Give Now  »

Is food your love language? Kashika Singh builds community through food [replay]

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript


KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Food connects, for me personally, it's something that I connect with in ways that are hard to describe at times, perhaps because I've been away from my family, from India, and America has become my home, but when a place becomes your home I think we still keep the things that mean a lot and I think food is one of the ways, it's beautiful memories, nostalgia.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show we're in the kitchen with Kashika Singh. She teaches Hindi and Urdu languages at Indiana University and shares another aspect of Indian culture, namely food. That's just ahead, so stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Food connects people. This is a concept we've explored many times on this show. This week we're paying a visit to a little house on the edge of the IU campus, where the IU Food Institute has been situated for the past eight years. It's the site of monthly cooking sessions called In the Kitchen with Kashika.

KASHIKA SINGH:  My name is Kashika Singh and I am a senior Hindi Urdu lecturer in Dhar India Studies Program. I've been teaching Hindi Urdu at IU since 2013. I'm originally from India, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi, or some people also know it as Benares or Kashi. There's a story behind my name. So, my name is Kashika, the one from Kashi, that is the city where holy River Ganges flows. My parents named me after the city Kashi as I was born there, after eight years of trying. So, they thought that was the right name for their first daughter. I like my name. I feel it connects me with who I am and what the city means to me. Even from so far away I still hold the city in my heart every day.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Varanasi is a very religious and spiritual place. Every day there's some festival, something happening that is in the core of the city. So, every year, thousands and thousands of people come and take a holy dip. It's a kund. Kund is more like a step well and the place, or the kund is called Lolark Kund. So, the idea behind it is that, as a couple, you have to leave everything, you have to be born again. So, a couple will go and take a dip together in the kund, and then they leave everything there; all the bangles or sari or any clothing. They will wear a new pair of clothes and they will leave the old pair there. They also choose one fruit or vegetable. They say that if we have a child, if we are blessed with a child, we will never eat that fruit or vegetable ever. Even today, if you go, you will see so many people taking a bath there and then piles and piles of clothes and lots of fruit and vegetables and usually not one of the most favorite fruit or vegetables. You'll find lot of gourds and pumpkins and stuff like that.

KASHIKA SINGH:  It had been almost eight years that my parents were trying to have children and it didn't happen. They took a dip, as a couple, and then the next year I was born.

KAYTE YOUNG:  On this day Kashika is making three dishes; rajma, a spicy bean dish, seasoned basmati rice called Jeera and a simple bread called Baati. Kashika starts by introducing the ingredients around the long table in the main room. Since some of the guests are her Hindi Urdu language students it's another kind of teaching moment for them.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Let's say the names in Hindi. Okay, in Hindi and Urdu they're the same. Okay, so garam masala.

GROUP OF PEOPLE:  Garam masala.





KASHIKA SINGH:  Kashmiri lal mirch.

GROUP OF PEOPLE:  Kashmiri lal mirch.



KASHIKA SINGH:  Dhania powder.

GROUP OF PEOPLE:  Dhania powder.





















UNKNOWN FEMALE:  Is that garlic?



KASHIKA SINGH:  lahasun.

GROUP OF PEOPLE:  lahasun.



KASHIKA SINGH:  So, we are going to start the rajma. We [UNSURE OF WORD], you know, so I think the way we learn Indian cooking is by doing. So, I learned by seeing and cooking with my mother. So, this is what we are going to do today. Okay, so, let's go. So, we could wash this again [INAUDIBLE].


KAYTE YOUNG:  Next, Kashika leads the way and everyone crowds into the kitchen to observe and to help. She's starting with the rice.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, this is about eight cups of rice, eight cups of basmati rice and it's always tricky. I'm often asked how long should we soak it, you know, and I think it depends on rice. Each rice has a different time line to cook. So, I think for basmati, and there are different varieties of basmati. So, you want to make sure that you don't soak it for a long time, probably 20 to 30 minutes. Wash it and it's all ready. So, the benefit of soaking it is that it cooks very fast. You can also cook it without soaking. So, don't worry if you will soak it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kashika shares her knowledge of the traditional ways that Indian food is prepared, but she's aware that lifestyles and cooking practices in the US demand some flexibility.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Whenever I've done these cooking classes or cooking sessions, it's not a class, it's a class for my class but it's open to everybody. I try to choose recipes that are easy to make with very simple ingredients, ingredients that are in the foundation of everyday cooking in India. It could be as simple as rice and cauliflower and potato, aloo gobi or dhal or rajma or egg curry, you know, things that are easy and, also, the idea was that students can make that and it also is a nutritious meal.

