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The Pakistani couple behind Zareen's is writing a cookbook

Uploaded: May 5, 2023

Zareen Khan, chef and restaurateur behind Zareen's, is co-authoring a cookbook with her husband, Umair Khan. (Courtesy Mark Tuschman)

By Kate Bradshaw

Someday soon, the culinary secrets to at least some of the delicacies available at the popular Peninsula-based Pakistani restaurant chain Zareen's will be laid bare in the pages of a new cookbook by the couple that founded the restaurant.

Zareen Khan, the chef and restaurateur behind the eatery, is teaming up to write the cookbook with her husband, Umair Khan, who's an author in his own right: He wrote "College Application Hacked" about how to write personal essays for college admission applications. A founding partner of Mentors Fund in Palo Alto, he also teaches entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley and is collaborating with a professor there on a textbook about entrepreneurship.

Zareen says she has been collecting recipes for some time now and was ready to look for a publisher. Working with an agent, the couple found a publisher, Sasquatch Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and signed a contract last week.

Umair Khan, co-founder of Zareen's and entrepreneurship professor at U.C. Berkeley, is co-authoring a cookbook of recipes with his wife, Zareen Khan. Courtesy Mark Tuschman.

The book is more than a year out from publication, they say. It’s expected to focus on the recipes Zareen grew up with in Pakistan and how they evolved after she married and moved to the U.S., working to recreate from memory some of the foods she grew up eating in addition to some of the recipes used in the restaurant.

"It will also have some recipes for people who are new and want to experiment with Pakistani food," Zareen adds.

For instance, they're planning to include the recipe for their Memoni samosa, which helped the restaurant receive Michelin Guide recognition, Umair says.

Below is an excerpt he shared describing the samosa:

"To those of us who grew up on this snack, the Samosa belongs among the great triangular concepts of human civilization, right alongside the Pythagorean Theorem and the Love Triangle. The Memoni variant of this labor of love starts with minced meat, spices, green chilies, and herbs slow-cooked for hours. A mound of this filling is wrapped in a delicate phyllo sari, fried to crackling perfection, and, finally, its bronzed skin is rouged with a sprinkle of chaat masala. We who first met this snack as toddlers, know that a Samosa must be savored hot. With our first crunch escape wisps of aromatic steam around our mouth and nose, and we smell once again the foods of our childhood.

May we always savor all three sides of a great Samosa: taste, texture, and nostalgia."

Samosas from Zareen's, the recipe for which is expected to be included in Zareen and Umair Khan's upcoming cookbook. (Courtesy Zareen Khan)

As Umair sees it, the couple has three goals with their cookbook. First, every cookbook should provide instructions on how to prepare the recipes it contains.

"Our first aim is to share our knowledge," he says. "The whole point is to make authentic recipes accessible."

The second goal, he explains, is for the book to be a thing of joy. "It should be something treasured and lovely to read and see," he says. "Really, that's the way we would share our passion for Pakistani food."

Third, he says, they want to promote a mission of women's empowerment. Zareen's inspiring personal story as an entrepreneur, South Asian immigrant and mom of three is part of the message, he explains.

"She's honestly knocked it out of the park," he says.

They're also hoping to also incorporate recipes and stories about food from other remarkable immigrant women in the U.S. in various fields and are planning to donate proceeds from the cookbook sales to charities that support women's empowerment, he adds.

"I want to give back and make somebody else's dream come true," Zareen says.

She's hoping to use recipes that aren't too complicated and are straightforward to follow, and that use as few ingredients as possible “without compromising on quality," she says.

They're working this summer to wrap up much of the writing and get the recipes to a test kitchen to refine, Umair says.

"It really is for everyone to enjoy: We never intended it to be just for Pakistanis," Umair adds.

Zareen's, locations in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City, Instagram: @zareensrestaurant.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Food4Thought, a resident of another community,
on May 5, 2023 at 4:30 pm

Food4Thought is a registered user.

Pakistani cuisine is not South Asian in either form, origin, or style...they do not use soy sauce.

Pakistani food is more Middle Eastern.

Posted by Gerald Butler, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2023 at 8:58 am

Gerald Butler is a registered user.

East Indians and Pakistanis are ethnically identical but practice different religions (Hinduism and Muslim).

Geographically speaking, India/Pakistan could be considered part of Asia but they are not ethnic Asians like the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Thais, Cambodians, and Laotians.

East Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese food offerings have no direct connection to true Asian cuisine other than rice.

Posted by Hilda Beacham, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2023 at 10:59 am

Hilda Beacham is a registered user.

"East Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese food offerings have no direct connection to true Asian cuisine other than rice."

^ The aforementioned culinary cultures also use a lot more spices which is why East Indian food is not as popular among American diners as Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese menu offerings.

Only Thai food (which is kind of peppery) might be an exception but all things considered, whenever I peek into one of the many East Indian restaurants situated in the midpeninsula, the only ones I see dining there are East Indians or Google employees.

