When chef Maneet Chauhan came to the U.S. from India 16 years ago, she experienced culture shock in many forms.
She wasn’t prepared for the wind and cold in Chicago where her sister lives. She was amazed by the portion sizes at American restaurants. And she was bothered by her experience taking classmates at the Culinary Institute of America to an Indian restaurant for dinner.
“I was really disappointed that people took such a beautiful cuisine and translated it into something it was not,” Chauhan said.
That horrible meal, which struck her as the antithesis of the fresh, seasonal Indian food that she knew, gave her career a direction.
“I became very passionate about telling people about what Indian food is all about,” Chauhan said. “It started as a personal crusade and ended up as a professional crusade.”
You may know Chauhan, 37, from her frequent appearances as a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped.” Her first cookbook, “Flavors of My World,” has just been released. She has two local events Sunday: a book signing at Chapel Hill’s Southern Season and a dinner at Raleigh’s Bida Manda restaurant.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute, Chauhan became executive chef at Chicago’s Vermillion restaurant, known for its Indian cuisine with a global twist. She helped open a second location in New York, and along the way competed on “Iron Chef” and “The Next Iron Chef.” Her appearances caught the attention of the producers of “Chopped,” and led to her regular gig as a judge. She hopes to open a gastro pub in Nashville later this year where she will pair Indian small plates with craft beers.
Despite her busy career and being married with a 20-month-old daughter, she found time to write her first cookbook aimed at introducing Indian flavors to familiar dishes. In Chauhan’s book, Britain’s classic fish and chips are flavored with ginger, cumin and other Indian spices. She does the same with Hungarian goulash, Irish soda bread and Italian risotto.
“I wanted people to see that Indian techniques can be translated into something that you know,” she said.
Chapter by chapter, she transforms recipes from 25 countries. And her culinary makeovers are not limited to food; she adds Indian flavors to cocktails from each country. There’s a Masala Coke Cuba Libra, which combines a masala-spiced Coca-Cola and the Cuban classic of rum and coke. There’s also an Indian summer Pimm’s garnished with slices of lemon, mango, star fruit and cucumber.
About the cookbook’s unusual attention to drinks, Chauhan said, “In this industry, it is eating and drinking. I think one without the other is incomplete.”
To see printable versions of the recipes, click on links below:
POUR cream into small saucepan. Split the vanilla beans into halves lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream. Add the pods. Heat the cream until it steams. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pods.
HEAT oven to 300 degrees. Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light in color. Stir in about one-fourth of the cream. Pour all of the egg yolk mixture into the cream in the saucepan and mix well.
COMBINE condensed milk, yogurt and cardamom in a bowl. Fold into the egg mixture.
DIVIDE custard among 12 (4-ounce) ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking dish. Add enough water to the baking dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the centers are barely set. Chill in the refrigerator. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and pistachios to serve. Yield: 12 (4-ounce) servingsSpicy Coconut Ouzo From “Flavors of My World,” by Maneet Chauhan and Doug Singer (Southwestern Publishing Group, 2013). 2 ounces coconut milk 1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced peeled ginger 2 slices serrano chile with seeds 1 teaspoon sugar 3 tablespoons lime juice 1 ounce ouzo 2 ounces coconut water Roasted coconut flakes, for garnish
MUDDLE coconut milk, ginger and chile in a tall, thin glass. Add the sugar and lime juice and mix well. Fill the glass with ice. Add the ouzo and stir to combine. Add the coconut water. Garnish with coconut flakes. Yield: 1 drink