the grub street diet

Priya Krishna Gets Strawberries Dropped on Her Desk

“I swear, cut fruit is Asian parents’ love language.”

“Dean Martin playing downstairs and a text from my mom means it is cocktail hour a little after 5:30.” Illustration: Margalit Cutler
“Dean Martin playing downstairs and a text from my mom means it is cocktail hour a little after 5:30.” Illustration: Margalit Cutler

If you are even remotely interested in food, you have seen Priya Krishna’s name, in the New York Times, here on Grub Street, in Lucky Peach, on the cover of her cookbook Indian-ish, as one of the most enjoyable follows on Instagram, and as a member of Bon Appétit’s vaunted Test Kitchen. She is, as the saying goes, everywhere, but these days she is also self-isolating. Food, however, remains central to her life, as you will see in this week’s installment of the Grub Street Diet.

Friday, April 3
So I came to Dallas for my dad’s birthday and a friend’s wedding about a month ago. My parents live here, and it’s where I spent most of my childhood. Long story short: I never left. Thirty minutes before my flight to New York was supposed to take off, I canceled my ticket because it felt irresponsible to travel. So I’m here for the time being.

My mornings have settled into a nice routine. I wake up around 6:45, go for a run or use my parents’ exercise bike from the 1980s, and then eat breakfast at my desk. Today it is a slice of my dad’s homemade bread (its distinguishing quality is the mind-blowing amount of fiber), toasted, with almond butter and strawberry jam. I will eat anything PB&J-adjacent, even just a bowl of straight-up nut butter and jam mixed together. We have been buying the same Smuckers strawberry preserves my entire life — you know, the one with the red-checkered top. I have tasted all the fancy jams, but Smuckers is far and away the best. Not too sweet, with appropriately sized chunks of strawberry mixed in.

I work at my desk upstairs, the same one where I did my AP Government homework in high school. It’s trippy.

My mom did a grocery run a few days ago and bought a ton of stuff. Like everyone else, we’re trying to do as few grocery runs as possible. My dad has turned our garage into a sanitation station, where everything we buy gets wiped down with alcohol and aged for a few days. I have no idea if this is the correct protocol, but we don’t know what else to do.

Mom was considerate enough to buy things that I like to have on hand at home, like green tea for sipping throughout the day, and chocolate chips for snacking. I make myself a cup of green tea — it’s not the best green tea, but I’m thankful for it all the same.

Around 11 a.m., a bunch of cut-up strawberries magically appear at my desk on a stainless-steel plate. I swear, cut fruit is Asian parents’ love language.

Lunch is leftover rajma chawal, a red-bean stew served with rice that’s heavy on the warming spices. We had it for dinner last night, and the thing about so many Indian dishes is that they taste even better the next day, after the spices have had a chance to seep in. This is one of the most comforting dishes ever.

Another huge benefit to being home: my dad’s homemade yogurt. You’ve never had yogurt this tangy and creamy and refreshing. He is obsessive about the process, and we have been propagating our starter since 1992. I have a bowlful of the stuff sprinkled with some chocolate chips for dessert. We don’t have any real dessert in the house. I note to myself that I need to make dessert this weekend.

Around five o’clock my mom starts blasting Strunz & Farah, which means it is cocktail hour. My mom has decided to use her time in quarantine to master certain cocktails, and tonight is margaritas, extra salt. I take one to go and log onto a Zoom happy hour with my friends, followed by a Zoom Culture Club. A few months ago, my friend Lauren started a club amongst our friends where once every few weeks, we all watch a movie or read a book or listen to a podcast and then discuss it. We’re keeping it up in quarantine. This week it is a play inspired by an episode of The Simpsons, and it definitely went way over my head.

Dinner, appropriately, is Tex-Mex, the cuisine I miss the most living in New York.  We order takeout from a place called Muchacho — it’s new-ish, and my parents like it. We get three orders of cheese enchiladas, because all of us love enchiladas, and none of us want to share. They are so, so good. Even sweeter are the free chips and salsa.

Saturday, April 4
I roll out of bed around 9 a.m. and head downstairs, where my dad has already stuck a piece of his bread in the toaster oven for me. I spread some almond butter on top, plus a sprinkle of chaat masala. This combo, introduced to me by my mother, is wildly good — like spicy trail mix in toast form. I wash it down with a glass of milk from a kiddie cup, because in my mind, I’m still not allowed to use our fancy glassware.