KAYTE YOUNG:  But she also keeps things interesting with special tools and ingredients from her homeland.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Finely crush it but we want to crush it, and this is mortar and pestle. This is dear to me. I brought it from India and my mother-in-law gave it. So, okay, let's see. The sound reminds me, you know, sounds are something that is very nostalgic. So, this is like, you know that it's tea time, you know you're making something. Every Indian household you will find this, and then it's like in the morning, in the evening you know and, okay. Okay, that's all.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Every semester I have a segment about food and the culture around the food. So, how my cooking sessions are, I make a list of the ingredients for the dish we are preparing with my students. We go over the cooking terminology, the context or the culture behind it, and then, if we can shop together, we would do that, otherwise I shop, or this past semester I've been cooking at I Food Institute and it's a wonderful space, wonderful people to work with and very supportive. So, they shop for me, and then I am there on Fridays and students would come and then we share. So, everybody is there and then we prepare. Everybody sees.

 Students can see the steps and then I'll have all the basic spices, and there are as little as five main spices that we can easily find; cumin, turmeric, coriander powder, salt and red chili powder, and sometimes garam masala powder and also whole garam masala. So, I try to start with these spices and give a recap in every cooking session and these are actually all the spices that you need for everyday cooking.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And then onion, garlic and ginger?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes, thank you; onion, ginger, garlic. So, in traditional setting and the way I have grown up, in my family, so we always ate with the season. So, in the summer we avoided ginger, garlic, onion but we ate ginger, garlic, onion in the winter. So, with the season and, according to [UNSURE OF WORD] we have Tamasic and Sattvic food. So, Sattvic would be more like plain food with less or low spices, or hardly any spices, and spices that help digestion, and no ginger, garlic, onion and Tamasic is food that is hot in nature. So, ginger, garlic, onion, garam masala.

 We use these spices for both vegetarian and non vegetarian food. So, in Tamasic food we also list non vegetarian food. So, in my family and, again, food is a personal choice for everybody, so I am referring to myself. We, in our family, grew up eating seasonal fruits and vegetables and the idea behind that is that with change of each season our body changes and the fruit and vegetables that are in season they help better with digestion, they are more nutritious and they are easy to digest, easy on the stomach and also not expensive.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, easier to get.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes and easier to get, yes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm talking with Kashika Singh, senior Hindi Urdu lecturer in the Dhar India Studies Program at Indiana University. We're talking about her kitchen sessions with the IU Food Institute. In case you didn't catch that last part, she was talking about Ayurvedic traditions and distinguishing between Tamasic foods and Sattvic foods. We have a link to more information on that topic on our website; Stay tuned for more of my conversation and cooking with Kashika after a short break.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats. I'm back in the kitchen with Kashika Singh, with the seasoned rice dish, the Jeera, already started, it was time to begin the rajma, a spicy dish made with kidney beans. Kashika started with some oil and ghee warming on the stove top.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, I'm a big fan of ghee. You don't want to cook just in ghee because then it starts burning, but ghee adds a rich flavor. Ghee also is expensive. In India we make our ghee. We boil milk and we have like a whole milk and what we do is we boil the milk and when it cools down it has a cream and we collect that for a week, maybe ten days, depending how much milk we get from the milkman or we buy from the store, and then we collect it in the fridge and there's a process when you make ghee then you kind of churn it. You have a hand churner or we have a [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]. It's a wooden churner, it's traditional. You can find that in stores. Then we heat it on a low flame and it's a process. Your whole house smells like ghee. But we have some very nice ghee options here. You can make it from butter also.

