Pa. woman’s ‘midlife crisis’ leads to easier Indian cooking

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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 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.

Anar Gourmet Food's gluten-free spice mixes include one for the popular Indian dish, chicken tikka masala. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)


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For mari­nade

  • 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

For sauce

  • 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.

Serves 4-6.

— Priya Osuri, Anar Gour­met Foods


PG tested

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.

Serves 6.

— Priya Osuri, Anar Gour­met Foods


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