Auyon Mukharji hits all the right notes when creating both perfectly blended meals and music. A singer, songwriter, mandolinist and violinist in the four-man indie folk-pop band Darlingside, Mukharji draws on his experiences growing up in an Indian home to inform his onstage performances and offstage epicurean expertise.
Growing up in Prairie Village as the middle of three boys, 29-year-old Mukharji learned to prepare Indian food from his mother, Jyoti Mukharji, a monthly Chow Town blogger. Now living in Massachusetts, he still has strong ties to the Kansas City area.
Called “Mama Mukharji” by the band, Jyoti also teaches Indian cooking classes out of her home, where strangers quickly become friends in her kitchen. “Indian people have a welcoming spirit,” Jyoti says. “I think Auyon has learned as much about that from me as he has about Indian cooking.”
Q: Darlingside plays passionate songs that defy easy categorization. The same might be said of Indian cuisine: The preparation requires a lot of passion, but the food defies easy categorization.
A: Different areas of India have their own flavor profiles and foods they make. My father, Jhulan, is from the state of West Bengal, with a cuisine known for fish, exotic vegetables and lentils. My mother was born in Uttar Pradesh, but her ancestral state is Punjab, where the cuisine is characterized by rich flavors and the use of the tandoor, a specialized clay oven.
My mother has a drawer in her kitchen dedicated to the many spices it takes to create that depth of flavor found in Indian food. I’m working on building up a similar collection in my kitchen in Cambridge, Mass., under her careful cross-country guidance.
Q: Did you grow up with a deep appreciation for Indian food?
A: My parents moved to this house in 1995, and when my brothers and I were growing up, we would beg my mother to make American foods. So, for example, she would try to make hamburgers but would season the meat with spices used in India, such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, mace, anise, coriander and cumin — which my brothers and I didn’t necessarily want.
Now, in the band, it’s like running a small business, and often I find myself making food for my three best friends and anyone else who happens to be hanging around. What I’ve learned from my mother is that good food directly increases the happiness quotient and brings people together.
Q: The parallels between orchestrating music and a good meal seem endless.
A: Some people can be as emotionally moved by food as they can by music. Somehow, both of these things touch a primal chord within and can be a conduit that opens up a connection. Whether it’s music or food, people come together to consume it on some level.
You don’t need to make the meal or be onstage making music to enter into the creative process either. You can be on the receiving end of a good meal or in the audience at a concert and be just as vital by showing appreciation for the entire process that brought people together to share a sublime moment.
Q: Indian food is so much more than curries, too. Why share this particular recipe?
A: Biryani has Persian roots and is a dish traditionally enjoyed during celebrations. Rice is a staple in India, and “dum pukht” is a technique of cooking, which seals in the steam during the final stages of cooking.
Of course, it is all the spices that make this dish. While it may frighten some cooks away, my mother is always explaining all of the health and anti-inflammatory benefits of all these different spices.
Now, I find I channel my mother in the simplest of dishes, like preparing an egg in ghee (clarified butter), seasoning with Indian spices and serving it on flatbread. I guess my cooking has come full circle and found its way back home to my mother’s kitchen.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Darlingside performs at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Tank Room, 1813 Grand Blvd. Tickets start at $15. Go to Darlingside.com and click the “Live” link for more information.
Mushroom Dum Biryani
Makes 6 servings
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 mace blade (whole mace)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 (1-inch) piece gingerroot, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
10 black peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned
12 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves, divided
5 drops kewra water (floral flavored water used to flavor rice and puddings), available at Indian markets
To make rice: Into a large Dutch oven, bring water — seasoned with bay leaf, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, mace blade and salt — to a boil over medium heat on stovetop. While water is boiling, add rice, and boil another 5 minutes. Pour half-cooked rice into a colander placed in the sink and allow to drain.
To prepare mushrooms: Pour oil into a large sauté pan set on medium heat on stovetop.
Add onion and sauté until translucent. Season with grated ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, peppercorns, coriander, cumin and turmeric and continue to sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and cook for another 4 minutes on stovetop. Add yogurt, garam masala, salt, mushrooms, and half of the chopped mint and cilantro to sauté pan, stirring until well combined and take off heat.
To assemble dish: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a large, ovenproof pot with a lid, spread a layer of half-cooked rice along the bottom and top with a layer of the mushroom mixture. Continue layering rice and mushroom mixture in pot until all ingredients are used, ending up with a layer of rice on top.
Sprinkle kewra water over top rice layer. Place a large piece of aluminum foil over pot, sealing the edges. Place lid tightly on top, and bake for 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked through.
Pour contents of pot onto a serving platter and garnish with remaining mint and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 432 calories (15 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 82 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 853 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.