I was recently at a book signing when I met local debut author Amin Ahmad. We started talking about his novel, The Caretaker, that released just yesterday, and he told me how much his hero liked to cook Indian food. So, of course, I asked for a sneak peek into the book and the hero and Amin was kind enough to oblige. (He writes under the name A.X. Ahmad)

So here we go – his hero, my recipe, where you can see Amin in June in DC …

THE CARETAKER – Available May 21 on St. Martin’s Press

“Told with propulsive narrative drive, The Caretaker weaves a compelling story, beguiling characters, and two exotic locales—India and Martha’s Vineyard—into a suspenseful whole.  A wonderful debut.”

This fine thriller debut views disturbing political realism through the lens of Ranjit Singh, a newly immigrated Sikh fleeing danger in India…. Ahmad laces Ranjit’s voice with sadness, creating beauty as he spins a cynically smart political thriller…. Beyond the masterfully crafted, high-adrenaline story, readers will be fascinated by Ranjit’s strong Sikh faith, rarely seen in American fiction.” —Booklist, starred review

Aarti Virani in the WSJ talks to Amin

Shivani Vora talks to Amin for the NYT blog

I am waiting for my copy to arrive so that I can read it. Sounds amazing! Monica Bhide

An unlikely hero

By Amin Ahmad

The protagonist of my first thriller, THE CARETAKER, is an unlikely hero. He is a Sikh ex-Indian Army Captain who now lives in America and spends his days raking leaves, cleaning gutters, and picking up his young daughter from school. And even more strangely, he cooks.

James Bond does not cook. Tom Clancy’s characters are so busy thwarting evil that they hardly eat. But when things get bad, my character, Ranjit Singh, cooks his favorite Indian dish: khitchri, a one pot, rice-and-lentil concoction.

Ranjit learns to cook khitchri in the army, when he is fighting a hidden war high up on the Siachen Glacier. When he comes to America as an illegal immigrant, he cooks the same dish for his wife and daughter. And when things fall apart, and he is being hunted, he cooks it again and eats it, knowing it might very well be his last meal.

Ranjit is a tough guy. He would never say that he is homesick, or that he misses India. So instead he cooks food that reminds him of home. And he keeps making this one dish, in defiance of the people who are trying to kill him, as if to say, I still exist.

Like Ranjit, I came to America as an immigrant. It was 1985, and Indian stores were hard to find; in any case, I only knew one dish. Yes, it was khitchri.

Whenever I found basmati rice and masoor lentils, I would make khitchri, and it helped to stave of my homesickness. With every fragrant bite, I could imagine that I was back in India, and that instead of snow on the ground outside, there was heat and rain and women in saris.

Since then, I have learned to cook many more dishes. But I passed on my skill to my character. Ranjit Singh is out there somewhere in the fictional universe, solving mysteries and battling bad guys. And when he gets tired or homesick, at least he can make khitchri.

– A.X. Ahmad is author of THE CARETAKER (May 2013), and a forthcoming sequel, BOLLYWOOD TAXI. More about him and his books at: axahmad.com

Join Amin at his first reading!!

WHEN: Wed June 5 at 7:00 PM
WHERE: Politics and Prose Bookstore in DC.
(As you know, Politics and Prose is a wonderful bookstore in upper NW. There is parking in the rear, and on the side streets.)

Here is a recipe of my khitchri. I use yellow moong dal but you can use red masoor dal. You will have to increase the cooking time for the red lentils.

Serves 3-4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

4 tablespoons vegetable oil or clarified butter

Pinch of asafetida (optional)

1 tsp. whole cumin seeds

2 cloves

1 small red onion, peeled, thinly sliced

1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

¾ cup yellow moong beans, washed, and drained

1/2 cup Basmati rice, washed and drained

Salt to taste

5 cups of water

1. Heat oil or ghee in heavy bottomed casserole on medium flame. (Make sure your casserole dish is large enough to hold the rice and dal, as the quantity will almost double when it is cooked.) Add the asafetida, cumin seeds and cloves. As soon as the seeds sizzle, add the onions and ginger. Sauté until the onion begins to turn brown, 5-6 minutes.

2. Add the moong beans and rice. Sauté for about a minute or two. Add salt. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook gently for 1/2 hour, stirring now and then to prevent sticking. Uncover and check to ensure that the rice and lentils have cooked completely. They should be soft to the touch and mash easily. The finished dish should have the consistency of a thick porridge. Serve hot.

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