Slow cookers are usually associated with flaccid pot roasts and bland stews, but a critically-acclaimed cookbook suggests the standby appliances are the perfect devices for producing curried spinach, chicken tikka masala and green lentil porridge.
"A lot of people don't associate flavor with slow cookers," says Anupy Singla, author of The Indian Slow Cooker, who will appear in Seattle this weekend. "Those associations never resonated with me."
Singla's mother purchased a slow cooker soon after immigrating to the U.S., and frequently used it to prepare traditional Indian dishes. "I always thought slow cooker food was fragrant," Singla says. Her mother's recipes served as the foundation for her book, which she wrote in hopes of reaching both non-Indian cooks who haven't previously experimented with curry and cumin and Indian cooks who are reluctant to deviate from traditional preparation methods.
"It's amazing how some folks can't get past the paradigm," Singla says of tradition-bound cooks who protest her recipes ignore the primal importance of tarka, a cooking technique in which spices are fried in hot oil or ghee. According to Singla, eliminating the time-consuming step doesn't adversely affect flavor. While the stove top is still essential for making paneer and browning onions, she believes nearly every Indian classic is suitable for slow-cooking. "My dad joked about making roti in a slow cooker, and I'm still determined," she says.
As for the non-Indian audience, Singla's fighting generations of Indian food being "relegated to this exotic category." While versions of Chinese and Mexican dishes have been served in white households for nearly a century, Indian food rarely figures into American-born cooks' standard repertoires. As John T. Edge last week wrote in the New York Times, a new generation of entrepreneurs is developing Chipotle Grill-style roti houses as a way of wedging Indian food into the dining-out mainstream. Singla is trying to perform a similar trick in home kitchens.
"People believe Indian food has to be spicy with lots of cream, lots of oil," Singla says of the misconceptions borne from the buffet lines which have been big city staples since the 1970s.
Restauranteurs not only burdened Indian cuisine with oil and heavy cream - they overcharged for it, Singla says.
"In this country, restaurants have taken Indian food to such a high price point," she says. "We refuse to pay $12 for a bowl of lentils. Chinese restaurants have overcome that."
Finally, Singla thinks Indian food's reputation has suffered from not having a charismatic spokesperson. "I don't think there's been a go-to Indian-American voice," she says.
With her book (and forthcoming title on vegan Indian cooking), Singla, a former journalist, is angling to emerge as that voice. In addition to writing Singla teaches cooking classes, leads culinary tours and is now promoting a stainless-steel spice tiffin on her blog, Indian as Apple Pie. The container's also for sale at Williams-Sonoma; She'll be at the Bellevue location on Saturday afternoon.
"People want somebody who can explain Indian food," Singla says.
Singla will be at the Book Larder on Sunday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.