Slow Indian Cooking with Anupy Singla
In a time of Tweets, frenetic commutes and mountains of stress, imagine slooow cooking, food which cooks itself, slowly, deliberately throughout the day while you’re out earning a living or are just immersed in the latest best-seller. It’s almost like having one of the legendary ‘bhaiyas’ of India doing your cooking for you, and quite welcome in the US. This marvel is the slow cooker and journalist-turned-foodie Anupy Singla shows how a humble gadget can transform the art of Indian cooking in her cookbook, ‘The Indian Slow Cooker.’
I myself first realized that the slow cooker could be an asset for cooking Indian food when a Gujarati vegetarian friend we’d dropped in to see treated us to a simple but delicious home-cooked meal of dal and rice. She had just walked in from work so I wondered how she had this piping hot meal ready. The answer was the slow cooker and a rice cooker which she had phoned her son to turn on. While she had been in her florist shop the whole day, the dal had simmered and mellowed into a lovely creamy concoction, without any supervision.
I remembered that taste when I browsed Anupy Singla’s new cookbook, ‘The Indian Slow Cooker’, which is a collection of 50 traditional and much loved recipes – all done in the slow cooker. Sure beats slaving over a hot stove! Singla has had a long relationship with this little known and under-appreciated gadget, especially when it comes to Indian cooking.
“My mother was a working mom short on time living in Pennsylvania,” recalls Singla, who is now herself a mother of two. “That’s why in the 1970’s she was excited when a non-Indian work colleague introduced her to the concept of the slow cooker. Ever since I can remember, I have always come home to Indian food – from rajmah to dals – cooking in the slow cooker.” Singla remembers her mother making fantastic kitcharis (dal mixed with rice) and kala chana.
Indian Cooking, Slow and Flavorful
Anupy Singla became such a fan of the slow cooker that she actually started using it in graduate school where she was getting her degree in Asian Studies at the East West Center and University of Hawaii. She was living in the international dorm with graduates from all over the world including South Asia, and they would cook together. “The first dish I perfected was Sarson ka Saag (curried mustard greens),” she says. “It used to come out so delicious. We’d come home from a long day of classes and just pour over this dish right from the slow cooker with our fresh rotis.”
Singla, who was a newscaster for Bloomberg, WGN, and CLTV, now lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. In ‘The Indian Slow Cooker’ she gives helpful tips on mastering the slow cooker and creating some very rich and aromatic dishes without spending any time in the kitchen.
One appealing aspect of slow cooking is the healthy cooking aspect, in this time of diabetes and heart disease, especially common in the South Asian community. As she points out in the book, “There is nothing healthier to feed your family than beans and lentils. Add the flavor of authentic spices like cumin and turmeric to the health benefits, and you have recipes that you’ll make for years to come.” Her repertoire of daals, legumes and lentils is particularly rich.
Both males and females can turn gourmet chef with this simple gadget. Says Singla, “My dad actually is a big fan of the slow cooker too, and contributed his version of Rajmah to my cookbook. He – especially – is all about get it in fast and have it come out flavorful.”
Check out recipes for some of the dishes in the accompanying post:
Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans
Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Q & A with Anupy Singla –‘The Indian Slow Cooker’
Q: Usually Indian cooking doesn’t take more than half an hour to an hour – so is the 5-7 hours that slow cookers take worth it? Do the nutrients remain in such a long period of cooking?
A: It depends on what you’re cooking and how you are making it. To make a dish from dry beans or lentils quickly on the stovetop you have to have a pressure cooker. I just can’t use them after watching my mom’s explode back in the day (and I know many people feel the same way). I know they are safer and more user friendly now, but the slow cooker just makes everything so safe and simple. You just throw it all in and go.
