Southern chef Vishwest Bhatt shares his love of peanuts in chaat and pie recipes

When Vishwesh Bhatt moved to Mississippi from his native Gujarat, he didn’t intend to cook. But he fell into a unique career, melding the food of his new home with the spices of the one he left behind.

Bhatt defines himself as a Southern chef, learning to cook after he moved to the South, taking with him only a handful of recipes from his mother’s kitchen. He shares his love of peanuts and their ubiquitousness in India. “When we went to the movies in India, here you would buy popcorn, there you would buy roasted peanuts. I have a deep, almost dangerous love of peanuts,” he says.

His cookbook is “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef

Austin’s Neshoba County Fair Peanut Pie
Serves 8

There is a lot of turnover in the restaurant business, especially in a small college town like ours. Once in a while, we get an employee we hope will never leave—​someone whose talent and drive raises the bar in the kitchen and motivates all their colleagues to be better. Our former pastry chef Austin Agent was one such person.

Austin got off to a rocky start in the Snackbar kitchen. He was impatient, and his desserts did n’t always complement the rest of the menu. We weren’t sure he would last very long. Then, seemingly overnight, he found his groove and turned our pastry program around. Austin discovered that there was great value in the recipes and techniques he had learned from his grandmother in Neshoba County, Mississippi. You don’t see this much anymore, but farmers and laborers across the region used to purchase a bottle of cola (Coke, Pepsi, or RC) and a sleeve of salted peanuts at convenience stores or farm commissaries. They’d pour the peanuts into the soda and drink it, crunching the peanuts as they sipped. The snack was cheap and portable, and provided an energy-​boosting hit of sugar, salt, caffeine, and protein. I borrow Austin’s inventive reimagining of this iconic working-​class snack here, and remain sad that he left Snackbar in 2019 for Las Vegas. This recipe works well with a homemade or store-​bought pie crust.

Ingredients

  • 2 (12-​ounce) cans of cola
  • 1 (9-​inch) pie crust (store-​bought or homemade, page 101)
  • 1½ cups lightly salted roasted peanuts
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of light corn syrup
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Absolute
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Instructions

  1. Pour the cola into a saucepan on the stove. Wait for the bubbles to subside, then turn the heat to low. Slowly reduce the cola to a syrup, stirring occasionally, 30 to 40 minutes. You want to end up with about ½ cup thick syrup. Remove the pan from the heat. If you have more than ½ cup syrup, reserve the excess for drizzling on top of the finished pie.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. If using homemade pie crust, roll the dough between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper to a 10-​inch circle about ⅛ inch thick. Fit the circle into a 9-​inch pie pan.
  4. Spread the peanuts in an even layer in the bottom of the pie shell.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the corn syrup, cola syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla, cayenne, and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir well to combine.
  6. Spoon or gently pour the filling mixture into the pie shell. You want the peanut layer to remain intact at the bottom.
  7. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 60 to 70 minutes, until the top is just set. Allow to rest for 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. To serve, cut the pie in eight slices. Drizzle each slice with reserved cola syrup if you have it and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Excerpted from “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef” by Vishwesh Bhatt. Copyright © 2022 by Vishwesh Bhatt. Used with permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.


“I learned to cook in the South, I just happened to be someone from India so I had a knowledge of certain spices so I could season things a little differently,” says chef Vishwesh Bhatt. Photo by Angie Mosier.


Vishwesh Bhatt chose to make the South his home and it is there he learned to cook. His collection of recipes is “I Am From Here.” Photo courtesy of WW Norton & Company, Inc.