much more elaborate,
because I was learning techniques that I
could apply to the flavors of Mumbai.
While working at the Indian restaurant
my creativity was curbed and I was tired
of turning out the same meat dish or sabzi
with heavy cream and overpowering
I decided to gamble and be my own
man. So I began teaching cooking Indian
food. People warned me saying that I was
not in New York or San Francisco and I
could not be a teacher of Indian food in
But I persisted. The teaching led to the
writing, television and more recognition.
Tell us about your books.
It has been over 12 years since Betty
Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking came out.
My second book The Turmeric Trail was
very personal and it became a James
Beard finalist for the best international
The next, 660 Curries, is my most elaborate book.
My newest book Indian Cooking
Unfolded has been in the making for 30
‘INDIAN FOOD HAS
BEEN FUSION FOOD
Bund Gobhi Nu Shaak
Makes: 6 cups
½ small head of green cabbage
(about 1 pound) or 1 bag (14 ounces) coleslaw mix
Handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)
1 to 2 fresh green serrano chillies, stems discarded
½ large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin strips
½ cup dry-roasted peanuts
½ cup dried unsweetened coconut shreds
½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1½ tsp coarse kosher or sea salt
Juice from 1 medium-size lime
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
¼ tsp ground turmeric
With a desi twist
If you are using a half cabbage, remove the tough rib from the bottom by making diagonal cuts on either side and lifting it out in a V-shaped wedge. You will end up with a V-shaped opening at the base.
Cut the cabbage half in half lengthwise. Slice both halves into shreds, as thin as you can.
Place the green and red (if using) cabbage shreds in a large bowl. If you are using a pre-shredded coleslaw mix (which usually has a few shreds of carrots and red cabbage in it for
color), empty the contents of the bag into a large bowl.
Slice the chillies lengthwise and then cut them into thin slices, crosswise, to form half
moons of chillies that still have the rib and seeds within. Do not discard the seeds. Add the
chilies to the cabbage along with the bell pepper.
Place the peanuts in a spice grinder (you can also use a coffee grinder), food processor or
mini chopper and pulse the nuts to the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Letting the
machine run constantly will create a gummy result the consistency of peanut butter.
Add the coconut, cilantro, salt, and lime juice. Sprinkle the ground peanuts over the cabbage mixture.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer,
add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping
(not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds.
Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle in the turmeric, which will instantly bathe
the oil with its yellow hue; the heat from the skillet will be just right to cook the
turmeric without burning it. Pour the mustard-turmeric mixture over the cabbage.
I often grab some of the cabbage from the bowl and add it to the skillet, wiping it clean
with the shreds to make sure I get every last bit of spice and oil.
Using tongs, spoons, or my favorite, a clean hand, thoroughly combine the slaw in the
large bowl to ensure every shred of cabbage is evenly coated.
Serve the slaw either at room temperature (my preference) or chilled.