I Am from Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef
One of the things I've been thinking about lately is how the publishing industry is just pumping out excellent cookbooks that speak to the experiences of first-generation and second-generation immigrants in the United States.
In the end, these explorations always beg another round of philosophizing on the question of, "What IS American cuisine?" Southerners also love nothing more than a good navel-gaze along similar lines, "What is Southern food?" Vishweth Bhatt confronts these questions straight on in "I Am From Here" by placing traditional Southern ingredients at the center of his ever-evolving immigrant identity within the South.
What results is a collection of recipes that will allow readers to better see, taste, and understand the culinary connections that immigrant families so often make when integrating the flavors of their birthplace with those of their new home. It also happens to be an erudite treatise that we, as Americans, have a fairly rudimentary understanding of Indian food, ingredients, and flavors. While this might seem like a bit of a downer for a cookbook, let me also insist that this book is highly inspirational and optimistic - inspiring folks to get into the kitchen and play and optimistic that we'll all be the better for it. There is so much goodness in this book on so many levels.
From the Publisher:
One of the South's best chefs invites you to grill, stew, and fry your own way to a more expansive and delicious dinner.
A Vishwesh Bhatt dish conjures an evolving American South. Peanut Masala–Stuffed Baby Eggplant alongside fried okra, tossed in tangy chaat masala. Collard-Wrapped Catfish with a spicy Peanut Pesto. These much-loved dishes are stars on the menu at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, where Bhatt has been the executive chef since 2009, earning him Best Chef: South (2019 James Beard Awards) and induction into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs in 2022. His food draws from his Indian heritage and is unpretentious, inventive, and incredibly delicious.
I Am From Here organizes 130 recipes by ingredient, emphasizing staples, spices, and vegetables that are as beloved on the Indian subcontinent as they are in the American South. Summer means okra, tomatoes, corn, and peas. Winter brings sweet potatoes and greens: mustards, collards, kale, and spinach. Rice is a constant throughout.
Bhatt vividly recounts the special meals cooked by his mother and grandmother's vegetarian comfort food such as Khichadi, custardy rice pudding, and Stewed Gujarati-Style Black-Eyed Peasand presents them alongside dishes he's shared with friends, colleagues, and family across the decades. Recipes run the gamut from uncomplicated roast chicken and Citrus-Herb Rice Salad to dinner party–worthy Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Tandoori Spices.
Writing for the home cook, Bhatt includes recipes for making your own spice mixes, including a versatile chaat masala. A mix-and-match meal-planning guide will help you pair dishes for different occasions. And every ingredient is within reach even if you're cooking far away from the warmth of Mississippi. This cookbook thoughtfully, and persuasively, expands notions of what it means to be, and cook like, a Southerner today.