SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
What happens when immigrants bring their cuisines to America? Sri Rao, the son of immigrants, says that both people and food adapt. He's written a cookbook of his mother's recipes. And because he is a screenwriter and producer, he paired them with the Indian movies with which he grew up. It is called "Bollywood Kitchen," and it struck a chord with NPR's Adhiti Bandlamudi.
ADHITI BANDLAMUDI, BYLINE: I don't immediately associate Indian food with Bollywood films, mostly because the actors are usually too busy with dance numbers and melodrama to worry about what's for dinner. But as a second-generation Indian-American who also grew up on Indian food and Bollywood, I connected with Sri Rao's cookbook and his message.
BANDLAMUDI: As the skinny brown kid growing up in an all-white community, I had barely ever been to India. And yet, the food and the films transported me there every night.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI")
UDIT NARAYAN AND ALKA YAGNIK: (Singing in Hindi).
BANDLAMUDI: Rao's cookbook, "Bollywood Kitchen," pairs iconic Bollywood films like this one, "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," with dishes he grew up on in small-town Pennsylvania.
SRI RAO: We didn't have access to Indian grocery stores when I was younger. And so my mom made do with the ingredients that she could find at the local supermarket.
BANDLAMUDI: Take one recipe, keema, which he calls a textbook example of American assimilation. It calls for lamb, but his mom used hamburger meat instead, along with Hamburger Helper. The book includes American recipes, too, like sweet potato fries with cumin and coriander and mango cheesecake. Rao says some food critics have questioned whether his recipes are authentically Indian.
RAO: I've really kind of taken offense at that because I feel like, no, this is authentic Indian food. This is the Indian food that I grew up with.
BANDLAMUDI: Rao says he wrote the book for two audiences, people who don't know a lot about Indian food and for people like me, an Indian-American petrified to make Indian food myself because it seems so complicated.
RAO: I had to go through that two-year process of, you know, cooking with my mom. And she would pour spices into the palm of her hand. And before she poured the spice into the pot, I would pour it into a measuring spoon so I could measure things out. And I've put that all into a book for us, you know - for - so that we can do it ourselves.
BANDLAMUDI: I'd never cooked Indian food before. But I decided to give it a try with rajma, one of my favorite dishes. In the cookbook, Rao pairs this with one of my favorite Bollywood films, "Devdas." Both the dish and the film are showstoppers, full of spice and flavor, and remind me of home. Rajma is kind of like chili. I diced red onions, chopped garlic and ginger into a paste. Then saute it all together with cumin, black mustard seeds and red chili powder.
(SOUNDBITE OF OIL SIZZLING)
BANDLAMUDI: Finally, I add red kidney beans to make a stew. When I was a kid, my mom made this in the winter. I'm a little nervous of my version, but I give it a taste.
BANDLAMUDI: Oh, my God. I did it. That wasn't that hard. Why did I think that was so hard?
BANDLAMUDI: But even if I messed up, Rao says it's no big deal.
RAO: If you throw in a little bit extra of something or you forget something else, it really isn't going to matter. And our moms cook that way, too. I mean, that's the thing about Indian food is that it's very forgiving.
BANDLAMUDI: Since reading this book, I'm less intimidated. I make Indian food all the time now. That'll make mom happy.
Adhiti Bandlamudi, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIYA TU AB TO AAJA")
ASHA BHOSLE: (Singing in Hindi).
SIMON: The great Asha Bhosle. This is NPR News.
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