In this bi-weekly column, The Argus sits down with faculty and staff members to discuss their culinary background and preferences. The interviewee also has the opportunity to submit a recipe of their choice.
This week, Professor Tushar Irani of the College of Letters and Department of Philosophy spoke about his mother’s fish curry, why he’d like to share a meal with Gandhi, and more.
What kind of food were you raised on?
Mostly Indian food. My mom is a great cook, so she makes a lot of curries, daals, a lot of rice dishes. But I grew up in England….The English love their curries anyway, so Indian food you can find pretty much anywhere in England.
I had a lot of variety in my diet. So I actually love Italian food, too.
What’s something you always have in your fridge?
My kids devour milk, so that has to be in the fridge at all times. And a lot of other dairy products, [such as] yogurt. I like granola in the morning, so that’s often in the diet with some yogurt.
What food might people be surprised to learn you dislike?
Chocolate, which makes my family really happy because they have more of it for themselves….I just do not like chocolate, the taste of it. I’ve never liked it, not since I was a kid. But I like brownies, which is the strange thing. For some reason, I like baked chocolate, and I think it’s something about brownies having egg in them and the baked cocoa. It’s one of those cases where there’s a contradiction there, and my daughter is still trying to work it out….It’s why I don’t really trust judgments of taste, even my own. Because it seems as though it doesn’t make sense.
What’s your favorite cuisine, and why?
Indian food and Italian food a lot, a lot of those dishes….I like saucy foods, so I like curries a lot. North Indian food more than South Indian food. I like lasagnas a lot, cannelloni, ravioli….
What’s your favorite dish to make? To have others make for you?
It’s one of my mom’s dishes. It’s a traditional dish that she taught me how to make. It’s a fish curry….The curry base is flour, and then it has dill, coriander, cilantro, cumin seeds. It’s got a lot of stuff in it.
What’s your favorite study/work snack?
Granola and yogurt. Whenever I am in doubt about what to eat, I’ll just go for that.
What’s the best place to eat on or near campus?
I’ve only been to a couple of places [on campus], but I go to the faculty dining hall every so often….I’m in danger oftentimes of skipping lunches, so I’ll just grab a sandwich from the cafe downstairs in Usdan.
There are so many great places on Main Street. I’ve really started liking Cafe 56 on Court Street. Then there’s that new, or new-ish, pizza place, Krust, which is nice. And then there’s a nice Indian restaurant called Udupi [Bhavan]….Udupi’s has South Indian food, and it’s one of those cases where I actually enjoy their South Indian food.
If you could pick anyone across history, with whom would you most want to share a meal?
I’ve started reading recently more Gandhi. He’s someone who didn’t respect his body as much as you think people should….He just almost lived the life of an ascetic and went on these hunger fasts for political reasons, but there were also ways in which he sort of deprived himself of sexual needs as well as dietary needs.
And so there’s a sort of puzzle in [Gandhi’s] thought that interests me. I would like to know why there’s this sort of animosity that he had to the physical and the body.
Where do you look for recipes? Do you have a favorite cookbook?
I usually get them from friends, family. I have a couple cookbooks at home. Jamie Oliver is a British cook, and they’re sort of nice, quick recipes usually to make….I have an Epicurious app on my iPad, which I use every so often.
“Kitchree Saas” (Fish Curry) with Rice
2 large white fish filets
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 pod garlic, finely chopped
3-4 green chilis
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped dill
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 cups water
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
5 tbsp. raw sugar
Salt, to taste
3 cups basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. sunflower oil
3 curry leaves or lime leaves
1. In a large pot, fry 1 large onion (finely chopped) in sunflower oil (3-4 tbsp., enough to coat the bottom of the pot) together with 2 heaped tablespoons of cumin seeds till onions turn translucent.
2. Add 1 whole pod of garlic (finely chopped) to the pot and cook until translucent.
3. Add 3-4 chopped green chillies (more if you like — it depends on how spicy you’d like the curry). Add a handful of chopped cilantro and a handful of chopped dill. Stir constantly till aroma of freshly chopped ingredients rises.
4. Meanwhile, make a solution of 4 heaped tablespoons of white flour beat with 4 cups of water or more.
5. Add to the pan, stirring gently, constantly. Beat 2-3 eggs with 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar and (the killer ingredient) 5 tablespoons of raw sugar. Pour the egg-vinegar-sugar solution slowly in the curry, adding salt to taste. Extra amounts of vinegar and sugar can also be added to adjust taste.
6. When the curry’s thickened a bit, add fish gradually into the pan. White fish is good: I use 2 large fillets of cod or haddock, cut into 3-4 pieces.
7. Once the fish is added, try not to stir the curry with a spoon. If possible, shake the pot sideways so that the fish is cooked properly but doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add more chopped cilantro and dill and cover.
8. Cook the fish for up to 30 minutes on low to medium heat.
9. Separately, start cooking up a batch of basmati rice.
10. Fry the cinnamon, cloves, cumin, a teaspoon of turmeric, and curry leaves in a small pan with a dash (around 2 tsp.) of sunflower oil for two minutes. Add this to the rice while it’s cooking with some more chopped cilantro and dill. Serve with the curry.