Cookbook author and food entrepreneur Anupy Singla’s quest for delicious recipes is in her blood. “My grandfather would travel for hundreds of miles to find new recipes and bring them back to our village and then start cooking them—that’s how the stories go,” she says. “He was such a foodie, a classic dedicated eater.”
That village, Bhikhi, is in the northern Indian state of Punjab, where Singla herself was born before coming to the United States with her parents at around the age of three. Her family first settled in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, but maintained links to India and Punjab, where they still own her grandmother’s family home. “I had to learn English from Sesame Street; my first language was Hindi,” she recalls. “I grew up with one foot in India and one foot in the U.S., because we would go back [to India] every year.”
Like her grandfather, her father is also “obsessed with food. If I make him something and it’s not amazing, he literally will just say, ‘This isn’t really good, no, I’m not going to eat this.’” In Pennsylvania he still wanted to eat Indian food every night, but her mother worked outside the home and so discovered that she could save time cooking with a crock-pot.
“So I’d always had this weird desire to write a crock-pot Indian cookbook,” Singla says. “I didn’t even think that I was going to get into food, but I was always obsessed with cooking.” Instead she became a reporter in Chicago. After about a decade, disappointed with recipes for Indian food that she would try, she returned to the idea of a cookbook and produced The Indian Slow Cooker. “I wanted to just write down these recipes for my own daughters and our family,” she says, “but then I would cook for other people and they would just love it.”
She wrote two more cookbooks, and is currently at work on a fourth focused on the Instant Pot. As recently as 2019, she was her Evanston-based publisher Agate Publishing’s most successful author overall. She also sells Indian spices, sauces, and other ingredients under the brand Indian as Apple Pie.
“I realized that Americans are craving learning about Indian food, but also learning about it in a really practical, understandable way,” Singla says. “Being a journalist and being all about home cooking, I broke it down, or tried to, because that’s the only way I understand things. I find my recipes are reaching so many more people, especially in middle America, that you would never think would gravitate towards Indian food. But they do, because they’re realizing that the spices are healthier, the food is clean, and, with my platform, I’m not judging them for not knowing. I’m answering their questions.”
Despite her emphasis on accessibility, she doesn’t shy away from heat and spice. “I’m writing my cookbooks for the level of flavor we need in our house,” she says, “and it is up to you as the user to pull back on that heat. If you’re not about eight chilies, no worries. I think that’s what has helped me to gain credibility not just among non-Indians, but a lot of credibility amongst my own community.”
That extra spice and flavor is evident in Singla’s recipe for Indian Spiced Lime Soda, which she shared with WTTW in advance of Holi, the Hindu festival of colors celebrated around the beginning of spring. “People like to let loose and have a good time on Holi, and I tend not to gravitate towards alcohol as much these days, so I like to have options of natural sodas and drinks that everyone can partake in and enjoy and feel festive with,” she says. “These non-alcoholic sodas are really big in Indian culture—there are stands that have cropped up that serve these.”
Singla’s parents are in Punjab now and will celebrate Holi there, which you would think would relieve Singla of the high bar for food set by her father when she prepares a feast for the holiday. But discerning culinary taste seems to be genetic: Singla worked on one recent recipe for a year, because her daughter kept rejecting it. “She’s become such a foodie herself, and that’s fantastic,” Singla says with a laugh.
Indian Spiced Lime Soda
2 tablespoons lime juice (1 medium lime)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (white or light brown)
1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds*
1/8 teaspoon kala namak (black salt) or chaat masala
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper**
1 12-oz. can cold soda water
1. In a small bowl add the lime juice, sugar, ground cumin, kala namak, and black pepper. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Fill a tall glass with ice. Add the lime juice mixture and then follow with the soda water, filling it to the top. Stir gently and serve immediately as is or topped with a slice of lime or sprig of mint.
*To roast cumin seeds, add a tablespoon to a dry pan and heat over medium-high heat until the seeds turn reddish-brown, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind into a powder. Whatever you don’t use can be stored for later in a drink or to sprinkle on unsweetened, plain yogurt for raita.
**For fun variations, substitute the pepper for the same amount of turmeric powder or tamarind puree.