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Chutney Cheats

Aug/04/2023 / by Maureen Petrosky

Fast, healthy Indian fusion for busy weeknight meals with help from Patak Patel

These lazy days of summer aren’t meant for cooking dinner. You could be lounging poolside or at the beach instead of standing over a hot stove or grill. Without stopping for fast food, we went in search of ideas to keep ourselves and our families nourished with good choices this season. The creator of The Chutney Life blog, Patak Patel, is known for her resourcefulness in the kitchen. She’s got recipes for everyone. Whether you are a busy mom on the go or a rookie in the kitchen she makes cooking wholesome meals seem easy. Her blog and Instagram should be on your radar for fabulous recipes and kitchen inspiration. 

Her new cookbook, The Chutney Life, is set to be released this fall, and she gave SEEMA a sneak peek. Packed with favorite recipes like her signature snack —spreading lasan ni chutney (a spicy spread made by pounding together fresh garlic cloves and chili powder in a mortar and pestle) inside of a quesadilla, or tips on how to amp up simple soups with her go-to spices are sure to keep your weeknight meals fun and delicious. This month she shared with us her top tips for easy weeknight meals so we can all enjoy as much of our summer days and evenings as possible.

Recipe Repertoire

Patak says having a well-stocked kitchen and a few solid recipes are a lifesaver on weeknights. “In my pantry, you’ll find essentials, like canned beans and tomatoes for soups or stews, and I always take a little time at the beginning of the week to peel some garlic and ginger so I don’t have to do it for every meal during the week. Moreover, great flavor-packed condiments like harissa, gochujang, and an array of spices help meals come together effortlessly!”

Cook Once, Eat Twice

If you’re going through the trouble of cooking she says be sure to double the batch. If you’re cooking a meal, double the recipe and freeze some for next time so all you have to do is defrost and heat!

Success In The Kitchen

Even if you love cooking, you may despise the cleanup. She says, “I love cooking, but hate cleaning. As dinner is cooking, take a few minutes to tidy up the kitchen and get things in the dishwasher to be as efficient as possible.” This way you can enjoy dinner and relax afterward because the cleanup is already done.

Get Creative

Don’t be afraid to use shortcuts! Patak says she can think of a million ways to use a rotisserie chicken, or repurpose leftover rice from takeout! Semi-homemade meals are perfect for busy weeknights.

Stock Your Pantry 

Keeping your pantry stocked with your favorite spices and ingredients makes last-minute meals much more accessible. Patak’s must-haves include coconut milk, curry paste, lots of lentils, canned beans, and tomatoes, and grains like rice and quinoa. With these staples, you can make so many simple meals.

Secret Family Faves

Patak was introduced to soups and quinoa at a very early age, and now her four-year-old is getting the same culinary experience. She says it’s a great way to sneak in tons of nutrition and get away with a one-pot meal. For her family, the biggest hit has been breakfast for dinner. Next time you’re short on time, whip up a big spread with eggs, pancakes (you can make ahead and keep in the freezer to simply reheat and serve), sausage, and fruit. It’s the one meal her son happily eats and hopefully yours will too.

[STORY 2] 

The First American-Born Indian Winemaker

Shalini Sheka takes her creativity to underserved varietals  

As a professionally trained piccolo player, Shalini Sheka always knew she’d have a creative career — but she never anticipated she’d move across the country and end up as the country’s first American-born Indian winemaker. After her husband was transferred to California from their home in New Jersey, she ended up working in a wine tasting room and falling in love with it so much that she ended up studying enology at Fresno State. “I was totally bitten by the wine bug,” she explains. “The reason I love music and winemaking is that both are a combo of science and creativity.” In her experience working at wineries and harvests, she quickly fell in love with Pinot Noir, and started making wines for boutique wineries across the region.  

Today, she’s also hard at work on making wine for herself under her own label, called Ottavino (the word for piccolo in Italian) in tribute to her music roots. She’s working with lesser known varieties, including Grüner Veltliner and a St. Laurent–which she admits few people have heard of yet. “It’s a red variety, also best known from Austria and the surrounding areas, and thought to be related to Pinot Noir,” she explains. “It has a little bit of spiciness to it. It looks dark like Syrah and is easy and lighter in terms of body and tannins. It’s just easy drinking.” 

She feels a special kinship to these types of wine and grapes. “It keeps me creatively happy to continue to use the skills that I have from more traditional varieties to explore these other types. It’s the relationship between tradition and exploration,” she says. “That’s like being in your 40s and Indian American and finally feeling very comfortable with my Third-Culture status. I can make a Pinot under my label, because that is who I am as a winemaker. But I can also do these other things that are exploring, pushing forward, and getting curious and learning.” 

To learn more, visit


Peeling Back the Problem

Gastronomic gamechanger Risha Jasmine Nathan is working to find solutions for unhealthy drinking water 

Dr Risha Jasmine Nathan whose research shows how kiwifruit can be used to take heavy metals out of water – Tuesday 18/0820 PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON

According to the UNESCO World Water Development Report, more than 800,000 people die every year from health problems related to unsafe drinking water and sanitation. One woman out to change that is Risha Jasmine Nathan, FHEA, a lecturer in forensic chemistry at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and food science innovator.

As a PhD student in New Zealand, Nathan experimented with fruit and vegetable peels, including orange, banana, cucumber, apple, kiwi, and potato to remove metals from drinking water, research won her global recognition, including as one of only four Indians on the 50 Next Class of 2022 list. She told India’s Mint Lounge: “My research, which I completed in New Zealand in 2020, was about using food and vegetable peels and converting them into beads, which could suck up heavy metals from drinking water,” says Risha Jasmine Nathan. “My goal is to use the science of toxicology to work towards creating a safer and healthier world,” she says.

At 35 years old, Nathan is working to further her research in hopes of decontaminating drinking water for people all over the world.

Global Stats

  • Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio.
  • 368 million people take water from unprotected wells and springs
  • 122 million people collect untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

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