Pa. woman’s ‘midlife crisis’ leads to easier Indian cooking
PITTSBURGH — Priya Osuri was in her early 40s when she had what she calls her "midlife crisis" moment in 2014. She ended up starting her Richland, Pennsylvania-based spice company, Anar Gourmet Foods, because of it.
Although she enjoyed the work, her demanding sales and marketing job in the medical diagnostic industry in Indianapolis was also wearing her down. The familiar aromas and taste of her mom's Indian recipes, which she prepared after work, provided a form of self care.
"I'd cook my heart out, I was so stressed out," she recalls.
It was a labor of love, because Indian dishes can require a vast array of whole and ground spices, and they're often added in different steps to layer the flavors, she says. For instance, it takes three hours to make a pound of her grandmother Anna Sikhamony's hot curry powder. The act of measuring, grinding and mixing various spices also reminded her how much she loved to cook — and the world of possibility outside of the medical field.
Wanting to share the fruits of her labor, she started making and selling her spice mixes at a farmers market. To her surprise, customers loved them. So when her husband, Glenn Gershon, got a job in Pittsburgh in 2015, she decided to make her spices under the label Anar Gourmet Foods full time as a business.
Many cooks are intimidated by Indian food, she says, because there are so many steps "and it takes forever." It's also expensive to buy the dozen or more spices you probably only need a pinch of and know will end up at the back of your pantry. Her gourmet seasoning kits shorten the process. In addition to a perfect blend of spices, all come with a recipe and detailed, step-by-step cooking instructions on the back.
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Building the company brick by brick, the Richland resident says, "was a leap of faith. But I had such a good reception that I thought there was something to it."
Today, Anar Gourmet Foods offers 12 spice mixes along with Osuri's grandmother's South Indian hot curry powder, which is unique to the village of Narsapur in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It's made with a proprietary blend of six spices.
"It's our secret sauce," she says, "and we do not deviate. It's done in a way that can't be replicated."
Anar Gourmet spices were first made by hand at home and then later in a rented commercial kitchen. The seasoning kits are now blended and packaged by Pittsburgh Spice & Seasoning Co. and sold in more than 100 Giant Eagle and Market District stores. You also can find them online at anargourmetfoods.com and in smaller markets such as Naturally Soergel's and T-Bones Marketplace.
Amy Soergel actually gave Osuri her first break back in 2016 when she agreed to put Anar spices on the market's shelves. Giant Eagle came on board in 2020, thanks to Market District senior director Paul Abbott, who saw Osuri at a pitch competition.
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Given its roots in family, it no surprise the company name also has family ties: Anar is an anadrome of the name of the couple's 13-year-old son, Rana, which means "prince" in Hindi. "But when you reverse the letters to spell Anar," she says, "it means 'pomegranate,' which is a symbol of abundance and prosperity."
It takes at least three or four months to finetune a family-size recipe, and each is tested by a cohort on a grid based on aromatics and taste. All dishes are gluten-, MSG- and preservative free, with spices tailored to the dish's protein.
"It's just clean cooking," she say, right down to the recyclable packaging.
When Osuri moved to the U.S. from India in her early teens, she admits it was difficult to assimilate. "I didn't know if I should change my clothes and accent," she says. Eventually, she realized she didn't have to change at all and could have the best of both worlds by celebrating both cultures.
Her mixes echo that sentiment.
Combining eastern spices with western ingredients results in a balanced "fusion twist" that perfectly marries American and Indian cuisines. She points to her chicken tikka masala blend as a perfect example. You can eat it the traditional way with her grandmother's coconut rice recipes, "or put it in a taco. There's no rules. You can enjoy it however."
Which is not to say they're not authentic, says Osuri, just maybe not as fiery as you might find in India.
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA
- 2 1/2-3 pounds boneless skinless breast or thigh meat
- 1 pack Anar Chicken Tikka Masala seasoning
- 1 cup plain yogurt plain
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon minced jalapeno for medium spice (optional)
- 16-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Indian coconut rice or naan, for serving
- Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Prepare marinade: Discard fat and cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Mix "Step 1" spice packet with yogurt and lemon juice in small bowl. Pour marinade over chicken, mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight for best results.
When ready to cook chicken, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Add marinated chicken to deep baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes.
While chicken is baking, prepare sauce. Melt butter in large skillet/pot over medium heat. Add garlic and jalapeño, and sauté until light brown, about 30-60 seconds. Add "Step 2" spice packet to pan, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Stir in tomato sauce, cream and mix well. Cover with lid, simmer for 10-15 minutes, until large bubbles form. Stir occasionally to blend flavors.
Remove chicken from oven, scoop up chicken from liquid with slotted spoon and add to skillet/pot. Mix well. Cover with lid, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until chicken falls apart easily.
Serve with rice or naan, with fresh cilantro for a garnish. For a fusion Indian twist, serve with egg noodles or as a taco filling with favorite toppings.
— Priya Osuri, Anar Gourmet Foods
AUTHENTIC INDIAN COCONUT RICE
This fragrant coconut rice with roots in Andhra Pradesh in India has delighted Priya Osuri's family for decades on special occasions. The recipe can easily be doubled.
- 1 cup raw rice (or 2 cups when doubling recipe).
- 6 or 7 raw cashews, optional
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely diced onion, preferably purple
- 1/2 thumb-size jalapeno pepper, deseeded & finely diced (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk, mixed in can or in bowl until liquid and milk are well combined, preferably without lumps.
- 1 1/2 cups water
Rinse and drain basmati rice in water a couple of times to get rid of starch. Place in bowl and add enough warm water o cover rice, and set aside for at least 30 mins prior to cooking.
Break each cashew nut into halves or quarters.. Place in a small bowl and fill with cold water to soften for 10 minutes prior to cooking.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a pot. Add diced onions, and cook until soft but not golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Add diced jalapeño and cashew nuts, and sauté for 1-2 minutes, making sure cashew nuts DO NOT burn. Add turmeric, and mix well.
Drain water from rice, then add rice to spices in pot. Mix well to coat rice with spices. Add coconut milk to pot and mix well. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon salt, and mix well. Cover pot with tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil.
After it comes to a boil, turn down heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes. Stir rice after 10 minutes to make sure it is not burning. (If rice is starting to burn at the bottom and not cooked on top, stir to bring burnt rice to top. Turn heat down even lower and add a couple of tablespoons of water.
After 15 minutes, stir rice frequently and check. If it is not cooked, turn heat down to low and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired, then turn stove off. Spoon rice into a serving bowl and serve with your favorite dish.
— Priya Osuri, Anar Gourmet Foods
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