Anupy Singla wanted to raise her children on the same healthful Indian food her mother fed her. So she started writing a food blog, then she wrote a cookbook, then a second and a third.
Over coffee recently at Eastern Standard, Singla talked about her cooking, writing, family, and books. Her latest volume is “Indian for Everyone”; all her books center on the cooking of her homeland, and all have a particular slant. Singla is vegan, though she was raised in a mixed household, with a vegetarian mother and carnivore father.
For Indians, it isn’t unusual for every family member to have his or her own food philosophy. Singla, 46, who lives in Chicago, has been vegan for 25 years, her husband loves meat, and her mother and mother-in-law are vegetarian. Still, she accommodates all these diets easily, she says, because of how Indians eat: Every meal has several vegetable dishes that take center stage, a lentil dish, whole-grain bread, rice, and a fish or meat curry. “My father ate meat even though he grew up in a house where meat was never cooked in the same pots as vegetarian food,” Singla says.
Singla sold 75,000 copies of her first cookbook, “The Indian Slow Cooker,” published in 2010, and the next two were so well-received that she was recently featured in “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” the exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, as influencing current perceptions and attitudes about India.
She would not have predicted this when she quit her reporting job with Chicagoland Television’s CLTV a decade ago so she could stay home with her children, Neha, now 12, and Aria, 9.
Singla’s first two cookbooks were niche books. The slow cooker volume had its own built-in audience, as did “Vegan Indian Cooking.” Now she wants to appeal to others. “There is a place for everyone at the table no matter how you eat, what you eat.”
“Indian for Everyone” has recipes for native Indians, non-Indians, vegetarians, vegans, and meat-lovers; it offers dishes from restaurant menus and simpler ones prepared at home. There are comfort foods such as chicken tikka masala and kheer (an Indian rice pudding). And the author offers healthy swap outs, like cashew cream instead of dairy, quinoa instead of wheat flour, tempeh instead of meat. A section on street food stands testimony to Singla’s own obsession with this fare when she ate it on visits to India as a little girl.
Singla was born in Chandigarh, India, raised in Philadelphia, and has a master’s degree in Japanese and Asian studies from the University of Hawaii. She is married to Sandeep Gupta, a management consultant, also born in India.
Most recipes in her new book come from aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, all from a village in the northwestern state of Punjab. With its fertile soils and plentiful rivers, Punjab is known for high-quality produce, grains, and dairy. It is also known for its food-loving people. The locals take pleasure in hospitality.
Her grandfather, Singla recalls, “was so passionate about cooking. Things had to be cut a certain way, the spices added in a certain order.” When he sat down to eat, says the granddaughter, “he ate like that was the only meal he was going to have.” He taught her an eggplant-potato curry from Punjab during a visit to Philadelphia when she was 10.
She still remembers the rainy Saturday afternoon when she made the dish with him and learned a cooking secret. “He told me not to throw away the cut woody stems of the eggplants,” she says. “We used them in the curry.” Later, he showed her how to suck out the tender, tastiest part of the eggplant from the woody stem. That part of the vegetable remains Singla’s favorite bit.
Another dish came from a great-uncle who went on a religious retreat in Punjab’s mountains, returning with a soup recipe that quickly became a family favorite, but remained a secret until “Vegan Indian Cooking.” The bowl is fragrant with ginger, garlic, chiles, and cilantro in a soy milk broth.
With her new book, Singla hopes to debunk some common Indian food myths: that curry powder is an Indian spice (it’s a western creation); that Indian food is heavy with oil and cream; that tandoori chicken is supposed to be a startling red color (the only redness should come from chile and paprika, not food dye); that naan is eaten daily (everyday Indian bread is a whole-wheat, tortilla-like round called roti).
“Indian food is where Mexican was 10 years ago,” Singla says. “It is the food of the future in the west.”