Posted by Li Jiang, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 6, 2023 at 12:44 pm

Li Jiang is a registered user.

I agree...except for geographic proximities, East Indian and East Asian culture are vastly different, including culinary perspective.

Chinese people on the whole do not eat (or enjoy) East Indian style cooking.

We like to taste the ingredients rather than covering them up with superfluous seasonings.

Posted by Danarama, a resident of another community,
on May 8, 2023 at 12:16 pm

Danarama is a registered user.

I'm so looking forward to this cookbook. Zareen's is a favorite DoorDash restaurant at my office. I can't wait to try some of the recipes and give the cookbook as gifts!

Posted by CC, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on May 8, 2023 at 12:32 pm

CC is a registered user.

Please don't generalize, Li Jiang. That's dangerous and unfair.

My husband and I are Chinese-American and we often eat (and very much love) Indian and Pakistani food. We find that the spices elevate the ingredients. And Zareen's is our favorite Pakistani restaurant. Yum!

On the contrary, we find that some of the strong spices and flavorings in Chinese food (e.g., Sichuan peppercorns) cover up the ingredients. Cantonese food is the exception.

Posted by The Facts, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 8, 2023 at 2:06 pm

The Facts is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Frank Kawamoto, a resident of Los Altos,
on May 8, 2023 at 5:08 pm

Frank Kawamoto is a registered user.

@The Facts
I did not find Li Jiang's commentary offensive. As the first poster noted, Pakistani/East Indian cuisine is considerably different in terms of seasonings compared to other ethnic Asian cuisines.

The use of soy sauce is most definitely a distinguishing factor.

That said, my family also enjoys Chinese food but primarily the Cantonese style.

You will rarely see ethnic Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese etc.) dining at East Indian-Nepalese-Pakistani restaurants because the seasonings are culturally different and
and not sought after.

Posted by Brandon Cross, a resident of Stanford,
on May 8, 2023 at 5:21 pm

Brandon Cross is a registered user.

I've had East Indian food and it's very spicy, maybe a tad over-spiced for some American and Asian palates.

Perhaps the key is to 'defuse' some of the more potent seasonings and then applying them to a more traditional American dish like chili or pizza.

Posted by Casual Visitor, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 9, 2023 at 5:28 pm

Casual Visitor is a registered user.

I am Indian from the Northern Indian state of Punjab. Grew up in a vegetarian household which was/is not uncommon. My mother used spices sparingly in her cooking.

Members of my household have different favorite cuisines: one person favors Chinese, another Mexican and still another Japanese. One of us cannot handle spicy food. I hope to get better at appreciating cuisines that do not currently appeal to me.

In the United States, most Indian restaurants serve North Indian food, which has influences from the Middle East in its meat preparations. This is the cuisine that gives you butter chicken and naan. There are a growing number of excellent restaurants that serve South Indian food which is uniquely Indian. Even among those are many regional tastes, level of spice, use of meat/seafood, etc.

I am learning to cook Mexican food and get better at cooking Indian food.
Food is a very personal thing. We like eating what we grew up eating.

A few examples:
- Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale serves vegetarian South Indian food.
- Chaat Bhavan in Sunnyvale serves all kings of Indian vegetarian food, including street food.
- Rooh and Ettan in Palo Alto serve upscale food which may be described as a play on Indian food.
- Rasoi in Burlingame is another upscale restaurant.
- Besharam in SF serves Gujarati food.

Try one or more of these places see if spice is an issue. I do not feel that it will be.

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 9, 2023 at 5:52 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

Speaking of SPICY food, try Mrs. Kahn in Menlo Park on Santa Cruz Avenue. Very good, however, be prepared.

Posted by Common sense, a resident of another community,
on May 11, 2023 at 5:39 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

How is it, three of the first seven visible comments -- even here in silicon valley! -- show strange understandings of the word "Asia?"

In standard modern geographical and cultural meaning, Asia extends from, in the west, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, mainland Turkey, and the Caucasus republics (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) to South Asia (India, Pakistan), to Southeast and East Asia. People who use "Asia" to mean just the eastern part (China, Korea, etc.) should realize that's a colloquial offshoot usage, not geographically accurate.

Food4Thought: "Pakistani cuisine is not South Asian . . ." Since Pakistan is among the nations standardly defining South Asia, its cooking is part of the very definition of "South Asian" cuisine. (And what has "soy sauce" to do with any of that?)

Gerald Butler: "Geographically speaking, India/Pakistan could be considered part of Asia but they are not ethnic Asians like the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Thais, Cambodians, and Laotians. [Their food offerings] have no direct connection to true Asian cuisine other than rice."

("Could be?" "Not ethnic Asians??" "TRUE Asian cuisine?!?" Please, check the basic definition of Asia.)

Frank Kawamoto: "Pakistani/East Indian cuisine is considerably different in terms of seasonings compared to other ethnic Asian cuisines."

Yes: it differs from Turkish, Persian, Georgian, Indian, and other Asian cuisines. They all have distinct features. And most of their inhabitants are also "ethnic Asians."

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