There's something tantalizing about Indian food: the slow-simmered sauces, dazzling colors and aromatic spices. But the first time you cook a curry at home, chances are you make 12 trips to a specialty market before cooking all day – or so we thought, until Ruta Kahate showed us the way.
Born in Maharashtra, India, this cooking instructor, cookbook author and restaurateur leads a globetrotter's life. Kahate came to California nearly 20 years ago with dreams of going to aviation school and becoming the first female pilot for India's international airline.
But she soon found herself on a completely different path. These days, the 43-year-old writer splits her time between the Bay Area and Goa in India, leading culinary tours, developing recipes and teaching cooking classes – and raising two young daughters with her husband. And there's no time in her life for all-day food prep or long, luxurious dinners.
So it's no wonder that her latest cookbook is dubbed "Quick-Fix Indian" (Andrews McMeel, $16.99, 208 pages), nor that it's filled with shortcuts and tricks for infusing plenty of flavor in very little time. Naturally, we had questions.
Tell us about Goa and what you're doing there.
It's a tiny little state on the west coast of India. It's paradise. We live in a tiny village in the rice bowl of India, between a paddy and a river – and the beach is 20 minutes away. All in all, it's not a bad deal! We were supposed to be back (in Berkeley) last year, but we're trying to build a house and eventually a culinary center, and we opened a restaurant. It got really busy. But we're spending the entire summer here, a stone's throw from our old 'hood, Rockridge.
What inspired "Quick-Fix Indian"?
I had been plotting a very different book, more of a travelogue, but to be perfectly honest, my agent called and said, do you want to write this? You know, this is exactly how I cook these days, this crazy life I lead. I want to do everything possible in this one lifetime, but I'm broadsided – you can't quite do everything you did when you have little ones.
The emphasis here is on shortcuts and speedy meal prep, which is certainly reflected in your chapter titles – Brisk Breakfasts, Snappy Staples, Rapid Relishes. What prompted all that amusing alliteration?
I was sitting on a beach, thinking hmm, I'm supposed to work. (Laughs) I was sipping rum and Coke and then, chapters!
We'll never underestimate the inspirational power of a cocktail again. Let's talk about that Curries in a Hurry chapter. How on earth do you get a long-simmered, ingredient-rich curry on the table in 30 minutes?
Curry can mean different things to different parts of India, from a saucy dish to dishes that are slow-cooked. Layering of flavors generally is what takes time. But there are shortcuts: cutting your meat into smaller pieces than you normally would, using canned chickpeas, having garlic paste, garam masala on hand – to use minimally. I don't like to garam masala all my dishes because then they end up like an Indian buffet.
The book is dedicated to your little daughters. Confess now, any picky eaters in the bunch?
When my children were born, I thought, my kids are never going to eat plain white food. That will not be allowed! I had my baby chewing garlic, ginger and coconut when she was just sitting up. Good lord! What was I doing to this child? Of course, Lola went through a phase, "If it's a carb, thank you, that's all I need."
But she got over it?
I told her, "Now you're old enough. No more tongue scraping and no more gagging and no more looking at me like I'm feeding her seaweed." Which I also did. I have to say the struggles have completely gone. She's evolved and I'm very proud.
Sushi, Korean food, super spicy red sauce, I look over and Mira and Lola are chomping them down.
What are your family's favorite dishes from the book?
The Andhra chicken curry, and I love the green pepper potato sauté. Green peppers are so underutilized, and a lot of grown-ups I know don't like green pepper.
That's so wrong.
Utterly! Shall we do a menu? The Andhra curry, the green pepper sauté, pilaf, black pepper shrimp with curry leaves – it's one of my latest hot favorites – pickled cucumber and carrot salad.