Over 25 years of cooking in India, Hong Kong and the US have taught Ruta Kahate that keeping food simple and healthy is the best bet.
She follows this guideline at her restaurant, Ruta’s Vibrant Indian Café, at Crossroads Collective on Milwaukee’s East Side, where she serves curry bowls, naanwitches (sandwiches made with naan bread), baked goods with an Indian twist, and unique drinks; and her most recent cookbook, “6 Spices, 60 Dishes” (Chronicle Books, $24.95) in which she presents dishes with an Indian twist that are healthy, easy to prepare, and can fit on any menu. .
Kahate, who lives in Shorewood with her husband and two daughters, said she follows the principles of Ayurveda in her cooking.
“The main objective of Ayurveda is the correct digestion, assimilation and elimination of the food you eat. And for this to happen, it recommends a balanced diet, which of course seems obvious. But Indian cuisine achieves this balance through fresh ingredients and the use of spices to help digestibility in food.
“I am not a trained Ayurvedic practitioner, but having grown up with these principles, I know how to combine ingredients to achieve an optimal diet. I seek a balance of the six flavors identified by Ayurveda (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, astringent) in each food, this is achieved by using the properties of the ingredient itself or by adding that element or flavor using a spice.
“In my cafeteria I like to serve healthy, light and fresh-tasting curries and nanwitches, and achieve that Ayurvedic balance in each dish by serving sides of fresh and pickled vegetables, chutneys and condiments alongside each dish,” he said.
Kahate, who opened her restaurant in 2021 during the pandemic, said she also uses these principles in her cookbook recipes because they result in food that is not only healthy but also delicious.
More:Ruta’s, a cafe with Indian flavors, will open at Crossroads Collective in Milwaukee in April
A long learning journey.
He learned to cook at a young age from his parents; especially her mother, whom she said was an “extremely versatile and curious cook.” She described her mother’s meals as high in fresh vegetables and low in meat.
Kahate was also introduced to different foods and cooking methods over the years as she lived and worked in the four corners of India; most recently in Goa, a tropical state in western India with coastlines along the Arabian Sea. She also lived in Hong Kong for two years, where she, although she did not cook professionally, was influenced by international cuisine. She also lived and worked in the California Bay Area.
Over the years, he has run a variety of restaurants, from small to large; she has run cooking schools, an organic farm, led culinary trips to India and has worked as a food consultant.
Kahate said she and her family moved to Milwaukee looking for a new adventure after living in California for more than 20 years.
“We were ready for the next change. We wanted a family-friendly and beautiful city. I also wanted the weather. I wanted snow,” she said.
“We loved Shorewood and the school system for our girls, and we loved the physical beauty of the city. We have always lived in beautiful places. The people here are also very friendly and the city has a very nice atmosphere.”
She said Milwaukee’s food scene was also a draw.
“The food scene reminded me of the Bay Area in the ’90s, when people were so excited about food. Now Milwaukee has that excitement,” she said.
Add ‘a little magical spice’
Kahate said the many places she has lived and cooked have given her ideas for recipes, some of which have been included in her recent cookbook. He has also written two previous books.
His first book was “Quick-Fix Indian” (Andrews McMeel Publishing); his second “5 Spices 50 Plates” (Chronicles).
In his book 5 Spices, he focused on the seasonings cayenne, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and mustard seed. His most recent book adds asafoetida to the list and has all new recipes.
“I didn’t use asafoetida in the first book because it was quite an esoteric spice. It wasn’t always available. … Now it’s available. It is one of my favorite spices.
“It is also called devil’s dung. … You can do so many things with it, and it packs a punch. Adding it to cruciferous vegetables or beans will make the ingredients less gassy. When I was pregnant and had gas problems, I swallowed some and it was instant relief. It’s a little magical spice for that.
“The other thing is its taste. If you add it to the oil, it has this amazing aroma, as well as the flavor of garlic and onion. … It gives you flavor and digestibility. I thought the time had come to introduce something a little quirky” into my recipes, he said.
In his book, he points out that this spice is so important to cooks in India that the country imports $9 billion a year.
Her recent book includes some recipes that use only one of the six spices, while others include all six. Some recipes also include Instant Pot cooking instructions; there are also serving tips and stories about her cooking experiences.
“This time I also wanted to show the Instant Pot because now everyone uses it. I want people to use this book every day. You can take a dish and add it to your daily repertoire and it will fit in beautifully.”
For Kahate, her restaurant and her cookbooks are family projects.
“I tried all the recipes in my cookbooks myself. I tasted the flavors with my family,” she said, adding that her daughters have been involved in her cooking projects since they were young and her husband, who works in advertising, is also involved.
Will there be a 7 spice 70 recipe book?
“Maybe. I have so many ideas that I could be writing another book right now,” he said.
Kahate will launch her book on February 3 at a cooking class at the public market. She will also be teaching a class on January 25 but that class is sold out. For more information, see: milwaukeepublicmarket.org.
More:The author of “Plant-Based India,” a Brookfield grad, knows quality diets. He is also a doctor.
More:Indian Diwali Food Traditions Travel the World (With the Help of a Wauwatosa Grocer)
Using four of the book’s six spices, this recipe combines lamb with beets, onions, and tomatoes for a hearty main dish.
roast lamb with beetroot
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Tested by Joanne Kempingerdemocrats
3 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt
1 green chile, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 pound leg of lamb, cut into 1½-inch pieces
1 small bunch (about 10½ ounces) beets with green leaves attached
2 tablespoons mustard oil (available at ethnic or Indian food stores)
2 cups sliced yellow onions
1½ cups finely chopped tomatoes
1 cup of water
In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, chili, coriander, ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne, cumin, and turmeric. Add the lamb and rub in the marinade well. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight. The longer the lamb marinates, the better.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Separate the greens from the beets and rinse well. Chop the vegetables finely. Set aside.
Peel and cut beets into 1-inch cubes. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the beets for 1 minute. Don’t let them cook all the way. Drain.
Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until dark brown, about 10 minutes. Add lamb and tomatoes and stir. Add beets, greens, and water. Transfer to a baking dish. Cover and bake 1 hour. Uncover and continue to bake until lamb is tender and sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.
This vegetarian side dish, made in a wok, uses three of the spices in the book; including asafoetida, which is the spice that Kahate did not include in his previous book on spices. Combine sorghum with vegetables to create a colorful dish.
Sorghum pilaf with purple cauliflower
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Tested by Joanne Kempinger Demski
1 cup whole sorghum
6 cups of water
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground turmeric, divided
½ head purple cauliflower (if not available, regular cauliflower can be used)
1 medium carrot
4 large kale, kale or cauliflower leaves
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon asafoetida (available at ethnic or Indian food stores)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped green chile
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Rinse the sorghum, add water to cover, and soak for 8 hours. Drain and place in a stockpot. Add the 6 cups of water, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until sorghum is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain any excess water.
Cut cauliflower into ¼-inch florets and carrots into ¼-inch pieces. Stack the sheets and cut them lengthwise in two, then roll them into a cylinder and cut crosswise into thin pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seed. When they are done splattering, add the asafoetida, the remaining ¼ teaspoon turmeric, and the onion, ginger, and chili. Sauté until onion has lightly colored, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cauliflower, carrots, greens, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover and steam until vegetables are crisp-tender, but still retain their bright colors. This can take anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes.
Add sorghum, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and lemon juice and mix gently but thoroughly. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. It can be stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for four to five days.