KASHIKA SINGH:  I like ghee in everything. Like, I have to have ghee. It's like my soul food. Most fun part of Indian cooking is that basically, for everyday cooking, we have the same foundation of the spices. So, what are they?



UNKNOWN MALE:  Turmeric.





KASHIKA SINGH:  Coriander powder, red chili powder, and garam masala if you want that flavor that kind of gives a little kick. We want to make sure that the oil is hot enough, so it has a certain cracking sound. So, if you don't have cumin you can check with onion and that's how you know that it's good temperature. See, that's how.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, this is a particular cooking sound that is only possible when the oil is hot and you're cooking and, to me, this is very nostalgic.

KAYTE YOUNG:  While the rice was cooking and the rajma spices were sizzling, Kashika also had baati baking in the oven. Baati is a simple unleavened bread in the shape of a ball, something between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. The dough is made from wholewheat flour, semolina flour and gram flour mixed with water and salt. It's a very stiff dough and the bread bakes directly on the oven rack. Kashika opened the oven door for everyone to take a peek.

KASHIKA SINGH:  You know, I'm also making baati today. So, you can come and see. It's kind of done. So, it's not done, but it's almost 50% done. So, it has, see. So, when it's changing color and it breaks we know that it's kind of done, and we flip it, you know, we make sure. So, you have to multi task in the kitchen. So, today what I did, I wanted to show you all what are the ingredients we have done this in the past altogether. So, ginger, onion and garlic and what's the ratio? So, we start with more onion, then garlic and then ginger. We don't want to have a lot of garlic and ginger because then it makes it bitter. I like garlic in everything. This is about two spoons of garlic. So, the base has to be cooked.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, the secret for any curry or any subzi is that you want to make this in the right order, and I'm often asked what's the ratio, what's the measurement, and in Indian cooking we have no measurement. So, that means you have to cook it so many times that you come to your perfect taste.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Now I'm going to add the ginger. So, at home I'm cooking maybe two to three times Indian food and for my children I would cook at least three times. So, in Indian cooking what takes more time? Prepping, yes. So, I prepare this, enough for a week, in the fridge. You don't want to keep it longer than a week because when the vegetable is chopped it kind of gets bad faster. If I know I'm going to cook it then I'll have it. So, we will have enough for three or four times and we use it. This is the time when I'm going to add the turmeric.

 So, why do we add turmeric first? It needs to cook otherwise it has that aftertaste. In my home, my mom always added the turmeric and salt before other spices so it would cook faster. Also, there's this belief that we don't cook the vegetable, any dhal or any curry without turmeric. So, the reason behind that is when there's a death in the Hindu family, I'm talking about the practice that is in Hindu families. When there's a death in a family, as a part of the mourning period, so that usually is 12 to 13 days, we do not cook.

 So, after the 12 days, the 13th day we will put the [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]. This is called [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]. This is still a practice. When there's a death in the family people are not cooking, they're taking time to mourn. So, family and friends and relatives take chance to bring meal. But, let's say they are cooking, if they have to cook, you are not supposed to put haldi, turmeric. So, haldi has a lot of significance in Indian tradition and culture. It purifies, it's also used in beautification, you know, when we get married we have a haldi ceremony where the bride and the groom, two days before or a day before, they have this haldi ceremony where all the family members are applying haldi, [FOREIGN DIALOGUE].

KASHIKA SINGH:  It's a part of getting ready for the wedding, it's a part of all the festivities. But it's also a mark where, okay, now you have haldi, after the ceremony you are not supposed to leave the house until you get married. So, that is why nowadays people have started doing the ceremony a day before because the bride and the groom they are traveling, they were going out. So, as we are becoming more modern, as we are getting limited with the time, you know, our rituals, our traditions, our practices are becoming like this, okay, how fast can we do it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Next, she added the coriander powder and then the red pepper.

KASHIKA SINGH:  And I'm going to add little bit of Kashmir mirch. And Kashmir mirch is not very hot, but it gives you a beautiful color, and I'm always adding, and I suggest, when you're using tomato, in any dish, add the red pepper with tomato, so it doesn't burn, it cooks nicely and also the color comes very beautiful. Or a convenient color. So, look, this is kind of done now. Now I'm going to add.