I go for a walk while listening to Reply All and then work on a Christmas puzzle I bought because it was the only puzzle left at the store. It’s an impossibly challenging puzzle, but at least that means we have something to do.

For lunch, my mom pressure-cooks some gigante beans and tosses them with garlic, olive oil, and lime juice. We have that with rice, and something my mom calls “stick sabzi.” Basically she takes the leftover end bits from vegetables from previous nights’ dinners and sautés them with a ton of onion and spices. She claims it helps with digestion.

I devote my afternoon to making chocolate mousse because we need to have dessert in the house. I use the recipe for blender chocolate mousse from NYT Cooking — Tejal Rao got it from the pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz, who in turn got it from a Junior League cookbook, of all places. You make it by throwing the chocolate, eggs, and hot sugar syrup into a blender, and then folding that into whipped cream. It takes me 20 minutes to make, which is great, but also means I have to figure out how to occupy the rest of my afternoon.

We do takeout again for dinner, because we are all craving pizza. Specifically: Carmine’s. I can’t full-throatedly endorse Carmine’s as the best pizza in Dallas. But it is the place we have been going for as long as I can remember. I sold Girl Scout cookies to these guys.

In addition to making really great basic cheese pizza, Carmine’s does awesome stromboli. I’m not usually a stromboli person, but I appreciate that theirs are overstuffed with veggies, and they give you extra marinara for dipping.

Chocolate mousse for dessert. It’s airy and creamy and not too sweet. Both the parents approve.

Sunday, April 5
In high school, my mom used to make chocolate-chip pancakes for us on the weekends. But at first, she had no idea how to make them, so she bought a box of Bisquick and improvised a “healthier” version that includes milk, wheat germ, and flax seeds in the batter. No egg or butter. These pancakes are, to this day, beloved by my cousins and high-school friends. They’re not dense, but they have some heft to them, while still being fluffy. I like a little heft on my pancake. I peek into the fridge for maple syrup. Thank goodness my dad bought a bulk-size bottle from Costco.

I go for a run, and we have a quick leftovers lunch of calzones and pizza before packing up the chocolate mousse to drop it off at our various relatives’ houses. My mom’s brothers all live in Dallas, and their kids are also quarantining here. It’s been a bummer not being able to hang out with my cousins, so it is nice getting to briefly catch up with them from a six-foot distance on the porch of their houses.

Around 4 p.m., my mom and I do an Instagram Live as part of Cherry Bombe’s virtual version of its annual Jubilee event. We talk about all the things we are doing to stay upbeat while at home. I’m pretty anxious most of the time, and a little more now that I am essentially reliving my high school life. But I know how privileged I am to be able to be here with my parents.

We’ve been trying to support as many local Dallas breweries as we can while we are here, so our fridge is stocked with six-packs. Tonight we try an IPA from a brewery called Four Corners. It’s smooth and a little spicy. A huge hit.

My mom goes all out for dinner, making a classic Punjabi dish called makke ki roti — roti made with cornmeal. It’s a little sturdier and grainier than wheat flour-based roti, and particularly great for sopping up the saag she makes on the side. I try to help her with the roti, but my mom is shockingly territorial given that we literally wrote a cookbook together.

We retreat upstairs with more beer to watch The Americans, the latest television show we’ve decided to fully invest in. I’m in bed by 9 p.m. It’s awesome.

Monday, April 6
Changing it up for breakfast this morning! Yes, there’s toast. But I find an avocado and smear it on top, along with a heavy dusting of Atom Masala, which is this secret family spice blend that has been around for at least half a century. I think it was developed by my grandfather.

The mythology around this blend is wild. Everyone in the family has a different origin story, and they all insist their version is the correct one. I keep a stash of it in my apartment in Brooklyn at all times, and dole it out in small amounts to friends as birthday gifts.

An hour later, chopped strawberries magically appear at my desk because Asian parents. Back in New York, around 11 or so, I would venture into my fridge for a pre-lunch lunch, or if I was in the Bon Appétit office, poke around the free table or the test kitchen, but thanks to all the fiber in my dad’s bread, I don’t really snack a lot between breakfast and lunch.

Today, I am reporting a couple different stories today about how the restaurant industry is coping with the coronavirus for Bon Appétit. My life these days is phone interview after phone interview. I miss in-person reporting so much. Being on the phone all day gives me headaches.

I’m feeling too anxious to sit down for lunch, so my mom gives me a bowl of this crumbled tofu, cumin, tomato, and chili stir-fry she’s made for lunch. She chops up some cilantro for garnish. It’s throw-whatever-we-have-in-the-fridge-in-a-pan food at its finest.

