The newly released cookbook I Am From Here recount’s Vishwesh Bhatt’s journey working his way up in restaurant kitchens to his current position as executive chef of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi—all set against a backdrop of a diverse and evolving South.
Bhatt, who was born and grew up in India, moved to the States with his family in the late 1980s. He attended college at the University of Kentucky. Later, at graduate school at the University of Mississippi, he began cooking at restaurants, a part-time job that transformed into his full-time career.
The cookbook explores the relationships between many Southern ingredients and foods from other nations’ cooking traditions. Black-eyed peas, for example, are common in Bhatt’s native India and also have connections to western Africa. This recipe for savory black eye pea griddle cakes is one of Bhatt’s personal favorites for breakfasts and brunches. Black-eyed peas feel festive and seasonal, particularly leading up to New Year’s celebrations, but you can also use Sea Island red peas or other members of the field pea family.
These griddle cakes get their vibrant flavor and verdant color from cilantro, jalapeño, ginger, and garlic, though Bhatt encourages you to employ other seasonings you like. All ingredients are puréed in a blender, which gives them an almost cornbread batter-like consistency. And the cooked griddle cakes have a consistency similar to cornmeal pancakes—crispy on the outside and soft and almost creamy in the middle. Bhatt finishes them with a drizzle of maple syrup and cilantro, though you can also serve them with tomato-cashew chutney.
Serves 8 to 10
4 cups dry black-eyed peas
10-12 cups warm water
1 small sweet onion, diced
3 garlic cloves
1-2 serrano peppers, chopped
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, chopped
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted
¼ cup cane syrup or sorghum, divided
Salt and black pepper to taste
⅓ cup olive oil or cooking fat of choice
1. Soak black-eyed field peas in 10 to 12 cups warm water for 2 hours. Then, drain peas, reserving 1 cup of soaking liquid.
2. In a large bowl, combine soaked peas with onion, garlic, peppers, ginger, cilantro, and cumin. In a blender or food processor, blend mixture in two or three batches, adding soaking liquid a little at a time as needed until it’s the consistency of cornbread batter. (If using a blender, be careful not to blend peas too fine or add too much liquid to speed up the process.) Fold in salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons cane syrup.
3. In a nonstick skillet or a griddle over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until it shimmers. Add dollops of about 1 ounce of batter to create silver dollar-sized griddle cakes and fry until crispy and golden brown on one side. Flip and finish cooking through, adding a few drops of oil as necessary. Repeat with remaining batter, heating additional oil between each batch. Drizzle hot griddle cakes with remaining cane syrup.
Notes: These are also delicious with chopped bacon or smoked sausage folded into the batter. For a tangier flavor, cover and set batter aside in a warm place for 4 to 6 hours (or refrigerate overnight) before cooking.
Video by: Jonathan Boncek
Edits by: Jack McAlister
Production by: Maggie Ward
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Author: Vishwesh BhattA Vishwesh Bhatt dish conjures an evolving American South. Peanut Masala-Stuffed Baby Eggplant alongside fried okra, tossed in tangy chaat masala. Collard-Wrapped Catfish with a spicy Peanut Pesto. These much-loved dishes are stars on the menu at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, where Bhatt has been the executive chef since 2009, earning him Best Chef: South (2019 James Beard Awards) and induction into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs in 2022. His food draws from his Indian heritage and is unpretentious, inventive, and incredibly delicious. I Am From Here organizes 130 recipes by ingredient, emphasizing staples, spices, and vegetables that are as beloved on the Indian subcontinent as they are in the American South. Summer means okra, tomatoes, corn, and peas. Winter brings sweet potatoes and greens: mustards, collards, kale, and spinach. Rice is a constant throughout.Bhatt vividly recounts the special meals cooked by his mother and grandmothers–vegetarian comfort food such as Khichadi, custardy rice pudding, and Stewed Gujarati-Style Black-Eyed Peas–and presents them alongside dishes he's shared with friends, colleagues, and family across the decades. Recipes run the gamut from uncomplicated roast chicken and Citrus-Herb Rice Salad to dinner party-worthy Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Tandoori Spices.Writing for the home cook, Bhatt includes recipes for making your own spice mixes, including a versatile chaat masala. A mix-and-match meal-planning guide will help you pair dishes for different occasions. And every ingredient is within reach even if you're cooking far away from the warmth of Mississippi. This cookbook thoughtfully, and persuasively, expands notions of what it means to be, and cook like, a Southerner today.About the AuthorBhatt, Vishwesh: – Vishwesh Bhatt is the executive chef of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi. He was named Best Chef of the South by the James Beard Foundation in 2019.$40.00
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