It's so much more than a cookbook.

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Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family
Credit: Amazon

When Indian-ish, the second cookbook by Priya Krishna (which she co-wrote with her mom, Ritu), originally hit shelves in 2019, I was immediately sold on the concept. I had been a fan of Krishna's food writing for years, following her work in Lucky Peach, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, and beyond. She's even shared recipes with our sister brand, Better, Homes & Gardens!

Buy it: Indian-ish, $18.29; Amazon

As part of her book tour, Krishna was interviewed on several of my favorite podcasts. This was where I learned the story behind the title; it was a placeholder title, which eventually stuck because of how it so accurately explains the mash-up of her family's Indian-American hybrid cuisine. I also heard about Krishna's strong bond with her brilliant, wine-loving, recipe-ace mom and her lovable, supportive dad. He tackled piles of dishes while Priya and Ritu developed the recipes for this book in the Krishna parents' Dallas home, and the trio's enthusiasm for sharing food and their culture with such heart and humor makes me dream of pulling up a chair at their table.

Until that bucket list goal becomes a reality (manifesting is a thing, right?!), I will continue to cook my way through Indianish. What I have gained along the way is so much more than dozens of delicious recipes.

What I Learned from Indian-ish

Here are 5 simple things that Priya Krishna's book taught me that made me a better cook and can be applied to anyone's cooking.

Buy your spices whole…and know that you don't need dozens to ace every recipe.

If you're on the fence about investing in this book, I firmly believe that the spice guide on page 22 through 29 is worth the price alone. On these pages, Krishna not only allows us to visualize the core Indian spices in a beautiful rainbow array, but she also lists dozens of spices, spice blends, and chiles, where to buy them, how to use them, and what they taste like. Chaat masala, for instance, is funky and salty, easy to find at Indian grocers and online ($8.79 for 4 ½ ounces, Amazon). It's wildly versatile and can top everything from fruit to nut butter toast to Krishna's top pick, potatoes.

Many of the spice guide entries also offer in-a-pinch substitutes so if you, too, want to build your stock up a little at a time, we'll often find a Ritu- and Priya-approved alternative here.

Chhonk is a culinary game-changer.

Described by Krishna as "the most revelatory Indian cooking technique ever," chhonk is the process of tempering and awakening spices in oil to allow their aromas and intensity to sing at full volume. The resulting infused oil can add richness to lentils, cheese dishes, soups, roasted potatoes...basically anything.

She features two styles: one spicy, North Indian style and one earthy, South Indian style. Both start with 2 tablespoons of oil or ghee, which are then heated with a selection of seeds, chiles, and leaves. Since learning this technique, my grain bowls, pasta dishes, and roast meat and fish dishes have never been the same—and have never tasted better.

Beans are among the best breakfast foods.

In addition to showcasing the blend of Indian and American cuisines that resulted from her family's personal journey, Krishna highlights some ways other cultures have impacted the history of Indian cuisine. "One of the many side effects of the difficult decades of British colonization in India was an exchange of culinary traditions," she writes, including tea time in India, chicken tikka masala in Britain, and Heinz baked beans for breakfast in both countries. "My mom doctors them up with tomatoes, onions, chilies and the funky spice blend chaat masala to give them a lot more character," Krishna explains.

So I did the same, following her recipe for Indian-ish English Breakfast Baked Beans, which taste incredible piled over toast and crowned with a fried egg. I'm no longer reserving baked beans for potlucks and barbecues anymore, and can't wait to try Krishna's pal Claire's idea of cracking a few eggs into the skillet full of beans for Indian-ish imitation shakshuka!

Yogurt and chickpea flour can make a cream-free soup uber-creamy.

Krishna is A-OK with playing favorites in this book, which was helpful in narrowing down where to start. Kadhi (Turmeric-Yogurt Soup) is "my favorite soup of all time," she writes, due to its texture akin to "cream of ______ soup, but with no cream, and better."

I had seen creamy soups that relied on blended or pureed vegetables to mimic the cozy consistency, but the secret of this classic Indian soup lies in a mix of 1 cup full-fat plain yogurt, ¼ cup chickpea flour, mixed well, plus 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon turmeric. This acts as the soup base, which is seasoned with a variety of spices and chiles. No cream, meat, or additional mix-ins of any kind required—except for plenty of rice to soak up every last drop.

Celebrate what makes you you.

"Indian-ish is not only a collection of wonderful and delicious recipes but, more important, it sends a powerful message—we can all tap into our heritage to access the recipes that connect us to where our parents and grandparents came from," reviews Queer Eye's Antoni Porowski on the back cover.

In addition to inspiring me to get familiar with the flavors and spirit of new-to-me spices and techniques, this book reinvigorated my interest in diving into my own culinary heritage. Like the best recipes, we're all a mash-up of the "ingredients" that form us and the experiences we've been through. There's so much I haven't asked my parents and grandparents about their food history, and, after cooking my way through Indian-ish, I can't wait to start connecting with my family over our own foodways to start preserving our own "-ish" dishes.

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