From North India to North Atlanta Kitchens: Spice up your cooking with Radhika Behl

Written by Colleen Ann McNally | Photography courtesy of Kate Awtrey of Atlanta Convention Photography; Rujuta Apte

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey © 2012After 14 years in Atlanta, England native Radhika Behl has Southern hospitality down pat. In between bites of her pimento cheese omelet at Buttermilk Kitchen in Buckhead, Behl offers to share some with me, along with the stories here. They start back when she came from London “kicking and screaming” with her husband and all she knew of Atlanta was “Gone with the Wind.” Now the local culinary master laughs at the thought, because more than just enjoying fried chicken dinners at Buttermilk Kitchen, Brookhaven has become home to her family including daughter India and son Kargil. In fact, it’s her strong network of friends here that she credits as pushing her to publish her first cookbook, “Simply Radhika…”

But instead of grits and fried green tomatoes – some of her other favorite Southern foods – the pages of Behl’s book stem back to her parents’ roots in North India. She learned to cook from relatives in her mother’s kitchen when she was young, and she now enjoys teaching her own children in the kitchen. She said the next generation was a key inspiration behind her publishing project. “Learning to cook Indian food is not going to happen by osmosis in our home – no grandmas, aunties or cousins living in the same city (or country for that matter),” she writes in the preface. “I had to take action.”

With a traditional yet modern approach, these recipes are the ones she uses for her family and her connections back her past, however they are simple enough for anyone with a desire to learn Indian cooking. During the book’s packed signing and launch party at Rumi’s Kitchen, it was apparent the Northside is full of people interested in doing just that. And after sampling her tasty Tandoori chicken, I’m including myself in this category as well.

Within the elegantly compiled pages, Behl confidently guarantees readers can find all the instruction you need to recreate dishes exactly as she would make them. The simplistic approach takes no shortcuts on taste. Instead, it considers the busy lifestyles we have today and offers easy tricks – such as freezing big batches of sauce bases – to make life easier while still delicious and healthy. The self-described perfectionist smiles brightly when she makes this guarantee, detailing how many times she tested each one.

Beyond recipes, the “Simply Radhika…” cookbook published by BookLogix in Alpharetta, includes drool-worthy photography and her own stories associated with the dishes, whether comfort foods the Mattar pulau (rice with peas) she makes multiple times a week or those that evoke memories such as the Dal Makhani (buttery urad lentils) which is customary during the Hindu festivities of “Karvachauth.” Behl also adds that whenever she makes her lamp chops, there are no leftovers. The book even offers extensive introduction on spices and even where to shop for them (Publix, Whole Foods, Patel Brothers in Decatur or online through Amazon). Still can’t find what you need? Behl encourages readers to email her or contact her through her Facebook page (facebook.com/SimplyRadhika), as she is happy to share more of her secrets.

Internet communication is particularly key because Behl and her family are soon to split their time between living in India and maintaining their residence here. To the same woman who came to Atlanta reluctantly, she now finds the idea of moving away leaves a bittersweet taste in her mouth. However, she is also excited for the new culinary adventure that awaits her. She plans to expand her knowledge of Indian street food and perhaps start a blog. To start spicing up your own kitchen with inspiration from Behl, visit simplyradhika.com.