As a self-proclaimed foodie, I have always wanted to travel around the world and try different cuisines. Could you imagine dining in France or Italy? What an amazing experience it would be!
Neha Khullar, the founder of Food Moodz, LLC and Global Foodie Citizens, embarked on such a journey to travel the world and experience many delicious international dishes. She shares selected recipes from her ventures in her new cookbook Palate Passport.
In the introduction of Neha’s book, she writes:
“One thing was consistent throughout every phase of my travels and experiences. I learned that food brought everyone together regardless of religion, political views, salaries, or social status. It was a common ground that most people were open to discussing freely – the best thing they’ve eaten, what grandma or grandpa makes, the history of certain dishes.” — Palate Passport by Neha Khullar
For this week’s recipe, Neha so graciously shares with us her recipe for Tandoori Chicken. (You can find the recipe at the end of the post.)
Neha also shares her thoughts on why she believes food brings people together, the seasonings she can’t live without, and what she hopes readers will gain from reading and using Palate Passport. I hope you like Neha’s interview and you enjoy her Tandoori Chicken recipe!
Get your copy of Palate Passport here!
Good Life Detroit (GLD): Why do you think food brings people together?
Neha Khullar (NK): When I travel, I notice that vulnerabilities that are felt about being in a different location are eased when discussing foods with a local. Anyone from any religion, any race, any social status, or having any political viewpoint can discuss their favorite foods and where to eat them with a stranger.
There are times during my travel, where these conversations of food with a stranger has slowly turned that person into a friend and how beautiful is that? Beyond that, even in your hometown, cooking with my family and friends is a way that I bond with them. Eating together brings us closer and sometimes we’re discussing some other memorable meals while sharing our current meal!
GLD: Your book is about many different foods and recipes you discovered on your travels. How would you suggest people go about discovering food in their local city or state?
NK: Well, having an inquisitive nature helps in discovering new things – be it for food or anything else, wherever you may be. In your hometown, I would say, stop in the grocery store aisles that have some ingredients that you may not recognize. Spend some time reading the labels, and read more about the ingredient when you get home.
Visit ethnic markets. When I am in New York, there are so many options and places to visit to get all sorts of international ingredients. It’s one of the reasons why I love New York. But when I am in my hometown in Southern New Jersey, I go to the Asian supermarkets, the Mexican grocery stores, and others to see what different ingredients they have and what I could do with them. I don’t go with a purpose to get 10 items on my list. Instead, I go and look around as If I’m in a clothing store checking out what they have.
GLD: What are the ingredients/seasonings you cannot live without?
NK: There are a few items that I always have on hand:
(1) Fennel Seed – I make tea with it. I put it in marinara sauce. I put it in rice, or even eat it straight up. It has such a strong and balancing flavor, and a little goes a long way.
(2) Truffle Oil – It adds elegance to grilled cheese and soups with just a few drops.
(3) Togarashi – This is a Japanese spice blend that I use to rim margarita glasses or add into a sashimi salad.
(4) Ginger Garlic Paste – It’s a family recipe of ground ginger, garlic, and other spices that I use as a base for a lot of my Asian cooking. It’s all natural, and it shortens the cooking time significantly.
GLD: In your book, you share your favorite childhood recipe – Soy Sauce Chicken. You share with readers how special this recipe is to you because it reminds you of when your mom would cook it. I think it’s amazing how you were able to recreate your mother’s Soy Sauce Chicken recipe at the young age of 8-years-old! What advice would you give someone who wants to create their own recipe?
NK: I still can’t believe I cooked that at eight years old! It was a huge sign of my ability to not be afraid of the outcome of my cooking. That is exactly the advice I would give someone. Have fun with your cooking and try new things. Don’t be afraid to “mess up” a recipe while cooking because the only two things that you need to be careful about is the salt and chili pepper.
So you added too much cumin? Added too much lemon? Maybe add something a little sweeter to it like honey to balance it. Just play around with it. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. My book cover showcases just that.
