During her school years, Priyanka Naik would carry her vegetarian lunch inside a tiffin, a type of stacked steel box compartmentalizing each component in her meal.
Now as a self-taught vegan cook and food media personality, Naik has applied this concept of dishes being portable, healthy and tasty toward her first cookbook.
In “The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair” (Tiller Press, 2021), Naik has prepared a collection of vegan-focused recipes based upon her experiences of visiting nearly 40 countries to date and growing up as a first-generation Indian American.
The word “tiffin” also inspired the name of Naik’s cookbook because it reflected not only her Indian background but also her approach to mindful and sustainable eating.
“There’s a lot of value in that kind of lifestyle, [in] cooking for yourself and packing food for yourself,” said Naik. “Because when you cook for yourself, you’re very cognizant and aware of what goes into your food.”
Naik grew up on Staten Island and now resides in Manhattan. While reflecting on her upbringing as a Maharashtrian, which represents those who are from the Indian state of Maharashtra, her teaching about cooking would also be expanded globally. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Naik made it her goal to travel to two or three new countries a year.
Along with her family background, Naik said that her travels have been a driving force behind her desire to pursue cooking. “I wanted those two concepts to be very prevalent in the book,” she explained. “So that’s why each chapter in the book focuses on a different part of the world that I’ve been to or have experienced.”
“The Modern Tiffin” incorporates 55 recipes from around the world; they consist of dishes tied to the destinations that Naik visited. But she also modified them to bring vegetables to the forefront and to make them accessibly proportioned for two people. For example, her chapter on Italy – referred to as “the Italian Tiffin” – features a new version of bruschetta with chickpeas and garam marsala plus a Bucatini a la Pumpkin with Pink Peppercorn & Pistachio. Her entry on Australia reflects partly upon avocado toast, which originated there.
Yet the self-taught Naik describes her approach to chronicling her culinary experiences as being takeaways of what she ate. “I want people to feel like they’re taking a journey through the book. When they’re reading my book, they feel like they’re experiencing a little bit of India, or Italy, or Spain, or Mexico, or wherever it is.”
Once thinking about pursuing a culinary degree, Naik decided to instead focus on finetuning her kitchen skills. She launched her website, “Chef Priyanka” in 2011. She went on to become the host of Tastemade’s “Dish It Healthy” on the Food Network Kitchen. She also was a season five winner on the Food Network’s “Cooks vs Cons” and won on Quibi’s “Dishmantled.”
As the pandemic has redirected us back to cooking at home, Naik thinks that “The Modern Tiffin” can provide some kitchen inspiration. Even if a reader isn’t a fully plant eater or a flexitarian, Naik thinks her cookbook can help incorporate more vegetables into their day-to-day diet.