SPOTLIGHT: Izzah Cheema: Tea for Turmeric

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 16th February 2022 07:33 EST

Izzah brings you authentic modern Pakistani dishes that you can create joyfully at home. She founded her lively cookery blog, Tea for Turmeric, in 2016. The main culinary repertoire consists of Biryani, Chicken Karahi, Zucchini Curry, Chicken Korma and Kashmiri Chai.

The favourite at parties and familial dinners at home, “sentimental” Biryani, is Izzah’s top choice while she told us the Brits’ noticeable go-to is her courgette special: “every summer, I’ll have so many British folk appreciating the Zucchini Curry – the UK really seems to like to garden!” Indeed, starting up a veritable vegetable patch is a popular plan in the UK for many after retirement! However, being accessible as well as yummy, Izzah states that many of the younger South-Asian diaspora have taken to her cuisine: “I make classic Pakistani food that’s also easy to do! It’s tradition made simple e.g., I’ll use shortcuts (like using an Instant Pot), but without cutting corners (still have to brown the onions for classic chicken curry!). Essentially, I bring my millennial experience to the table. There are many Pakistani bloggers who write from their ancestral home, outlining time-honoured recipes very culturally, continuing to mould them within the vicinity of South-Asia today. I am very careful and test every dish so it’s both genuine and delicious but I’m happy to contemporise food. South-Asian cuisine is evolving anyway and it’s about working with what one has. Also, recipes first originated from making use of regional surroundings e.g., in Lahore, Punjab, where my parents are from, they drink buffalo milk rather than cow’s milk which gives that Lassi a distinctive taste. Similarly, the content of my blog responds to the time and place relevant to me.” Izzah grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, in the US where she stated “there was only one Indian restaurant!” Indeed, she was a real-life Dorothy trying to find home: “the dearth of specialist restaurants certainly fuelled my desire to develop a diversity of authentic dishes and give others who wanted hearty options the opportunity.” Indeed, Tea for Turmeric also uniquely offers an array of thoughtful drinks in addition to a colourful food menu. No surprise that the blog was a finalist for the Saveur Blog Awards in the Most Inspired Weeknight Dinners category in 2018. Now, with its chef based in Houston, Texas, the site receives millions of views a year. Izzah concluded: “the highlight has been receiving so many happy comments from readers who say that I’ve helped and boosted them warmly in their lives! For me, cooking is certainly great for confidence. I love being able to host and entertain through such a vibrant medium. It feels great.” Wonderful cooking then is not just the process of mastering intricate recipes but finally feeling fundamentally good. 

What else does Tea for Turmeric have to offer by way of yummy South-Asian recipes?  

The fact that the recipes are also wholesome and healthy. South Asian cuisine naturally incorporates whole, healthful foods, and I try to make traditional dishes even healthier on this blog. You can expect: a wide range of veganvegetarian, and gluten-free recipes (my husband has celiac); homemade spice mixes for recipes like Shami KababHaleem, and Nihari (with option of using store-bought if you’d like!); made-from-scratch recipes that you feel good eating.  

There are lots of South-Asian fusion cooks in the UK – will we be seeing barbequed dishes a la the State of Texas popping up in your vast menu? 

I tend to stick to making classic authentic food accessible, but Pakistani food is known for being grilled and/or charred anyway e.g., kebabs and Tandoori! I do experiment but try to keep the foundation traditional. I am dedicated to giving people fun South-Asian variety.  

What’s your favourite part of the blog? 

Being able to do a few stress-free food-related things at once: from cooking to writing and recommending and interacting with readers. Having a physical restaurant, for example, may be too limiting.  

Who have been some big influences on you? 

I go through so many cookbooks e.g., KHAZANA by Saliha Cooks: Winner of Masterchef 2017. I also read other people’s blogs widely e.g. The Defined Dish by Alex Snodgrass. I love different people for different strengths. I’ll ask up on anyone’s food who I love and admire to get better at the endeavour myself. If you’re an auntie who can cook a good kebab, for example, I’m interested! 


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