This week’s post is a first for me: an interview! I’m SO excited to introduce Preeti Tamilarasan to you – she’s a food blogger and food photographer in India. She produces the fantastic Jopreet’s Kitchen blog that’s filled with invaluable and seemingly infinite information about cooking Indian cuisine, plus over 1,100 authentic recipes.
I “met” Preeti while practicing Indian food with fellow “Chicken” Cyndie Smith for our cooking blog, America’s Test Chicken. From January through June this year (2016), we systematically explored Indian recipes, reveling in learning new processes, seeking out exotic spices, and testing out the appropriate kitchen tools for the recipes. In researching methods and such online, I ran across Preeti’s blog. I gleaned the most useful information from her, and I was further enchanted with her food photography. My Chicken Biryani recipe post came directly from Preeti’s blog.
So I contacted her and she was kind enough to answer some (a lot of) questions from me. Though we have never met in person, I hope to see her face to face one day. Until then, I’m grateful for the Internet and her generosity.
Preeti was born in India, living these days in Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. She’s been blogging for at least four years. Do the math: she has posted over 1,100 recipes and tested each one before posting it, all within the span of four years. She’s a master!
She was kind enough to share her own curry powder recipe, a gem of the whole experience for me! The recipe appears below. The other delight for me is that she sent along some of her stunning food photographs. I’ve illustrated this blog post with them. All of the photos in this post are done by her – except the Photo for No Apparent Reason at the end, of course.
Here’s the interview. I’ve done very little editing except where necessary for readers in the USA. Some of the vocabulary is different in American English.
ATFT: Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Preeti Tamilarasan, Recipe Writer and Food photographer / Stylist. I’m the owner of Jopreetskitchen (cooking oriented blog specialized in Indian Cuisine). Basically a very simple person, an engineering graduate, worked in software industry for 4 years, left the job after marriage and adopted the life of a freelance food blogger. I started with food blogging as I was passionate about food and always loved experimenting with the ingredients.
ATFT: You live in Chennai, the capital city of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Can you tell us something about the city, especially the part that you live in?
I live in the heart of Chennai. Chennai is one of the biggest cultural and economic city in south India and also the home for second largest beach in the world. There are lots of things to talk about Chennai. I especially like the liveliness, wide variety of foods, its people and it has a rich history.
ATFT: How long have you lived there?
Chennai has been my home for 18 years. Before that, I lived in Delhi and Gwalior.
ATFT: Can you describe a typical day in your life?
My day starts with preparing breakfast and lunch for the family. After that I finish off the regular household work and start working on preparing the recipe of the day. Once depending on the outcome of the recipe, I plan for photoshoot and continue to work on blog which takes about 5-6 hours.
ATFT: Did you learn English natively? Do you speak any other languages? If so, what are they?
I speak and write Tamil, Hindi and English. I learnt English as a language through the academics. Tamil is my mother tongue.
ATFT: Have you ever traveled to the United States? If so, when and where did you visit?
I had visited USA two years back with my husband as a part of his business meetings. We stayed in Boston, Connecticut and Niagara. We also had a chance to visit New York.
ATFT: How long have you been cooking? Did you learn to cook as a child or learn it later in life? Who was the most influential in your learning to cook?
I always had special interest in cooking since childhood. I was in scouts and used to do open fire cooking with my friends. My mother is my inspiration and I have adopted her style of cooking. After my marriage, it’s my mother in law from whom I learnt easy day to day recipes and some of the traditional recipes.
ATFT: Everyone knows Indian cuisine uses lots of wonderful spices. Americans usually have to buy their spices from a supermarket. Where do you get your spices? If it’s in a spice market, please describe the experience.
Yes, you are correct. Spices brings life to the food. We do get spices from super stores and at times I will try to procure some spices directly from farmers whenever we travel (and we travel a lot ).
ATFT: A spice mixture in India is called a masala. I’ve read that most Indian cooks have their own mixture that they make themselves. Do you have a favorite, standard masala that you make yourself? Can you share the recipe with us?
I make sambar powder, garam masala, ginger garlic paste, peanut masala powder and curry powder at home.
ATFT: Do you grind your own spices? If so, what kind of spice grinder do you use?
Yes, I grind my own spices as they are fresh and free from preservatives. Mostly, I depend on my mixer grinder for small quantity of spice mixes. For larger quantity, spice mill is the best option. I also have hand held grinding stones which were used in every household before electric grinding tools were introduced.
ATFT: I think we would all love to see your kitchen! Can you tell us what it’s like?
You would not find fancy cookware in my kitchen except for one or two. I use traditional mud (terra cotta) pots, soapstone and iron cookware. I have LPG based gas stove and of course I use pressure cooker. I use 3-4 pressure cookers depending on the quantity of the food. Pressure cooker comes handy when cooking in hurry. So for dinner preparations, I use my mud pot or iron cookware. I have electric mixer, grinder, OTG (toaster oven) and food processor.
ATFT: I love using the traditional Indian kitchen tools such as the belan and chakla/patli. What traditional tools do you use?
Masala Grinding Stone (AmmiKallu in Tamil)
ATFT: Your blog has over 1,100 recipes and informative instructions on how to make authentic Indian dishes. You have tested each one. How much time per day/week do you spend cooking?
I test each and every recipe before making it to blog. I spend 3-4 hours per day for cooking, It may extend depending on the recipe level.
ATFT: Why did you get into blogging initially?
I always loved cooking and after my marriage, started exploring more recipes. Me and my husband thought we needed a space to catalogue and share the traditional recipes that we learn from our parents and grandparents. That is when we started the blog.
ATFT: How has your blog changed over time?
Initially, I used to share 8-10 recipe per day being over enthusiastic that’s the secret of having more than 1000 recipes in my blog. I will share what and all I cook on that day. Later, I decided to concentrate more on combination of different ingredients which are not only tasty but also healthy.
ATFT: What was your favorite blog post and why?
My favorite blog post is Ragi Til Ladoo / Chimli Urundai. This one is my mom’s favorite too. My grandma used to prepare this ladoo whenever we visited her during my childhood.
ATFT: What was your most popular blog post and why?
Ambur Chicken Biriyani, this one is the most visited recipe in my blog. I have always liked my biryani to be less spicy and not heavy on masalas. This recipe suits very well and for some reason, Biryani is famous everywhere.
ATFT: What is your favorite recipe?
The list is big but I will name a few.
ATFT: You produce wonderful food photography in addition to your cooking. How did you get into that? What kind of camera and lighting do you use? Please give us any other details you would like about this.
It all started when a blogger friend of mine asked me to change my photography style since I had good number of recipes but not good photographs. I took her advice very seriously and started to learn photography. My first camera was a canon point and shoot through which I learnt to compose photographs and used natural lighting at the most. No fancy camera or lens. That’s how I started and now I have Nikon d5100 and 55mm prime lens, basic studio lights, a tripod and a small setup of studio at home to make my work easy.
ATFT: You list your other hobby as collecting antiques. How does that tie into cooking and food photography, if at all?
Yes, I love antiques and I spend on only those which were used in ancient times, mostly my collection has brass, copper, iron, stone cookwares and clay pots. I have only less number of white or colored plates / bowls. Since I mainly focus on Indian recipes, I feel the food should be presented in such a way that It should make you feel at home. Everyone has a different style of perspective, some like to style their food on new plates / bowls, but using antiques is my style.
ATFT: Any other comments you would like to share with my readers?
Do not restrict yourself with a specific cuisine or food. Please try out different cuisines.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed learning about and from Preeti as much as I did. I hope you visit her site for the food and the photography. And leave a comment telling her I sent you!
Photo for No Apparent Reason: