Blogger Kulsum Kunwa of Journey Kitchen is on something of a crusade. Indian fare, as she knows it, is so much more diverse than the indulgent dishes that most outsiders are accustomed to. In her world, this spice-laden, fragrant cuisine is equally light and healthy – and she wants everyone to know. Born in India and now living in Kuwait with her husband and daughter, Kulsum takes inspiration from her mother’s fine traditional cooking to give modern spins to the recipes she lovingly creates and shares on Journey Kitchen. Think shortbread made with ghee, cumin and pepper, a twist on English teatime; a striking salad of red curry, quinoa and paneer; and light vegetarian zucchini koftas. She also looks abroad in delectable desserts like Turkish-inspired baklava ice-cream sandwiches. The self-taught photographer takes luscious food pics too, which she partners with stories of daily life in the Middle East and the memories of her food-filled childhood back home.
"For most people, Indian food is limited to the realms of curries and North Indian fair, which is really not what Indian food is all about. With knowledge of spices, you can create meals that are healthy, easy and quicker to make than you would think. In my life, my mother is the pioneer of modern Indian cooking. She didn’t have a degree or training in cooking, but she had a great understanding of Indian food and ingredients, which gave her the confidence to innovate. And to innovate is to reinforce our roots, not move away from it.
"For example, when she made apple halwa, she would serve it with whipped cream and crumbled orange cake. Apple halwa, like most halwas, can be a tad sweet and one can’t eat a lot of it, but that pairing of light-as-air cream and citrus made it so moreish! Or her black pepper chicken with pickled baby onions served on a bed of roasted tomatoes. I sometimes wonder how she came up with the combinations, especially in her time when cookbooks and TV shows where almost non-existent. This selection of recipes reflects my own take on modern Indian food, food that we all can make at home."
I started my blog to… Once I started cooking, I couldn’t stop talking about food, textures and flavour combinations. I soon realised that not everyone, including my friends, loved to spend their weekends doing the same thing! So my husband suggested I write a blog and I did. Over the years, my blog has become my creative outlet. Modern Indian food can be part of anyone’s daily diet and is not something you need to save for special occasions. I hope I can send out that message with my blog.
The must-cook recipe on my website is… It’s tough to choose, but if we went for easiest and most satisfying, it would be my zaatar, fried haloumi and olive sandwich. My readers love my ‘how to make paneer’ post the most, while friends say they love my chicken jalfrezi.
I can’t wait to go back to… Antiochia in Istanbul to eat nar ekşili cevizli közbiber, a relish of red and green peppers in a sweet and tangy pomegranate dressing topped with crushed crunchy walnuts. I could live on this dip. Everything else we had there was great, too.
My current food obsession is… Huevos rancheros. And all things Mexican.
Eating… Chickpeas and potatoes in spicy tamarind sauce takes me back to my little hometown, where a long cue forms when the only seller shows up on his wooden blue cart. He always sells out in less than an hour.
Nugget of cooking wisdom… Touch everything. Feel your produce, meat, spices and salt. The texture and feel of things can be a great guiding tool.
I learnt to cook from… Many people. While most of my understanding of Indian food comes from what I saw my mother and mother-in-law cook, I’m consistently learning from travel and dining experiences, friends and bloggers.
When I go back to my home town… Galiakot, Rajasthan, the first thing I eat is spicy, tangy, red-hued potatoes made by my mum. It’s often eaten with something crisp, like fried chips, on side. It’s carb galore!
Friends always ask me to cook my… Pistachio and saffron kulfi ice-cream.
The one thing I can’t cook is… Gnocchi. I have succeeded only a couple of times.
If I ever met… Donna Hay, I would ask her to make me her apprentice!
I always have… Zaatar, ghee, pickled onions with nigella seeds, my mum’s lemon, carrot and date pickle, canned chickpeas and tahini in my pantry; Turkish labne, homemade ginger-garlic paste, sriracha, tamarind chutney and some form of fresh homemade pesto in my fridge; and frozen peas, filo pastry, fresh shredded coconut, frozen berries and a tub of homemade vanilla ice-cream in my freezer.
My favourite biscuit to dunk in a cup of tea is… Fennel rusks that my grocer sources from a small cottage factory in India.
My most sauce-splattered cookbook is… One I have been cooking quite a bit from recently is Jamva Chaloji’s More Parsi Delicacies to Tickle your Palate. It’s a very casual book (without photos), but the personality of the writer just oozes from the recipes. It’s a keeper.
The most difficult food to shoot/style and make look tasty is… Scrambled eggs. I think they can look quite plain and unappealing unless paired with prettier breakfast things.
Beyond my own blog, some of my favourites reads are… Rachel Eats; her writing always transports me to Rome, a world I have never been to. Happy yolks and The Spice Spoon for their thought-provoking writing. Top it with Cinnamon and Call me Cupcake for always tempting my sweet tooth. Indian Simmer, My Darling Lemon Thyme and Poires au Chocolat for the best recipes.
Top picks from Journey Kitchen
Blog Appétit Editor Yasmin Newman
Blog Appétit is our curated list of go-to food blogs we love, with a focus on high-quality photography, trusted recipes, strong editorial themes and a unique voice and personality. View previous Blog Appétit entries.