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Rakhee is from India and lives in Holland and her life’s goal is to be more adventurous in trying new foods. On her blog, Boxofspice, Rakhee incorporates Indian spices in many of her recipes and shares her food creations as she navigates through her relatively new passion of food.
I’m so happy to have Rakhee Yadav of Boxofspice here on the show today.
(*All images below are Rakhee’s.)
On Her View of Food:
I grew up in India as you know and I wasn’t really encouraged to be in the kitchen or to cook. Because India is such a different culture, mostly in the middle class, which is how we were, food is cooked by someone else. A cook will come in, we had a lot of help and my mum was particularly finicky about her space. So I was not ever allowed in, so I think food for me was something that mum did.
We ate really only Indian food, and I’m a vegetarian and I was an extremely finicky eater. So there wasn’t a wide variety of food. I always said growing up that for me food was about surviving. I didn’t really enjoy food that much. I was sick a lot, it was just bland food.
It was really in my 20s that I began to somewhat experiment, and by experimenting I mean a little more spice in my food. I would not say no to everything. So food, yeah, food was not on my radar of fun things.
I was sick a lot, so I had a lot of tummy problems. I was not allowed to eat a lot of spices. So food was not an adventure, it was just something I ate to stay alive. That’s really how . . . it sounds very dramatic but that’s how I felt.
I think most bloggers would say that they love to cook or food was very interesting to them, therefore they began the blog. For me it was quite the opposite. I think it was because of the blog that I discovered that I could cook and not just that I could cook, but I did a pretty decent job of it. There were happy faces all around and that’s a big gratification factor I think for any cook, is to see the joy on someone’s face when they’re eating your food.
I never thought I could cook. I always thought I was a bad cook in fact, so for me to suddenly discover, and that’s what’s so funny about life, where it takes you … Boxofspice made me get out there and try new things and experiment with food and that’s how I realized I can cook.
On How She Learned to Cook:
When I moved away from India I was forced to cook. I lived in the US for a few years and suddenly there was no one, there was no back up, and even in the US again, it was very functional. Food was functional, but I realized that I had absorbed a lot of what my mother did for me, or made for me, and that’s really the basis of where it all began.
The rest is research, research, research, and recently I have decided to take the blog in a slightly different direction to where it is now. I want to explore the Indian aspect because Indian food is so varied. I have not even scratched the surface. So yeah, it’s research. It started from a base point and then building on that, from blogs, from cookbooks, from every source that I can find.
On India and Holland Influencing Her Cooking:
I grew up only eating Indian food. I mean literally. I think the first foreign food that I tried was pasta, and that was when I was 29. So I grew up purely on Indian food and really I did not want to try anything because Indian food is so vast.
Again, I was not experimenting at all with food at that time. I think the challenge in Holland is that I don’t get all the ingredients here, so the challenge is how to turn an Indian dish into an Indian dish, but with a limitation of ingredients. That’s where the Dutch aspect comes in. I have never heard of kale before I came here. So those kinds of things, like using kale instead of something else that was Indian. That is the kind of fusion that comes about in my food now, which is out of necessity and not really because I want to do fusion but because I have to.
On How Food is Enjoyed and Shared in India Compared to Holland:
I think everything that happens in India happens around food. We live in large families in India. You’re never really alone in India, and everything revolves around food, whether it’s tea time or lunch time or dinner time, and we as opposed to Holland, we eat three warm meals in India.
The women usually are always in the kitchen cooking and it’s always fresh meals. You will never have leftovers and stuff like that but in Holland again, it’s functional, breakfast is bread, lunch is bread. So it’s slapped on cheese and bread is put together just because it needs to be done, it’s lunch, done. And dinner really is the time when the family will come together. That is not the way in India. India is really . . . and when you see a table, even if it’s a regular meal in India, you will have four or five things to eat. It’s a lavish spread but in Holland again, not the case.
Dutch meals revolve around meat and since I’m vegetarian, that obviously cannot happen. And the minute you take the meat out, all you are left with is mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables. So there’s very little spices involved in Dutch food, and for me, my food has to be pretty. Being a picky eater I needed my food at least to be pretty, and I think that’s what I try and achieve with my photography for the blog.
On Her Blog:
I think three years ago, that’s how nearly old it is, I had a ridiculous amount of time on my hands then. I’m trained as a graphic designer and I’m used to crazy hours and working really like crazy, and suddenly I was at a creative dead end, so to say. Again, food was not really that important to me then but design and photography are my life. So for me, I think the food kind of brought it all together, and why a food blog you might say? I think even at that point food was not really the deciding factor. I wanted to see if I could do food photography. So food was kind of by the way. It is only in the course of these three years that food has become . . . it really is an obsession at this moment and photography as important as it is has taken somewhat of a back seat.