KASHIKA SINGH:  So, obviously we need a little bit of the garam masala also here, just a little bit, and we'll add more later. So, two more minutes. We can add this. And you can use the canned kidney beans or you can just buy and then soak it, and when you soak it, make sure you add little bit of salt in it.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Okay, so this is going to have lot of water but you just want to cook. And we're making rajma today we can follow the same steps that we followed and then add the Rapunzel bean, any lentil you want.

KAYTE YOUNG:  With the beans added, it was all transferred to a larger pot, lots of water added, and then it was brought to a boil and cooked at high heat until the beans were fully cooked and infused with the aromatics and the spices.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, I need to take that baati now. Plate, I'm thinking one of those round [INAUDIBLE].

UNKNOWN MALE:  Do we need... there's some over here.

KAYTE YOUNG:  In the meantime, Kashika started taking the baati out of the oven, first with her bare hands and then with a towel and hot pads. She instructed a few of her helpers to quickly crack each of the hot baati roll and then drop them into a large bowl and saturate them with ghee. They covered the bowl of baati while the rest of the meal cooked.

KASHIKA SINGH:  And we want to make sure that they are covered otherwise they become hard.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, we call this baati. You will also hear the name litti. This one is just a plain, simple baati. You can make stuffed baati as well. If somebody can break it. Crush. Not too much.

UNKNOWN MALE:  One by one?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes, and it's hot… and you can take this [UNSURE OF WORD]. So, what we want to do is we want to put the ghee in it, yes.

UNKNOWN FEMALE:  Can you just like break one and show us?

KASHIKA SINGH:  No, it will go in the baati. So, yes, I'll show you one. Let me check on the rice first. Yes, okay, and we want to do it fairly soon. So, it has to be like this. I'll put it here.

UNKNOWN MALE:  Like this?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Wonderful. Yes. Cooking seems such a fun thing when everybody's enjoying it, and I've enjoyed doing the series here and the enthusiasm, the love, you all share, and there's something about cooking. There's a joy when you cook and even more joy when people eat it and they say "oh, it's so good" and "it's so yummy" and then there's a silence and then everybody's eating. So, thank you all for taking the time and coming and doing this as a community and I hope that we can all continue doing this.

 So, I always loved to integrate the cooking as a part of my curriculum in language teaching because culture is the soul of language, and if we don't include that, we're missing such a big part.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, you can see the rice. So, it has to kind of separate; ghee or oil does that. When it's coated with the ghee, oil or butter it cooks better and tastes better.

UNKNOWN FEMALE:  That seems like a good thing though having [INAUDIBLE].

KAYTE YOUNG:  The chaotic steamy kitchen was bringing up memories of home for some of the students that day. At various moments throughout the cooking process I'd overhear students talking about their mothers or grandmothers.

UNKNOWN FEMALE:  Like this is like how my [INAUDIBLE]

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, see what is happening.

UNKNOWN MALE:  Oh my goodness. That is such a delightful boil.

KASHIKA SINGH:  So, this is boiling, right? So, there's so many ways of describing one's anger. So, the word in Hindi and Urdu is?


KASHIKA SINGH:  Ubalna]. So, ubalna means to boil and when you say somebody, "Why are you like [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]? " So, you can see like so angry. So, we have expressions like that. No, actually, that's a beautiful way.