Yes, there is planning involved, but that just means I’m forced to think ahead a little bit. For dry vegetable dishes that do take less time on the stove, I found slow cooking was a good idea if I was busy with the kids one day and just didn’t have time to monitor the stove. It’s also great for parties when I am making multiple dishes. And, there’s nothing more nutritious than using dried legumes rather than canned or making a dish without oils or creams.
I found that with the slow cooking process you didn’t need to even make a side tardka in some cases. But, at the end of the day, it’s still about options. Do I still use my stove? Of course! But the slow cooker is there to give me more and more options on getting dinner on the table for my family despite my busy schedule.
Q: . There are lots of cooking methods such as stir-fry/pan-fry which are great for whipping up things in a jiffy. Do you also use these or depend mostly on the slow cooker.
A: I do just about everything in my kitchen. I love experimenting. And my kids love to cook now too. In fact, they are becoming even better than me with some dishes. My 5-year-old blends her own chai masala in the mortar and pestle.
I actually use my Vita-Mix (a high powered blender that I swear by) a lot to whip up chutneys, dips, salads, smoothies, and even ice cream! I make an amazing Bhindi Masala on the stovetop. Again, this book is not about replacing – it’s about adding.
Q: What do your kids think of the slow cooker and what’s their favorite dish?
A: My kids – when it comes to food – are everything that stereotypical American kids are not. They’ve been to McDonald’s maybe twice (for fries and lemonade), they love their veggies raw and fresh, and they adore greens including spinach. This isn’t because they were born like this. It’s because that’s what I’ve surrounded them with and I’ve made cooking fun. They love to cook and love to eat what they cook.
They love making what I’ve called ‘mud soup’ in the slow cooker, where I’ll allow each to get three grains or lentils from the cupboard. They can then add a fistful of each into the slow cooker. We add veggies and water and then they can decide if they like it or not. Usually their soups come out great. Their absolute hands-down favorite dish, though, is Rajmah. They actually request it on many occasions. My 8 year-old likes it spicy, my 5 year-old not so much. I’d encourage families to use my book with their kids. They’re not hovering over a hot stove with these dishes, so it may be a great introduction for them. My little one has a 1 ½ quart slow cooker that she had deemed all her own!
Q: What’s the best thing about slow cookers for you?
A: The beauty of the slow cooker is that food is prepared without a lot of fuss and just about anyone can do it. It’s easy to sell an Indian cookbook on the coasts. But, I’ve been selling my concept in the Midwest and in the blue-collar community outside of Philadelphia where I grew up. It’s here where there are communities often less exposed to new spices, beans and lentils.
The way I got over that hurdle was I offered my food during my taste testing process free through Facebook. I had about three hundred taste testers – some who had never tried Indian food. Once they ate the food they loved it and committed to the book and its concept. My book was even listed as No. 1 Indian cookbook on Amazon BEFORE the release based on pre-orders – because of this year of taste testing and this fan base.
Many Indian-American friends have now also earmarked pages for their nannies, because the recipes are so incredibly easy, so that they know their kids are getting fresh, healthy, wholesome Indian food at home. I get emails just about every day from people who say they would have never tried making Indian food at home if it had not been for the slow cooker element in this book.
Q. Do you miss journalism or after ‘The Indian Slow Cooker’, is it now all about the food that’s fit to eat?
A: I’ll never stop being a reporter or thinking like one and that’s why I’m hoping to fuse the two passions. Currently, I have a team of photographers and a producer shooting my own cooking show. The segments can currently be found on my blog and Youtube.
I also still freelance for the Chicago Sun-Times and other publications. For me, this journey is all about teaching. I grew up on some of the healthiest, flavorful cuisine on this planet. I want people to know about it and I want them to realize it’s not foreign and exotic – that it’s truly easy and accessible.
Q: Teaching children about healthy eating early seems a great idea. Tell us about your cooking classes.
A: I teach adult and kids cooking classes, mainly through The Kids’ Table in Chicago. I also teach privately in people’s homes and even take spice tours through Devon in Chicago.
For an updated schedule click here
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