GLD: I love the design and layout of your book. It is so colorful and the descriptions for each recipe makes me feel as I am reading a book and not just a cookbook. You share informative stories and personal ones about each recipe. It is such a beautiful way to show readers how you connect with each recipe. Why did you choose to feature such vibrant colors and beautiful stories for the recipes?
NK: I wanted to invite my readers on a journey with me through this book. When I travel, this is what I see and the things I learn. What excites me most is learning about the history of a country and then seeing how that history has brought about certain dishes. It’s like you can learn history and then taste it!
Taking in the Art of a country is something I do when I travel as well so I wanted to weave in artwork by local artists in the book, all of whom I’ve met during travels. When I close my eyes and think of the places I have traveled to, the images that you see in the book are the images that I see.
It was a very difficult task to coordinate getting photographs from different countries with the exact angles I wanted and all but, I made it happen! I was that passionate about sharing what I envisioned. Due to the time difference, I was up at various hours discussing specifications with photographers or someone who was coordinating that photography for me in that country but, it’s all been worth it!
GLD: On the back of Palate Passport, there is a lovely quote you share: “Travel the world using food as a compass.” What does this quote mean to you?
NK: One of the main things I travel to do is try local foods and learn about the history. Now I get to share it with my book! For the most part, I remember my travels based on what I ate in a country and the moments surrounding that dish.
I’ve done other things as well like, camp out under the stars in the Sahara, Sky Dive, Paraglide in South Africa, Canyoning in New Zealand, Cave Tubing in the rainforest. But honestly, what I remember is the food and the conversations I had with locals about it. I felt more connected to the culture and fully immersed in it during those experiences.
I encourage everyone to travel, speak to locals, learn the history and try the local foods with open arms. It really leaves an impact on me.
GLD: Where have you traveled to recently and what meal did you enjoy?
NK: Just recently, I drove up Pacific Coast Highway 1 and California certainly not only has a wealth of foods and wines that are grown there but also has fully embraced foods brought from neighboring countries and Immigrants.
I started my journey in San Diego and I’ve been to San Diego before but, for a very short time. This time, I spent more time there and got to meet an amazing chef, Jorge Fuentes, of MG Beyer Seafood. He hails from Tijuana, Mexico and has brought over so many culinary gems!
I sat with him for over an hour while he had me taste his favorites from his menu – I think I had the biggest oyster that I had ever had! It was sourced in Baja itself.
What blew me away was this Smoked Tuna Taco which he calls “Jamon of the Sea.” He sources the tuna from Mexico and does wonders with it in this taco. You get that smoky and salty flavor just like a cured pork or Jamon. I’ve got so many ideas for recipes that I want to create with that smoked tuna!
GLD: What do you hope readers will take away or learn from reading your cookbook Palate Passport?
NK: I hope that readers will feel as if they’ve traveled a little right from their own home. I understand not everyone can travel often and this book is my invitation to them.
I hope that the travelers look beyond the surface of what they see, who they meet and what they taste. Everything has a story and one of the main reasons we travel is to hear stories of others, be it history or their current way of life while creating our own stories in the process.
Get the recipe! Neha Khullar’s Tandoori Chicken recipe from Palate Passport**
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons garam masala*
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves*
1/2 inch knob of ginger – chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
2 tablespoons cilantro – chopped
1 beet – boiled and grated
1 pound chicken wings
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
*These can be found in South Asian grocery stores.
1 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the chicken.
3. Taste the marinade and adjust seasoning as desired. I tend to add more salt after I taste it.
4. Toss in the chicken. Make sure the yogurt marinade evenly coats each wing. Marinate the chicken for at least two hours in the refrigerator – overnight will yield the best results.
5. Stack a wire rack on a baking pan. This will give you crispy wings because the fat from the chicken will drain away.
6. Arrange the chicken wings on the wire rack and cook in the oven for about 40 – 50 minutes.
7. Serve with a cool mixture of yogurt, mint, salt, and cucumber!
Special thanks to Neha Khullar for sharing her Tandoori Chicken recipe and for sharing her thoughts on her new cookbook! You can get a copy of Neha’s book Palate Passport here.
**Tandoori Chicken recipe is used with permission by Neha Khullar.