UNKNOWN MALE:  It looks like it's having so much fun.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes. So, it has to boil, giggling boil. Thanks my darling, thank you so much. So, we will let it boil till our rice is done.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You're listening to Earth Eats and we're in the kitchen at the IU Food Institute, cooking with Kashika Singh. After a short break we'll talk more with Kashika about what inspired her to do these cooking sessions on campus. Stay tuned.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Earth Eats, this is Kayte Young. We're back with Kashika Singh. We're talking about the cooking sessions she's been doing at the IU Food Institute. Once a month, on a Friday, she's been teaching her Hindi Urdu language students, and others, how to prepare home style Indian food. I wanted to hear more from her about why she wanted to offer these workshops and what they mean to her.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Food connects to, for me personally, it's something that I connect with, in ways that are hard to describe at times, perhaps because I've been away from my family, from India, and America has become my home. But when a place becomes your home I think we still keep the things that mean a lot, you know, and I think food is one of the ways. Beautiful memories, nostalgia. So, I think it's personal for me, but I also see the positive effects and impacts that it has made on my students. I'm personally very happy that I've been able to do this because the inception, the idea, came to support students' mental health. I saw that decline in my classroom and, being a mother, I saw that at home.

 My daughter, in middle school, she did entirely online. It affected the mental health so much. And then I saw it in my students. So, I thought something like this needs to be done, where it's different and they also feel a sense that they are cared for, looked after.

KAYTE YOUNG:  How were you noticing the mental health issues with your students? What brought it to your attention?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Many ways. So, they missed the class, or, if they were in class they will be very exhausted, very passive and not very engaged, and missing class was the biggest one, and we have a attendance policy in our classroom because being present is very important in a language classroom. So, it affected in other ways. It started to affect my classroom enrollment actually. Every class has an attendance policy that is aligned with the credit hours of five, four and three, and after missing that many classes the students fail the course, and that was another big reason for a decline in mental health because these students were struggling.

 They wanted to continue in the classroom but they were unable to do that because they had missed. Some students took it as a personal failure, and I saw that and, as a teacher, as a language instructor, that was very uncomfortable for me. So, I was just trying to experiment with ways to facilitate that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, to facilitate a connection with some students who were maybe feeling disconnected?

KASHIKA SINGH:  And there's so many reasons that they can feel like that, and I really appreciate the initiative that IU is taking for mental health, and providing all the resources. And I think we all can do our part and I was doing my part and students have loved it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, how do you think, bringing people together, to cook together and eat together, helps facilitate mental health or helps with mental health?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes, that's a difficult question to answer because I wish I knew how. But, every time when somebody came, a student or a member from campus faculty, there's a joy in cooking, but there's a greater joy in seeing when a person eats your food and then they appreciate it. I can see that, like when students or anybody who's a part of those cooking sessions, they leave saying that they'll come back. They say that, you know, this was one of the highlights of their week. They just felt that they were at home and that's all what they wanted, and when they say "I wish we could do this more" or as simple as "Oh it's such a nice way to end the Friday, after a stressful week."

 So, I think that means a lot to me. I mean I wish I could take away all their stresses and create that, but they're in college, they're doing a lot of other work and stress is a part of our everyday life now.

KASHIKA SINGH:  I've said this many times, and I really believe that the many ways we can express our love, and one of the ways to express the love is through food. In India that's what we believe. There are so many ways we express our care or love, you know, and I mean in a more general way like your mom making your favorite dish or even if it is a simple dish, there's some magic in the way you mothers cook. I grew up enjoying meals that were cooked from scratch. We did not grow up having the option of what would you like to have? We just ate what was cooked and we really enjoyed that, and it was very simple meal but we enjoyed that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You said earlier, I'm not sure exactly the word you used, but you talked about it being a joy to cook for people and to have people enjoying your food. But it also, you know, hosting a large group of people for food and them watching you cook, that can also be stressful and a lot of work, and it's kind of like teaching. But it seemed like you were getting energy from it and I don't want to interpret how you feel, but is it sort of a mix of being stressful and exhausting but then also feeding you in some way?

KASHIKA SINGH:  I'll be honest. It is exhausting, like the whole cooking, but that is not the thing I feel. I think I feel very enthusiastic, very energized, and I feel like, oh my god, you know, the way it affects my students, the way it affects everybody who's involved, I think that energizes me and I also feel that this is not a class but this is a window to a culture, and without these students traveling to India, they're getting a lot. To be able to share that, it's the experience and just the joy that I see on their faces after having the meal and packing a little to-go box, when they go, and then they say "Oh, we'll come next week" and next time, again, you know, next month.

