Hari Nayak – Preparing Delicious Indian Meals without Fear or Fuss
“And then there was the rainy season, and the accompanying sounds of the flirty breeze playing with the leaves of the mango tree in our backyard, the rustic smell of wet earth, and the thud of mangoes falling to the ground,” recalls chef Hari Nayak in his new book ‘My Indian Kitchen’. “We kids often dashed out to pick them up before the sky broke loose! This priceless robbery of ours would mean that soon spicy green mango chutney would be on our dining table!”
Enticing tales such as this, traditional home recipes explained lucidly and photography that’s luscious enough to eat make this a welcome addition to the books on Indian cooking.
Indian Food Tales
If food is what brings people together, then Hari Nayak is certainly a great unifier. This creative chef has experienced it all, from the home foods of his grandmother’s kitchen to the international cuisine of restaurants in many parts of the world. Now comes ‘My Indian Kitchen’ (Tuttle Publishing) Nayak’s new book which presents Indian meals in his own cosmopolitan style. ( He has an earlier book, ‘Modern Indian Cooking’ which was named the best of 2007 by LA Times.)
Growing up in the small town of Udupi in Karnataka, famous for its food, Nayak was surrounded by the delights of South Indian cuisine. Eating his grandma’s idlis and dosas for breakfast and smelling the aroma of bubbling sambar was enough to awaken the chef in him, and the journey took him to the Culinary Institute of America. Nayak has worked in many topnotch restaurants and the experiences of travel, different cultures and cuisines have all seeped into his attitude toward food.
Nayak has several pots cooking: He is a consultant with Café Spice in creating Indian food for Whole Foods, the popular food chain in the US. He is a culinary ambassador for Sula Wines, and has also made guest appearances on the Seabourne Luxury World Cruise, cooking for guests, and taking them to shop on dock days in places like Cochin, Singapore and Dubai.
In ‘My Indian Kitchen’ he takes you right to the heart of Indian cooking by showing you how to make Indian spice mixes from scratch, be it Vindaloo Curry Paste, Green Chili Masala or Chaat Masala. There’s even Dhaba Spice, a homemade mix of spices inspired by the incredible blend used by the dhabas, small restaurants and truck stops across India.
Indian Home Food with a contemporary touch
Nayak also brings a contemporary spin to traditional food, adding some unusual ingredients such as in Avocado and Roasted Cumin Raita, and Pineapple and Beet Raita. Pomegranate Mint Potato Salad is another dish where unexpected ingredients give it oomph as does its Indian name – Aloo and Anardana ki Chaat. Then there’s the smoky eggplant dip which is his spin-off of the traditional Indian delicacy Baigan Bharta – both are featured in the book.
‘My Indian Kitchen’ covers everything from appetizers to dessert and has a large section on fish and seafood. As he writes, growing up in a coastal town, “We were never far from local fish markets of fresh seafood. I walked to the market often, looking at baskets of fresh seafood, as well as dried and salted fish.”
The recipes range from Chili Shrimp with Curry Leaves and Coconut to Masala Baked Red Snapper to Malabar Crab Curry to Goan Style Squid and Stir-fried Telicherry Mussels.
Detailed vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus as well as a guide on pairing wines with Indian food are other plus points of the book. And of course, the food photography is evocative – or should we say good enough to eat?
This creative cook gets pleasure from putting his own flourishes on traditional food, a whiff of his travels. He says, “Seafood Paella is my take on Kerala Style Seafood Biryani and the ever popular bar snack Mustard Shrimp Puri with Passion Fruit Chutney.” He is working on creating the first QSR (quick service restaurant) national Indian brand – Café Spice.
He is also participating in various food festivals including a gourmet food festival in Bangkok showcasing Indian cuisine.
Asked about his must-have spices, he says, “Other than salt, I would always have a collection of whole spices. if I have to pick one Indian spice it would be cardamom. I love the unique flavor and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.”
Related Article: Now Try out the recipes for Goan Jhinga Biryani (Shrimp Coconut Biryani), Lobhiya Pullao (Black Eyed Peas and Rice) and Pista Aam Ki Kulfi (Pistachio Mango Ice cream)