Food I feel is not so different than photography because both are . . . I think it’s a lifelong process of learning, and I love the fact that I don’t know it all. I love the fact that I have so much to learn and the excitement and the adventure in finding out. I think that’s what keeps me going with the blog.
Sometimes I look at an ingredient in the supermarket which is seasonal and I may say, “Hey, that looks interesting. I have never used that before, I wonder how I can use it.” I will then go back to my computer and research how many possible ways I can use that particular ingredient, which will be the star of the dish. I’m extremely close to my mother and she was a brilliant cook. So I want to revive the dishes that she used to make. With the ingredients that are available to me here I want to see how I can do that or change it around a little bit so that it becomes mine.
On Becoming More Adventurous with Food:
I would still say I’m far from adventurous. I’m trying very hard and when it comes to trying anything vegetarian or even vegan I will try it absolutely. In the past it would have been a big no, but what I’m trying now is that even with meats I at least try it. I think that is something that is developed because of my daughter. Because that’s what I tell her. “At least try it.” If you hate it, we’ll put it aside, we’ll come back to it maybe a year later. I want to practice what I preach, so I do try but I’m definitely not there yet.
I have bad associations with meat, but I do eat chicken only if I make it at home. So yeah, it’s still a process. It’s baby steps.
I think in India we are kind of rice snobs, that’s what they call us. I would not eat any other rice but basmati rice. That’s a long grain, it really is fluffy when it’s ready and it’s just as beautiful rice. Risotto to me was just like . . . I looked at it and I was like “what is this rice?” It looks like it’s bad quality rice, but obviously that’s not true. And when I tried it, it’s one of my favorite dishes today.
How to Start Becoming More Adventurous with Food:
I think the people who are finicky are scared and I am scared and I think the biggest thing is to face your fear. It really is not that bad. I’ll give you an example. I recently tried cold cuts. For years I have looked at cold cuts and I thought I don’t understand what the deal is. It doesn’t look appetizing, but when I tried it, because this friend of mine said “try it for God’s sake, you may surprise yourself,” and I did and I have to tell you Gabriel, I was shocked because it was good.
So just go out on a limb and just put it in your mouth. What’s the worst that can happen? You hate it, or you spit it out, that’s really the worst that can happen.
And you never have to try it again. I can assure you that most often, at least in my case, I have tried it again, I want to try it again and it leads to other things.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I like to watch MasterChef just because I’m completely in awe of how the people are just able to make stuff out of nothing because that’s not my process. I think I would suck at that. So I love watching that, people who are so creative and just so brilliant. So yeah, I think that’s one show and I do like to watch Jamie Oliver Quick Meals.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I did just stumble upon a new blog recently, it’s called Oatgasm. It has the most beautiful photography, and the writing is just poetic, and she is just 17. You have to look at this website.
And of course there is Linda Lomelino. She’s a hero for any baker out there. So she influences me a lot in terms of the kinds of things she puts together, the pairings and also the photography. And there’s one more – Smitten Kitchen. I admire her immensely because for her it’s not only about the photographs at all, it’s just the recipe and that’s just fantastic.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
I’m not a big social media person. I think I just got on Instagram a couple of months ago. I follow a few people but I don’t really watch out for any particular ones. I’m just drawn by a particular style of photography and I do that every day. So I look out for new people every day and I think because I’m so new to Instagram, I’m following new people every day. I don’t have anyone specific.
On Facebook I have a few like Will Frolic For Food, Our Food Stories. I think food blogs that are so organic, the ingredients are so beautiful, and the way they put it together is so beautiful. It’s not contrived, it all seems so natural. I like that about them.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I think it’s my handheld mixer. I refuse to buy a kitchen machine. I do every possible thing with that hand mixture. I go through them pretty fast, I have a new one every few months.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Maybe it’s not an ingredient but a vegetable. I used to hate spinach, I’d refuse to eat spinach and I love it now.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I don’t really read cookbooks. That may sound really odd, but I think most of my stuff comes from talking to my mother or online food blogs.
Every week I say I’m going to go out and buy a cookbook because I see a lot of the blogs doing that, and I know I can learn a lot but I just . . . remember Gabriel, this is very still new to me, so I’m still in the process of trying everything.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
It would of course be John Mayer’s newest album, Paradise Valley. I love every song on that album. I just want to have a glass of wine in my hand and be cooking away.
On Keeping Posted with Rakhee:
I think the best way is Facebook or Instagram. I’m also on Pinterest. I’m not that active. I’m trying to be. It’s just an effort for me, but the best way really is Facebook and Instagram.