A cup of chai magically appears around four o’clock. I’ve been trying to take regular chai breaks since coming home — it’s one of those Indian rituals I really love. But all these phone calls make that hard sometimes. It’s crazy how my mom can basically read my mind and knows exactly when I might want a cup of chai.

Dean Martin playing downstairs and a text from my mom means it is cocktail hour a little after 5:30. Dad puts out a cheese plate (he’s on nightly cheese-plate duty). Mom makes Negronis. I am not usually a Negroni fan (too bitter!), but mom’s are nicely balanced. Maybe a little too chuggable.

We take the leftover chips from Tex-Mex nights, cover them in really good cheddar cheese, onions, chilies, tomatoes, and scallions, and broil them until the cheese is bubbly and melty.

Dinner is back to basics: dal and okra. Okra is easily one of my all-time favorite vegetables. I love the way my mom makes it: cooked on really high heat with tons of whole spices until it gets crisp and charred. I wish food publications gave okra more love. I keep pitching an okra package for Bon Appétit, but it has yet to be approved. (Hi, Adam, can you please green-light my okra package?) I am convinced that the reason a lot of people don’t like okra is because they aren’t cooking it correctly. Those who know how to cook it understand that it’s the greatest. My dad cooks rice in the microwave to go with dinner, as we have been doing for years. I swear, this method works as well as a rice cooker and infinitely better than a stove top.

Right as I sit down for dinner, I get a notification from my phone that it’s time for my bridesmaid-dress fitting at a boutique in Flatiron. I guess that’s not happening. I miss New York a lot. Every week, I try to do something to support the city: buy a gift card from a restaurant, buy meals to support hospital workers, and so on.

Tuesday, April 7
Almond-butter toast with strawberry jam. Milk in the kiddie cup. Some green tea to wash it all down.

Yet another day of phone calls, this time for a story I’m reporting about the resurgence of community cookbooks. It’s been really uplifting to hear about all the friend groups, families, mosques, and co-workers who have stayed in touch by sharing recipes. If I hadn’t already spent an entire year extensively documenting my own family’s recipes for a cookbook, I would totally be doing this right now, too.

Every day in this house is a reminder that (1) my mom is, and always has been, a black-belt-level home cook, and (2) I was such a little shit in high school who did not appreciate her cooking enough!

I get distracted in between phone calls and start flipping through the random books on my desk — mostly high-school yearbooks. My senior year I was voted “most likely to gain the freshman 15”! Honestly, rude! — and old copies of Lucky Peach, the food magazine I idolized in college and then eventually went on to work at for three years.

Lunch is dal and okra from the night before. Once again, the leftovers are even better. This is my comfort food. I swipe a spoonful of the leftover chocolate mousse, and then I get to work chopping vegetables, as I’m in charge of dinner tonight.

I’m developing a few yogurt-based recipes right now, and I wanted to take a stab at avial, this South Indian dish made with coconut, yogurt, and vegetables. We’re not South Indian, but I have such good memories of eating it at various aunties’ houses, and I spent the last week poring over cookbooks and blogs to figure out how to make it. The house fills with the smells of sweet coconut, earthy mustard seeds, and herb-y curry leaves. My mom fasts on Tuesdays, so she sadly can’t eat with me; but my dad and I have two servings each of the avial over some white rice. A few tweaks to be made, but overall a success. Dad and I also split a saison from Four Corners.

The whole meal is definitely better than last Tuesday, when my dad and I decided to make doctored-up versions of Maggi noodles (the beloved Indian instant ramen), only to find out on first bite that the noodles had gone rancid.

For dessert, my mom takes out dates she and my dad got on a trip to Jordan a few months back and had been saving. They taste like extra-dark caramel.

My mom and I have been trying to take at least one lap around the neighborhood after dinner, before we settle down for our family-TV ritual. We set out for our walk, and I do something I can’t help but do every time I go around my neighborhood, which is to mentally note which houses bought Girl Scout cookies from me way back when, and which ones didn’t. (Lest you think that Girl Scouts were a formative experience in my life — it wasn’t. But the cookie-sales part did traumatize me.)

I snap out of it because my mom wants to discuss what we should make for dinner the next night. She’s thinking vegetarian lasagna, with homemade sheets of pasta, plus mushrooms, cheese, and a bright-green spinach sauce. With all the uncertainty around coronavirus, it’s hard to feel optimistic about the future, but at least for now, I feel pretty great about the lasagna.

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