‘The Indian Family Kitchen’ Offers Quick and Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Cooking

Yahoo Food’s Cookbook of the Week is The Indian Family Kitchen: Classic Dishes for a New Generation by Anjali Pathak (Clarkson Potter), a chef, food writer, and cooking teacher.

The cover of ‘The Indian Family Kitchen: Classic Dishes for a New Generation’ by Anjali Pathak (Clarkson Potter).

Anjali Pathak was born and bred in the food industry. When her grandparents arrived in London in the 1950s, they founded Patak’s, a line of Indian-style sauces, spices, and curry pastes that is now the largest Indian food manufacturer in the world. Pathak joined the family business early, working in various departments and “learning the tricks of the industry,” before ultimately becoming a company director. She also went to London’s Leiths School of Food and Wine, studied at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and has a degree in diet and nutrition. Pathak continues to consult for Patak’s — her family sold the business in 2007 — but she now spends most of her time writing and teaching and she recently authored her first cookbook, The Indian Family Kitchen.

With a background like hers, Pathak could easily have written a traditional Indian cookbook. Instead, she’s taken classic Indian dishes, ingredients, and techniques and reconsidered them through a more contemporary and internationally minded lens. This makes The Indian Family Kitchen seem a bit like an Indian version of an Ottolenghi cookbook — there’s even a recipe for Middle Eastern-inspired Crispy Sumac Okra. But it’s also more practical and approachable than the majority of Indian cookbooks, and rather than being a book you consult only when you want to make Indian food, it’s one you can turn to any day of the week, including busy evenings when you need to get dinner on the table quickly. On those nights, look to Pathak’s Charred Baby Eggplants, Chile Beef with Black Pepper, Paneer & Broccoli Masala, and Wilted Mustard Greens.

Paneer & Broccoli Masala (Photograph: Martin Poole)

The Indian Family Kitchen hits on all the major meal categories with recipes for main courses, veggies, salads, appetizers, and desserts, but no matter the dish, Pathak’s theme is spice. She calls spice “the life and soul of any Indian dish” and insists that, “with a little understanding of spices and how they transform through cooking, you can create full-flavored dishes in no time at all.”

In a section called “Everyday Spice Box,” Pathak introduces the Indian spice box tradition, and explains how to create and maintain your own spice collection. Quality and freshness are essential, says Pathak, who recommends buying whole spices and grinding them just before using. She also offers overviews of popular Indian spices, such as garam masala, turmeric, cardamom, and coriander, and makes specific suggestions for how to use each one.

While spices play a prominent role in Pathak’s recipes for more traditional dishes like Chicken Biryani, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Tadka Dhal, their use isn’t limited to the classics. Toasted coriander is added to a tomato, red onion, and burrata salad, while cardamom and chile put a completely new spin on zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and honey. And Pathak encourages further experimentation. 

Carrot, Onion & Spinach Bhajias (Photograph: Martin Poole)

“An easy way to start your spice journey is adding a few seeds, such as cumin or coriander, to your veggies when roasting,” says Pathak. “Try toasting some of your favorite seeds for a few minutes in a dry pan, allow to cool, and grind. You can sprinkle these toasted spices unto almost anything and it will taste delicious.”

One of the few drawbacks of cooking with spice is that it can make tricky work of wine pairings. But Pathak is a wine lover and says she couldn’t write a cookbook without including some of her expertise. She offers some general guidance, including a tip about avoiding oak-y and high-alcohol wines, as they tend to accentuate the chili heat in a dish, and then gets into her favorite reds and whites to enjoy with Indian cuisine. As with her advice regarding spice, Pathak urges self reliance: “Most importantly, make sure you drink a wine your palate likes! Just because a wine works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for you, so follow your taste buds and let them be your guide.”

Visit Yahoo Food throughout the week for recipes from The Indian Family Kitchen: Classic Dishes for a New Generation

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