Bollywood Kitchen with Sri Rao

This week on Jazzy Vegetarian Radio, I am pleased to welcome Sri Rao who is a writer-director-producer living in New York City. Sri has been working as a television screenwriter for over a decade, and is uniquely positioned as one of the few Americans working in Bollywood, India's musical movie industry. His book "Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films" is the first consumer-market book about Bollywood and will be released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in November, 2017.

This week, on the Jazzy Vegetarian blog, we are pleased to welcome back our new blogger, Nicky VanValkenburgh, who is a vegan, wife, mom and writer from South Carolina. Nicky recently chatted with Sri Rao via phone, and today she shares the interview with us, plus she shares one of her own tasty recipes. Thank you Nicky!


Sri Rao’s Bollywood Kitchen:
Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films

By Nicky VanValkenburgh

In case you don’t know, “Bollywood” is the nickname given to the Indian film industry. It's a play on the word Hollywood. The B comes from Bombay (also known as Mumbai,) a big city in India. Evidently, films are made so fast that sometimes actors on set shoot scenes for four different films at a time, using the same actors on the same backgrounds.

Our guest is Sri Rao, a Bollywood writer-director-producer based in New York City. Sri’s production company has produced two major Bollywood films for India’s largest and most well-respected studio, Yash Raj Films.

Evidently, Bollywood sells twice as many tickets worldwide as Hollywood. Sri’s movies, “New York” and “Badmaash Company,” were filmed in America for a global market. Sri and his team managed an international cast and crew, including A-list Indian actor Irrfan Khan who starred in films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi.”

Sri’s Connection to Jazzy Vegetarian

On Season Six of Jazzy Vegetarian (JV,) Sri is one of our celebrity guests and he prepares “Rajma,” which is Indian kidney beans, with Laura Theodore on the show.

“I've been a fan of Jazzy Vegetarian for years,” said Sri. “I love cooking shows, but there are so few that are focused on healthy cooking, and even fewer on vegetarian cuisine. I always look for Laura's show and have enjoyed watching it through the seasons.”

Occasionally Vegetarian & Loves Jazzylicious Food

“I am Hindu so I was raised to understand that we're all sacred, living creatures -- humans and animals alike. Although I do eat meat, I do so with mindfulness. Perhaps Sri is best described as occasionally vegetarian. He says, “I'm passionate about vegetarian food and often observe days when I don't eat meat for religious reasons. Vegetarian cooking is a big part of Indian cuisine.”

Sri Rao
Photo Credit: Lisa Vollmer

Sri’s Bollywood Kitchen

Sri has a book coming out in the fall: “Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films.”

“My book is great for people who like Indian food, which is fairly easy to make at home. Most of the recipes in my book can be made with ingredients that are probably already in your pantry,” said Sri.

Sri likes to serve food that is easy and healthy. There are tons of vegetarian and vegan recipes in his cookbook, such as Dal (lentils,) Rajma (kidney beans,) Chana Masala (chickpeas), and lots of veggie curries that include kale, green beans, pumpkin, beets, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and more. (Find Sri’s recipes for Rajma, below).

“My book is also a lot of fun for people who don’t know much about Bollywood. I introduce readers to the best Bollywood musicals that you can rent on Netflix or iTunes. These are gorgeous, over-the-top, technicolor musicals that are incredibly fun to watch. Plus, I offer recipes that you can make and eat while you watch,” said Sri.

He explained that his book offers as an introduction to the huge genre of global cinema: “If you like musicals, then you have to watch a Bollywood film because no one does it better!” said Sri.

Writer Nicky Vanvalkenburgh loves making Vegan versions of Indian food at home, such as Coconut Curry with Tofu and Broccoli (scroll down for her recipe). When she’s not in the kitchen, Nicky coordinates a plant-based vegan potluck in Greenville, SC. Learn more about Nicky on her website at



Photo: Sidney Bensimon


Rajma (Hearty Kidney Bean Stew)

By Sri Rao

 Makes 4 servings

This awesome recipe was created by writer-director-producer Sri Rao, and he was kind enough to share it with us on the Jazzy Vegetarian television show this season! It’s hard to believe that simple kidney beans can transform into a dish with so many layers of flavor. Smoky cumin, earthy coriander, warm ginger and spicy garlic combine to make rajma, a true showstopper. This is North Indian comfort food—and all you’ll need is one bowl of warm stew to understand why.


1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil or canola oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon Indian red chili powder or cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 cans (15.5-ounces each) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup hot water

1 1/4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste

1/2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Vegan yogurt or Cashew Sour Cream (page XX), to finish (optional)



In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to pop, add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, reducing the heat to medium (or medium-low), if necessary, to prevent the onions from burning. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the cumin, Indian red chili powder (or cayenne pepper), salt and turmeric. Stir the spices into the onions, allowing them to bloom, for about 30 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes. Cover and cook until the tomatoes have broken down, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the beans and stir. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice (or tamarind paste) into the hot stew along with the tamari (or soy sauce). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cilantro and coriander. Use the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to crush about half of the beans to create a rich gravy. Continue cooking, increasing heat as necessary, until the sauce is thick and transforms from red to deep brown, another 5 to 10 minutes or so.

Adjust the salt and seasonings, to taste. Garnish with optional fresh cilantro and serve in a bowl with Turmeric Quinoa (page XX), Spicy Rice (page XX) or roti (Indian flatbread). If desired, finish with a dollop of vegan yogurt or Cashew Sour Cream (page XX).

Recipe reprinted with permission from Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired With Unforgettable Bollywood Films by Sri Rao (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) Sri Rao is a writer-director-producer living in New York City. Learn more about Sri at:


Laura Theodore prepares Rajma with Sri Rao in Season Six of Jazzy Vegetarian, which premieres on many public television stations in September, 2017. (Check local listings)

Photo credit: Andy Ebberbach



Nicky Vanvalkenburgh’s Coconut Curry with Tofu & Broccoli


Makes 1 to 2 servings

1 block (16 ounces) firm or extra firm tofu (sprouted or regular)

1 carton “So Delicious” Organic Culinary-Grade Coconut Milk (11 ounces)

½ to 1 tablespoon Maesri Red Curry Paste (depending on your spice level)

1 small onion, sliced

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, pureed into liquid in the blender

1 to 2 cups broccoli, cut into florets

1 teaspoon ginger

1 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced


Take the tofu out of the package, drain off the water, and put it on top of a paper towel or a kitchen towel and put another towel on top of the tofu to drain. Discard the water from the tofu and pat dry with paper towel. Cut the tofu into cubes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the tofu cubes on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Flip halfway, so tofu is brown on both sides.

While the tofu is cooking, heat a skillet with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (or some water) and add the onion and garlic. Add broccoli, and cover with lid until it is lightly cooked (4 to 6 minutes), then add the pureed tomato, red curry paste, ginger and carton of coconut milk.

Stir everything together and let it cook for 8 to10 minutes, or until warm. Remove from the heat and pour into bowl for serving. Add your browned tofu from the oven.

Serve it with rice, quinoa, or other grain of choice.

The coconut milk that I use. You can find it at Whole Foods and other places. (I like it that there is no aluminum can— for those who are sensitive to metal) This is organic too.

This is the curry paste that I use, available at most oriental stores. Look for the plastic container, although it also comes in cans. This is what most local restaurants use to get authentic curry flavor.