Q: What was the genesis of the book’s foldout pages?
A: The idea came from my editor, Suzanne Rafer. She did the “Curries” book with me, and she’s brilliant. She said, “How do we set this book apart from everything else that’s in the bookstore?” And the book unfolds not only in a literal sense, but it also unfolds the simplicity of a complex cuisine that is 6,000 years old.
Q: There’s something almost TV-like about the way the book is designed, with step-by-step images. Are we going to be seeing you on television anytime soon?
A: That has always been a goal, to get into digital media, and I’m in the process of putting together videos with the book. I’ve been asked to be a part of food reality TV shows on three separate occasions, and I’ve politely turned them all down. Sure, you get your 15 minutes of fame, but then who remembers you? That’s not who I am as a brand.
Q: American cooks unfamiliar with Indian food will find a lot of common ground with many of your recipes — chips and salsa, potpies, cheesecake, brownies. This is Indian cooking?
A: People don’t realize that India has lived the talk of fusion for 6,000 years. With every foreign power invasion, we learned to incorporate different spices, different techniques.
Before the 16th century, we didn’t have tomatoes, or potatoes, or chiles, and they changed the entire culinary map of India. Now I go to some people’s homes, and they’re making mac-and-cheese, because they want to be like Americans. Of course they’re giving it a unique Indian spicing technique.
Q: How did you go about selecting the book’s recipes?
A: In a way it was easy because I knew that I would have to look at making traditional recipes easier, and I knew that I would be showcasing readily available ingredients.
Right now, beets are at the farmers market. The beet salad recipe in the book epitomizes flavors of northwest India, and the spicing is quintessentially southern India. The concept of a vinaigrette isn’t part of the Indian repertoire, but golden raisins go back to the Moghul emperors.
It’s all those taste elements that capture the way we eat in India: temperature, textures, colors, aromas. I love that recipe, and I’m not even a big beet fan.
Q: There’s a not-insignificant amount of cayenne pepper in that salmon recipe. Should that put the heat-sensitive on notice?
A: [Laughs]. Heat is a very personal taste element. One can say that it’s hot, and another can say that it’s bland. But I think it’s important that you use the amount of spice that I call for in the recipe.
When you’re using ingredients with textures, you have to dial up the flavor. The kale in the recipe is so textural, so hearty, and when you’re chewing something like that, you are generating saliva, and that dilutes flavors.