Anita Jaisinghani, the James Beard award several times semi-finalist and nominee leader and owner of Pondicherry, has long been a staple of Houston’s culinary scene, leveraging her extensive knowledge of Indian cuisine to win fans for her cuisine. From 2001 to 2016, she operated her modern Indian bistro, Indika, first in Memorial and then in Montrose. These days, his devotees flock to Pondicherry, which she opened in 2011, and the Pondicheri Bake Shop upstairs for coffee, tea, baked goods, pastries and savory dishes. (At one point she even operated even a Pondicherry in New York that received a positive opinion of New York Times critic Pete Wells before closed in 2020.) Now Jaisinghani is sharing her knowledge in her new cookbook, “Masala: Recipes from India, the land of spices.”
The three foundations of Jaisinghani’s culinary approach and “Masala” recipes are his upbringing in the Indian state of Gujarat, his experience as a chef in Houston, and his belief in Ayurvedic principles, which are over 4,000 years old. year. The latter is complicated, and “Masala” includes an introduction for those who want to know more. To simplify greatly: followers of Ayurveda regard food as medicine; everything you eat can affect your personal balance and your health.
Growing up in India, Jaisinghani was exposed to her mother’s Sindhi cuisine (“Masala” is dedicated to her) and her friends’ Gujarati vegetarian cuisine. Cooking in Houston, she learned to use local ingredients, such as fish from the Gulf, and adapted to Texas’ fickle growing seasons, which range from temperate mildness to searing heat, the unforgiving time I jokingly calls it “the season of radishes”. (Editor David Leftwich calls it “okra and eggplant season.”) In the book, Jaisinghani says she once told a food writer, “Asking me to cook Indian food in America without using local ingredients is like asking me to live here but not breathe the air.After many years of cooking at home, his first attempt at adapting his approach to cooking for the market has She was selling homemade chutneys to Whole Foods, and then worked for James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande at his famous Southwest restaurant, Cafe Annie.
Jaisinghani – who has a degree in microbiology – has condensed her years of experience into a cookbook that provides information and techniques for home cooks to dive as deep into the kitchen as they want. With the tips in the book, you can make your own ghee and yogurt, and even ferment your own dosa dough.
You can jump in and try a recipe, but it can be trickier than it looks if you don’t already have a collection of Indian spices. (You did notice that the cookbook has “Spices” in the name, right? It has four masala recipes and no less than 34 helpful pages covering the subject.) Some that I didn’t have in my own spice stash include ajowan seeds (necessary in samosa dough), fresh or dried Fenugreek leaves and seeds, and kari leaves (curry). Until I fixed this, several recipes were out of my reach – but I still look forward to making them.
My husband and I are trying to do more meatless dinners. While looking for a gateway recipe in “Masala”, I was delighted to find Punjabi cauliflower. It’s an easy weeknight meal. Ingredients are accessible and include staples such as fresh ginger, tomatoes, onion, and garlic. I always have garam masala, which you can find at most grocery stores (you can also make your own at home, a recipe is included). Two ingredients that might be a little harder to find are black mustard seeds, which I had recently purchased for another Indian dish, and ghee. A word of advice for people like me who don’t necessarily have a stock of ghee: you really want to use it, not pure butter. Mustard seeds should be sautéed in ghee. If you use unpurified butter, the solids will burn off before this happens. Put in the planning and the effort and do a lot. You can also now find it in many grocery stores.
The dish was a hit with us. My kid and their roommate had gone for dinner and they loved this spicy, simmered cauliflower dish as much as my husband and I did.
For the nights we want meat, I eye Jaisinghani Homestyle Butter Chicken recipe – a crowd pleaser if there ever was one. I just need to get the nigella seeds for the chicken marinade and the dried fenugreek leaves for the famous fragrant sauce. One of the most delicious aspects of “Masala” is when Jaisinghani customizes a foundational recipe, amplifying the intrigue and flavors. In this case, she offers a variant of butter chicken called Chicken 25 which adds caramelized onions and extra spices. It also offers non-dairy and biryani (rice dish) variations.
Another example of Jaisinghani’s creativity is Masala Garlic Ghee, which is served with hot bread or raw vegetables. It is easy to do. You don’t even have to peel the garlic; simply cut off the tops of whole bulbs and roast them in butter. Who needs dinner after that? Why not just eat hot bread with sweet garlic and ghee all night? This is my idea of a good time.
I treasure my collection of about 70 cookbooks, and the Houston section is the one I hold dearest. Most are signed. Each invokes memories of a lifetime beyond the pages, like breaking bread with friends at that chef’s restaurant or meeting that chef for the first time. “Masala” will take pride of place on that shelf alongside cookbooks by other Houston chefs that explore regional Italian, Southern, Mexican, Latin and Texas cuisines, like good old barbecue and Tex-Mex. It is representative of the mix of cuisines that make Houston a remarkable food city. Jaisinghani’s work, both in Pondicherry and ‘Masala’, is an important part of this mix.
Masala is available for purchase in person in Pondicherry and online on Amazon.
Disclosure: Purchases from the links in this article will earn a small commission, which helps support our work. For this article, Houston Food Finder received a review copy of the book.