 And then also they will report to me, they'll say "Oh, I cooked this and it turned out so well." So, I think they're not there only to have a dinner or a meal, but some students who come they also practice. They're making it. So, that is one very happy, positive feeling that I connect with. Like, when I'm cooking and preparing the vegetables, that is therapeutic to me, even just chopping the vegetables and putting on the plate in an organized way. It's the whole process for me and I think it's a process, when we cook, and how it washed, how it is chopped, how fine, everything. So, while I do that it's like everybody has their own thing and for me I think it's cooking. Probably during the pandemic I also picked on gardening.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Something that I observed, coming to the cooking session was that, like you said, it was an experience. It was very experiential on all the senses. It's a crowded kitchen, it got really hot and all these sounds and all these aromas and people talking, and I can't even really explain it, but I felt just sort of enveloped in all of these sensory experiences. And I also observed that a lot of the students, you know, there was a real diverse crowd of students who were there, and not just students, there were other people who had attended from community or campus, and some of the students who were not from the United States, or maybe have grown up in the U.S. but maybe in an immigrant household were talking about "Oh, this is like my mom. You can't believe what my mom does."

 I could hear them telling different stories about their mothers in the kitchen and I just thought that was really nice. You could tell that they were really getting that sensation and they were connecting with each other over those shared experiences from their households.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes. No, thank you. That's the exact observation I have experienced that. We just are talking about a community, about diversity, about being comfortable, being loved and sharing that love. It might sound like, oh my god, how can you do that with food, but I can see that, and international students, they miss their home and the recipes, they're very simple, simple everyday food. But with time and space even the simple things become so lavish, a luxury or special. Like, one of the first dishes that I prepared was Kitchari, and Kitchari you can add whatever you want. If you're not in a mood of making a big meal, that's what you make, or if you're not feeling well, upset stomach or you are trying to detox, so many reasons. But, some of the international students who came and they said "Oh, you know, I came because I'm missing kitchari."

KAYTE YOUNG:  What is kitchari?

KASHIKA SINGH:  Kitchari, it's basically a dish with lentils and green mung beans, split green mung beans and there are varieties. You can add split green mung beans and sometimes people will add other lentils also, toor or [FOREIGN LANGUAGE] we call it. Any vegetable you want to add; potatoes, carrots, tomato. Anything that you have in the fridge you want to add. You can make a lighter version on your stomach, you know, just a little bit of salt and turmeric or you can make a masala kitchari and you can have it with ghee, you can have it sesame oil. It's a preference.

KAYTE YOUNG:  But it's a real basic, traditional dish that a lot of people would know?


KAYTE YOUNG:  I remember, a few years ago, seeing the kitchen at the IU Food Institute. It's just a small kitchen in a little house and I remember thinking, oh, well that's nice that they have an oven and so forth, but they won't really be able to do cooking demos because it's just not that kind of kitchen, it's just not really set up. But then seeing you do the cooking, I realized what a perfect kitchen it was, especially for the kind of cooking that you were doing because it wasn't a show, it was a participation and it was how crowded it got and chaotic was kind of part of the experience and it was okay.

KASHIKA SINGH:  It's such a busy space and, as you said, so much is happening there. It's like India, it's like a mini India. Like, you know, in India, when you go to the street it's so busy; cars and people and vendors and dogs and cows, everything you can see on the street. So, a very lively, busy scene you can see and hear. The kitchen is like everybody is doing their thing. A group of students is talking, helping, chopping the vegetables, stirring. We learn also how to navigate in that kind of atmosphere. So, it's community building and one thing aligns with another thing. It's always like "Oh, I'm doing everything" and then if "I'm doing everything" becomes "We are doing everything together", it just becomes so nice.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I used to teach cooking classes at a food pantry here in Bloomington and it was about teaching simple meals you can make with whole foods and showing people how they could cook with these vegetables and wholegrains and different things, and there was some point when we realized that the cooking classes, they weren't as much about learning to cook as they were about gathering together in a kitchen to do something together and I just really got that feeling from your session.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Yes, thank you for noticing that and saying that, because that is what I had hoped that this would do. Food is having a meal together, but it's also a glimpse of a culture. I think how beautiful it is that we can enjoy a meal together without knowing that person. I really want to emphasize that diversity, this campus, talks about a lot of diversity and there are so many diversity events. We can embrace diversity in a very simple way, as cooking, because everybody comes there. We are talking, I don't know who these students are and it's a safe place for everybody to come and practice and learn, and then one student would come and the next time brings four more. So, I think it's a very simple way of including.

