The best way to describe food writer Simran Sethi is to say she is more telegenically inclined and far more accessible as a writer than Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Michael Ruhlman. Of course, it’s a subjective opinion; Pollan is probably the most famous, but Simran Sethi’s book Bread, Wine, Chocolate: A Slow Loss of Foods We Love might push her over the top. Part memoir, travelogue, and science, published last year – and due for a paperback edition in October, she has become the food expert who teaches us how to be food experts along with her.
Complete with flavor wheels which detail profiles of beer, chocolate, wine, and bread, her book is a discussion about how we only eat about 30 types of foods, which are harvested around the world. This is leading to “mono-crops” and loss of other edibles that we should be eating. Did you know the banana that we eat from our local grocery store, the Cavendish, is only one variety? According to Ms. Sethi and the World Banana Forum, there are more than 1000 varieties of the fruit. And of that number, we consume nearly 48 millions tons.
Sethi’s is no stranger to journalism or the world of food. Her broadcast career began as senior correspondent for MTV News India in Bombay. At one time, she was the environmental correspondent for NBC News with contributions to The Today Show, CNBC, and MSNBC. She has written and hosted shows for The Sundance Channel, PBS, and Treehugger.com on sustainable environments and ethical markets. Her research knowledge is vast; she is an expert at telling a compelling story.
However, she decided to write a book on food, one of her favorite topics. She says, “We celebrate through food. We mourn through food. There is nothing that affects us more than our food. In writing this book, it was incredibly humbling to travel to some of these places and see its origins. I wanted to go deeper and teach the world through the lens of food.”
Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):
How long have you been cooking?
Since age 14.
What is your favorite food to cook?
My favorite foods are the ones cooked for me.
What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Whole milk for coffee, seasonal fruit, local eggs.
What do you cook at home?
I assemble. Pasta and greens, bread and cheese, egg on anything.
Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Your favorite cookbook author?
Zora O’Neill and Tamara Reynolds wrote a cookbook that played off their Queens, NY supper club called Forking Fantastic!: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party. I have never wanted to cook as much as when I am reading (and re-reading) that book.
Your favorite kitchen tool?
This gigantic pan I got when I appeared on the Martha Stewart Show. It was the audience gift but I begged.
Your favorite ingredient?
Your least favorite ingredient?
Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Chef you most admire?
Most? Tough. Floyd Cardoz, Alice Waters, Dan Barber, Heather Carlucci.
Food you like the most to eat?
Avocado on home-baked bread with a little Penzey’s Turkish seasoning sprinkled on top.
Food you dislike the most?
How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None and none.
Recipe: Sweet Potatoes With Mustard Seeds (Sookhi Aloo)
3 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 small red chili, thinly sliced (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake sweet potatoes until they are just slightly undercooked, 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into ½-inch pieces. Set aside.
2. Add oil and mustard seeds to a medium skillet over high heat. Fry seeds, periodically shaking pan, until seeds start to pop. Reduce heat to medium.
3. Mix in potatoes, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Cook, stirring infrequently, until a crust forms, 10 minutes more.
4. To serve, garnish with cilantro and chilies, if using.
PHOTO: STACEY VAN BERKEL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Simran Sethi profile photos: Cem Ersavci for Dumbo Feather
India, Ethiopia, & Ecuador photos: Simran Sethi
– The End. Go Eat. –
Disclosure: Sethi is a PR Client of co-editor Brian Garrido.