Foodie Events / Restaurants

Top Houston Chef Writes Her First Cookbook and It’s Spicy — Pondicheri’s Anita Jaisinghani On Masala

The Power of Indian Cooking

BY // 09.08.22

Anita Jaisinghani has been sharing the love of her native Indian food with Houstonians for two decades beginning with her award-winning restaurant Indika and continuing with her wildly successful Pondicheri Restaurant and Bake Lab + Shop. This month, she takes on a wider audience with publication of her first cookbook Masala, Recipes from India, the Land of Spices. (Ten Speed Press.)

This is no ordinary cookbook. Jaisinghani introduces the world of Indian food through spices as she weaves her recipes and accompanying eloquent observations across the pages. Masalas she writes in explanation are “the secret weapon of Indian kitchens to be deployed as needed” and “are quite simply a blend of spices and seasonings.”

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Pondicheri chef Anita Jaisinghani (Photo by Johnny Autry)

Before providing recipes, the respected Houston chef dedicates 90 pages to astute observations on the emotions and energy of food, a detailed study with charts of the spices inherent in her recipes,  discussions on the necessary ingredients of Indian cooking and a step-by-step instruction in making curry.

“I didn’t really want to do a cookbook because I feel there are so many books out there,” Jaisinghani tells PaperCity. “They all have these recipes and everybody has a viewpoint. But India is a very significant country when thinking about the cuisines of the world because the spices from India cover the entire world.”

Jaisinghani presents her collection of recipes along with the fascinating histories and detailed preparation instruction in the new book. They are dishes that can be produced at home without stress, some from Pondicheri, some from her cooking classes, and some from her home cooking. Jaisinghani relishes cooking at home almost every day, which is unexpected of a chef/restaurant owner.

“I want my books to be timeless so I tried to make the book really well rounded,” she says. “So I had a bit of history of India, some details on spices, and I had a bit of  pastry and a bit of Ayurveda that most people find really confusing and kind of baffling.

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“But it’s not. It’s really a simple guide on how to live.”

One of Jaisinghani’s goals with the book is to broaden the appeal of spices. She says one doesn’t have to cook Indian food but learning about the spices presents unlimited culinary possibilities.

Her golden rule of employing spices is use only the freshest. Shop at Indian stores where there is consistent turnover, she advises.

“I feel like you must always buy your spices whole and ground them yourself, not those jars sitting in the cabinet for four or five years. I see these big trophy kitchens and the spices are in jars,” Jaisinghani declares with disapproval.

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Freshly ground spices take the lead in Pondicheri chef Anita Jaisinghani’s inaugural cookbook, ‘Masala.’ (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

Jaisinghani recommends that beginners start with four basic spices — tumeric, chili powder, black pepper, cumin and coriander and then add a few aromatics such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves. Of these, tumeric and chili power are the only pre-ground that she buys. When using the coffee grinder at home, the chef does a mere half cup or less at a time insuring freshness whenever she cooks.

Readers will find those spices prevalent in a full variety of recipes in sections that feature street foods, rice dishes, breads, vegetables, pancakes and eggs, drinks and desserts, and recipes for a full array of Indian condiments.

Freshly ground spices take the lead in Pondicheri chef Anita Jaisinghani's inaugural cookbook, 'Masala.' (Photo by Johnny Autry)
Freshly ground spices take the lead in Pondicheri chef Anita Jaisinghani’s inaugural cookbook, ‘Masala.’ (Photo by Johnny Autry)

Masala is just the start for Jaisinghani.

“I feel like I have found a bit of a voice and I want to explore that more, so more books and more writing,” she says of what is clearly a talent. Her publisher is pleased that Masala, only in its first few weeks, out is off to great start.

Currently, Jaisinghani is working on several book ideas as well as a number of products including dry masalas, sauces and snacks.

Masala is available at Pondicheri and on Amazon.

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