Sunday, February 23, 2014

Good News...and a visit to India!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Gigi Pandian is having a good month. Putting it mildly. Sometimes wonderful things happen to wonderful people and this is one of those times.

In the recent weeks, here's Gigi's life: 

An Agatha nomination for her locked-room mystery short story "The Hindi Houdini" 

Her combined book sales pushed her into Amazon's Top 100 Most Popular Authors ("briefly", she insists on saying)

The first book in the series stayed #1 for days on the Amazon Kindle Cozy and Women Sleuth categories, top 10 Mystery/Thriller/Suspense Kindle Books, and top 10 overall NOOK book sales. 

AND she got a Library Journal review: "Pandian’s second series entry sets a playful tone yet provides enough twists to keep mystery buffs engaged, too. The author streamlines an intricate plot....[and] brings a dynamic freshness to her cozy." – Library Journal

AND her first book, ARTIFACT, hit the USA today Bestseller list!

AND--Her newest book, PIRATE VISHNU was published from Henery. All in all, very very nice.  And--she cooks! As you will read.

Adventures in India and Indian Cooking 
                       with Gigi Pandian

     Gigi is currently celebrating the release of a new novel –and also news that her locked-room mystery short story “The Hindi Houdini” has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

Forget about Indiana Jones. Jaya Jones is swinging into action, using both her mind and wits to solve a mystery… Readers will be ensnared by this entertaining tale.”—RT Book Reviews

My new novel, PIRATE VISHNU, came out earlier this month, and I’ve been having a blast talking about India, where part of the book takes place. To shake things up here on Jungle Red today, I thought I’d share a story about India AND one of my favorite Indian food recipes – one that’s both delicious and easy.

I was born and raised in California, but my dad is from India, so I’ve had the opportunity to travel there several times. India can be an overwhelming country – it’s massively crowded, oppressively hot, and the foods are oh-so-spicy – but once you scratch the surface, it opens up its charms. The more times I visit, the more I want to return.

On my last visit in 2010, I was in the midst of drafting the second novel in my mystery series. As a follow-up to a treasure hunt that took Jaya Jones to the Highlands of Scotland, I was setting the new book in both San Francisco and the southern tip of India. (Yes, I picked a series premise well! A treasure hunt mystery series means I have no choice but to travel to fascinating places!)

I thought I had my twisty puzzle plot all figured out – until we arrived in India got on the open road along the south-western coast of the country.
Yes, that’s an elephant sharing the road with an autorickshaw (three-wheeled taxi), cars, motorcycles, and bikes!

Covering hundreds of miles on Indian roads to visit family from Trivandrum up to Bangalore, I knew that the experience would make its way into the book – although I didn’t yet realize how instrumental it would be to the plot. The colorful hand-painted trucks, the scents unleashed by the monsoon rains, and the confounding roads lacking street signs stirred up my imagination. When we were studying a map on the way to Kochi, the juxtaposition between the picture on the map and the reality we were experiencing hit me like a bolt of lightning. That moment gave me a plot twist that became central to the story.

Here’s the scoop about PIRATE VISHNU (the second book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series, following ARTIFACT):

A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.
Sacred riches from India.
Two murders, one hundred years apart.
And a love triangle…
Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

1906. Shortly before the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Pirate Vishnu strikes the San Francisco Bay. An ancestor of Jaya’s who came to the U.S. from India draws a treasure map…

PRESENT DAY. Over a century later, the cryptic treasure map remains undeciphered. From San Francisco to the southern tip of India, Jaya pieces together her ancestor’s secrets, maneuvers a complicated love life she didn’t count on, and puts herself in the path of a killer to restore a revered treasure.

And now, here’s one of my favorite Indian recipes. It’s a variation on a classic dish – my spin on the dish was a happy accident I discovered when cooking one day while I was busy. I let the onions cook longer than I’d meant to, and they caramelized. Instead of ditching the onions, I went ahead with the recipe – and it turned out even more delicious than the original!


1 cup yellow split peas (or Indian yellow lentils, called toor dalh)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds

Rinse the yellow split peas, then cook them with 2 cups of water, turmeric, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Warm the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat and add the sliced onion and cumin seeds. Cook the onion slowly for the duration of the time the lentils are cooking. This will caramelize the onion, bringing out its natural sugars. Stir the onion mixture into the cooked lentils.

Thanks for having me on Jungle Reds today! Do you have a favorite dish that was inspired by a trip you’ve taken?

Connect with Gigi on her website , Twitter, and Facebook


  1. Gigi, your new book sounds so exciting . . . I’m adding it to my to-be-read pile . . . .
    I am a big fan of caramelized onions . . . your recipe sounds so delicious --- I’m looking forward to trying it. Thanks for sharing the recipe . . . .

  2. You had me at "carmelized onion." Also at "Barbary Coast." Looking forward to meeting you at Malice.

  3. Hi, Gigi. I just ordered this book a few days ago. I LOVE Henery Press books!!! However, I didn't realize it was your second book in the series so now I'm off to get ARTIFACT.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. This series is full of culture and adventure, fun locales, a unique and engaging protagonist, delightful secondary characters--and magic!

    Most of all, great writing. Congrats, Gigi.

  5. The recipe, and the book, both sound great, Gigi. Love caramelized onions. I also look forward to seeing you at Malice.