 It's very easy to do this. One idea could connect with so students, so many people, and I think there's something with the food that which you have grown with. It could be a very simple thing. For me, it's like even the sound that is in the kitchen when I'm frying the onion or the aroma or even the spices when they are blending there has to be a point where the oil has to be on the top of the spices and then you know that it's cooked now, or when to add the tomato and the chili powder. Like those little things matter a lot. Everybody will say "oh this reminded me of home." I think that was very special and I think to have that, in a college campus, I think that was very important.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

KASHIKA SINGH:  Thank you. Thank you so much.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Kashika Singh, senior Hindi Urdu lecturer in the Dhar India Studies Program at Indiana University. Her cooking sessions took place at the IU Food Institute on Park Street. Sadly, the IU Food Institute is closing its doors, but their website is still active. Hopefully, In the Kitchen with Kashika will continue in another venue. So, check the Food Institute's website in the Fall. We have links to all of it, plus photos of Kashika cooking on our website;

KAYTE YOUNG:  The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. The show is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Special thanks this week to Kashika Singh and everyone at the IU Food Institute. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our executive producer is John Bailey.

Kashika Singh standing at stove with a bowl of chopped ginger while other people look on

Kashika cooks in a crowded hot kitchen, with aromas of spices, sounds of sizzling onions and voices sharing stories of home. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“Food connects to…for me personally, it’s something that I connect with in ways that are hard to describe at times. Perhaps because I’ve been away from my family, from India, and America has become my home. But, when a place becomes your home, I think we still keep the things that mean a lot. And I think food is one of the ways–you know? It’s beautiful memories, nostalgia…”  

This week on the show, we’re in the kitchen with Kashika Singh. At the time of our visit, she taught Hindi and Urdu languages at Indiana University, and she shares another aspect of Indian culture –namely, food.

I dropped in on one of her cooking sessions at the IU Food Institute, and sat down with her in the studio to learn more about her work.Kashika Singh reaching into a large steaming pot, surrounded by others people around a table

Food connects people. This is a concept we’ve explored many times on this show. This week, we’re paying a visit to a little house on the edge of the IU campus where the IU Food Institute has been situated for the past 8 years. It is the site of monthly cooking sessions called In the Kitchen with Kashika. 

Kashika Singh is a former Hindi Urdu Lecturer in the Dhar India Studies program at Indiana University. When she noticed the effect the pandemic was having on the mental health of her students, she wanted to find a way to connect with students in a less academic way. She had often included a section on food in her classes, and she decided that monthly cooking sessions would be a nice change of pace for students, and could offer some of the comforts of home that they might be missing. She partnered with the IU Food institute and opened the informal workshops to anyone who wanted to join in. 

I had the chance to experience one of the last cooking sessions of the school year. Together they made Rajma, a spicy kidney bean dish, seasoned Basmati rice called Jeera, and a simple bread called baati. 

A close up of a plate of food with beans, rice, a bright red sauce and a round, cracked rollLater, I sat down with Kashika in the studio to talk about what these workshops mean to her. Listen to our conversation and highlights from the cooking session, on this week's episode of Earth Eats.

Mentioned in this episode: 


Sattvic foods -- plain food, hardly any spices, no garlic ginger onion

Tamasic foods –- hot in nature, also can include non-vegetarian food.

Mathani -- a wooden whisk used to churn butter to make ghee

Kitchari -- Indian comfort food

Lolark Kund -- the sacred step well that Kashika mentions in the story of her name

Note: The IU Food Institute has closed it's doors on Park Street, but their website remains active. Check their website in the fall for updates.

Furthermore, Kashika Singh is no longer teaching at IU.

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media