Anupy Singla is hoping to turn Indian cuisine into the next Mexican food.
Well, not exactly, but this best-selling cookbook author, mom and former broadcast journalist sees a real need for what she has to offer — expertise as a self-trained cook informed by emigrating from India at just age three.
Yet, her business, Indian as Apple Pie, is more than just a cute concept: it’s spices, recipes, cookbooks, a blog and, with any luck, the inspiration for a TV show.
Spices the Indian way
Singla, who lives in Chicago with her husband and two young daughters, says her business fills a niche, and she is shattering preconceptions.
That’s because many Americans just don’t get what Indian food is about, she claims; for example, we frequently confuse a curry with curry the spice, or douse dishes with the spice as a “Saturday Night Fever” character would his cologne.
“Some think curry powder is the essence of Indian cooking. I grew up never using curry powder, only for some specialized non-Indian [foods],” she says.
“The reason we don’t use it in cooking is it gives you one taste profile; you can’t change individual spices in each dish,” she says. “We like to vary how much cumin seed or how much coriander is used, depending on the main ingredient. [Curry gives a] very flat sort of taste, and we also prefer to take our spices to heat them in oil to extract those essential oils and really pull the flavor out.”
She says there are a few key spices one must keep on the shelf — cumin seeds (not powder), turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chile powder, garam masala (this is a blend, but found almost everywhere now), and black or brown mustard seeds — to enable one to make every basic Indian dish.
Singla adds that, “If you would like to add the next layer in terms of flavor and spice, purchase green cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and black cardamom pods. This last one I’ve only ever found at an Indian grocer but it lends a real authentic flavor to Indian dishes.” (Black cardamom pods are available on Singla’s website.)
Singla’s Red Chile Powder adds “zing” to potato salad or deviled eggs, claimed a reporter for Parade. And this reporter used Singla’s Chaat Masala, a blend of many spices, on baked chicken with garlic and olive oil.
However, according to the label it’s more often used on vegetables with a spritz of lemon or on salads with onion. An Indian American gentleman later told me that my choice of using it on chicken was a bit odd, and says it’s not a spice that’s cooked with meat; the perfect use is, indeed, to shake some lightly over vegetables or salads.
However one enjoys it, though, the strong jolt of an Indian spice is akin to turning up the volume on Beethoven’s Fifth. It doesn’t take much to fully appreciate.
“I think one thing a lot of folks do in this country is try to go too far ahead, with fusion [for example], [and] with Indian spicing and, say, ‘sauté a cumin seed to a certain point’” before they’ve even added other spices. “So it becomes kind of a muddy flavor.”
Singla adds, “They [most Americans] don’t realize that Indian food is so easy to make. It is really less about the slicing and dicing than it is [with] some cuisines, like French. It is more about the spices — so once you get a handle on which spices to use [you’ll be fine].”
Who will buy?
American immigrants queried at Whole Foods in Milford, Conn. agreed with that assessment, and smiled. They said that in general, Indian food made here in the States isn’t spicy enough.
That said, the wife added, “If someone says they’ll make American food for us with Indian spices, I will eat it.”
She says she appreciates the inroads Singla is obviously making, or trying to make, even though she reckons the concept is designed more to appeal to Americans and Indian Americans than people such as themselves.
For example, she thought the title “Indian as Apple Pie” showed how it is more American-focused, considering how much sugar is consumed in this country. They get their spices from a store in Norwalk, Conn. and generally make most meals at home, yet she said she would definitely check out Singla’s products.
And if the IAP maven has her way, she’ll convince not only this couple but Indian food lovers of all backgrounds.
From the airwaves to the kitchen
Singla, who never went to culinary school, learned her magic in the home, from both her mother and grandfather, who hail from the Punjab region of India. Singla was raised in Philadelphia.
“The impetus for my business is two girls, 11 and 9,” she says. “I basically started cooking up a storm mainly because I had two little girls and I was a morning TV reporter in the Chicago market.”
She was a very successful reporter at that, working for CLTV, and one of her key reports was coverage of the tragic Dec. 2005 Chicago airport plane crash. Her story was picked up by CNN and played around the world.
Yet, despite such high profile success she says her “intense schedule” was getting to her. She would come home and see that her little girls “were just eating this soggy broccoli. I loved my nanny, but she didn’t know how to cook. I wanted to instill the same values [with which I had been raised].”
So she made a bold move. “I asked if I could take a little bit of a break and see if I could work on this cookbook concept.”
That was 2007. In 2009 she started the Indian as Apple Pie blog, then by 2010 the mail order business was off and running. Now that those same little girls are getting older, Singla’s ready to blend her broadcast career with her flourishing Indian spice and cooking business.
In her third book, Indian for Everyone: The Home Cook’s Guide to Traditional Favorites, published this October, she shows how to go beyond rice and paneer, which she says “is the equivalent of ricotta”, while remaining traditional. Focusing on easy preparation tailored for everyone, she adapts recipes for making a meal vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, too.
She’s also entertaining the idea of opening her own cooking school/eatery, perhaps inspired by her work teaching cooking classes at Chicago Whole Foods, Lincoln Park, where she will be periodically through December.
At one class, for example, she touts: “You’ll feel like you’re eating from a street vendor in Delhi when you taste an Indian aloo tikki (spiced potato patty).” And she will show “exactly which spices to use and how to top off your tikki with the perfect cooling combination of tamarind-date chutney.”
So what about opening her own restaurant?
“Oh, no,” says the pretty brunette with a laugh. “I’m not a restaurateur.”