    My favorite trip-inspired recipe is Yellow Pepper Soup, as prepared by the chef at Cibreo in Florence, Italy. Our tour guide in Florence, an American who married an Italian guy, is also a cooking instructor, and she provided the recipe on her website. Every time I've made it it's gotten rave reviews.

  6. Gigi, congratulations! Your book is going straight to the top of my to-read pile — I've always been fascinated with India and all things Indian (Bengali in particular). And I AM going to try this recipe — sounds amazing!

  7. Welcome to Jungle Red, Gigi - sounds you're having a well earned success. Enjoy!!

    Last year we went to Peru and I've been making ceviche Peruvian style ever since. Raw fish and onion "cooked" in a lime juice/ garlic/ hot chile marinade. Served with grilled pieces of corn on the cob and grilled sweet potato slices (pre-cook corn, sweet potato until almost cone... then cut into pieces, slather with lime juice and oil and salt, grill)

  8. Go Gigi! Everything sounds great -- the book, the series, the recipe. Not surprised though -- had a great Aunt Gigi who always stole the show.

  9. Joan, Barb, Karen, and Susan -- I hope you enjoy the recipe! Use as many onions as you like, if you're really into them :)

  10. Barb and Karen -- With how quickly this year is going, Malice Domestic will be here in no time! Look forward to seeing you there.

  11. Karen and Hallie -- Now you've got my mouth watering, and I haven't even had breakfast yet!

  12. Jack -- ha! We Gigi's may be few and far between, but we pack a punch ;). You should look out for talented mystery writer Gigi Vernon.

  13. Gigi, do you think red lentils would work as well?

    I always keep those in my pantry for a great red lentil soup. It would be great to have another non-potato/non-gluten side dish in my repertoire.

  14. Karen -- You bet! I've made this dish with red lentils, too. It works, but doesn't taste quite the same.

    My favorite recipes for red lentil dishes are from Deborah Madison cookbooks and the Post Punk Kitchen vegan recipe website.

  15. Gigi, hi! Huge congrats on all your success! And so well-deserved. I loved Artifact--can't wait to read Pirate Vishnu!

    Love the pic of you and your dad, by the way. And the Indian Roads!

    And I love India foods, so will have to try the recipe. I'm going in London in mid-May, and I think top of my looking forward list is eating at some of my favorite Indian restaurants.

  16. Thanks so much, Deb! Yes, I love that picture of me and my dad :)

    The last time I was in London, I discovered another wonderful pocket of Indian restaurants in addition to Brick Lane: it's a little street not far from the British Library, called Drummond Street.

  17. I definitely need to read ARTIFACT! Haven't tried making them yet but had Cullen skink in Scotland and it was delicious. Already loved scones. My husband was a convert to Irish soda bread after visiting Ireland years ago. India is so vast. I'm sure there is something there for everyone. I will make a note of your recipe and read both the treasure books!

  18. Gigi, I have a bag of French lentils. Would that work?

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  20. Hallie, on my way to your house for that DEE-licious sounding ceviche!

  21. Running in, running in, waving like mad--we've been out of town-- saw Red Julia S-F and Rosemary Harris and their darling husbands..and the fab F-O-R Jennifer MacMAhon--nice! and delighted to see you all chatting so nicely.

    I am trying to remember if I've ever cooked Indian food at home..which reminds me--I have no idea what's for diner. Now there's a combination!

    Gigi tell us about USA today! How did you find out??

    And I am so happy you kept the name Pirate Vishnu---I always loved it.

    (The deleted comment above is me--there were too many typos even for me!)

  22. Pat -- I had to Google Cullen skink. Turns out I've eaten it before, but I never knew that's what it was called!

    I've never tried making the dahl with French lentils. They're a bit different, so I'm not sure how well it would work. But if you're an experimental cook, I'd say go for it -- and please keep me posted how it goes!

  23. Hank -- Thanks for your enthusiasm for the title! I love it, too :)

    And it's the funniest thing how I found out I'd hit the USA Today Bestseller List. I make it a point to NOT check my rankings or lists (that kind of thing will drive an author crazy, you know?) so it wasn't until an author friend Tweeted the link that I found out!

    Same goes for my Amazon rankings -- I hadn't been checking them until my publisher told me I should check it out!

    It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Fun, but I'm also looking forward to getting back to normal and working on Book 3 :)

  24. Gigi, I think I may have eaten wonderful Indian food in Drummond Street with my friend Barb Jungr, who knows all the best places. Wish I could remember the name!

  25. Gigi, congratulations on all of your success, and Jaya Jones is a character I won't to get to know. The books' premise is set up to be full of adventure, and it sure sounds like they live up to it. I will have to get in on these books in the very near future. Your recipe makes me think I need to give Indian food more of a try. Yum!

  26. Deb -- I wish I had written down the names of all the Indian restaurants I found! Come to think of it, I'm sure I wrote down a couple in my travel journal. Now if only I could find that journal... ;)

  27. Kathy -- If you're not sure if you like Indian food, this is a great recipe to start with -- but go easy on the cayenne pepper!

  28. Gigi, wonderful! Keep us posted...and see you soon!


  29. Hank -- Thanks for having me on the Jungle Reds today!

    And to the rest of the Reds and your readers, thank you so much for the warm welcome :)

    (I'll pop by again tomorrow in case there are more recipe ideas or questions!)