An Interview with Preethi Venkatram

Preethi Venkatram is the creator of the Vegan Pumpkin Soup recipe we shared, and she kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. She has an amazing food blog at Cooking with Pree and on social media @cookingwithpree I have always been struck by the beauty of her photography- the colors are so rich and considered, they feel like Dutch still life paintings. We feel really lucky to be working with her!

When did you begin baking/ cooking? Can you remember what caused you to start getting in the kitchen?
I have always been fascinated by cooking. I used to hang around the kitchen watching mom cook. But she never let me do much in the kitchen. She would be afraid I would burn or cut myself. So, I would wait for her to go out and I would refer the cook book she had and make something to eat. I would experiment with different side dishes, curries etc. Sometimes it would come out well, other times not so much. When I came here to the US. I missed home food so much. I had all the time in my hands and a whole kitchen to myself. My hubby is the easiest person to please. He would eat anything that tasted half decent. It gave me the confidence to go ahead and try out the different recipes that I have always wanted to try.

Where do you live? Where are you from?
I live in Morrisville, North Carolina. I am from Tamil Nadu, a state in Southern part of India

Do you have a favorite meal memory? Where were you? What was the meal?
Gnocchi in a restaurant in Chicago. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. Me and my husband were on a short vacation to Chicago back in 2013. We had made reservations in a vegan restaurant after seeing a lot of great reviews. But both of us did not like the food there. We were still hungry and stumbled into a crowded restaurant on our way back to the hotel.They had very few vegetarian items in their menu and this gnocchi was one of them. We loved it. I have never had a better tasting gnocchi anywhere.

Do you have an essential cookbook that you always go back to?
I am very bad at following recipes exactly. I refer to a lot of books and usually put my own spin on it. I am currently loving “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi

If you could time travel anywhere in the world at any time in history- where would you go and what would you eat?
I have been a vegetarian all my life and Indian food is what I grew up eating. If given a chance I would love to travel back to the time when kings and queens lived and experience Indian cuisine like they did. I would love to see how it has evolved over the years!

Favorite ingredient by season?
Summer – Tomatoes, mangoes
Spring - asparagus
Fall – pumpkin, cauliflower
Winter – cabbage, winter squash

What is an essential tool you could not live without in your kitchen?
Pressure cooker, knife

For your Pumpkin Soup Recipe you include coconut cream, do you have any tips for buying coconut cream? Anything to look for or brands you love?
Any good coconut cream will work well in the recipe. Make sure they aren’t sweetened. I usually buy Thai kitchen organic coconut cream or any other organic brand in the market.

I loved the instructions to sautee the bay leaf in oil- it makes a beautiful smell and made the bay leaf taste really come forward! Do you have any tips for shopping for bay leaves (and spices in general?)
I try to get spices from organic producers who make quality spices. Especially with spices like turmeric, chilly powder etc., it’s important to make sure it is not adulterated and is lead free. Also store them in air tight containers to preserve their aroma.