It’s Wednesday night at the Boulder Farmers Market, and the line for Anji’s Probiotic Kitchen is longer than any other. As customers inch toward the tent and debate which dishes to order, founder and cook Anji Appavoo tends to the griddle in front of her with fixed concentration, her hair in a thick braid down her back, a wide spatula in hand. With each new order of probiotic dosas—savory, fermented Indian cakes which are fluffier than French crepes but crispier than pancakes—she ladles large dollops of batter onto the hot surface, fills them with an assortment of spiced vegetables or meat options, waits patiently until they turn golden brown, and serves them onto plates with a satisfying flip.
“For more than 10 years I’ve been thinking, as I went to the farmer’s market, I should introduce my healthy recipes to our community,” Appavoo says as she reflects on the origins of her business. “But I have been so busy raising my daughters, and I’m still working full-time. In 2019, I thought that I [could] start at a really small level at the farmer’s market . . .We never expected that we were going to get so much welcome, appreciation, and so much love and support from the customers.”
In addition to the contented smiles of patrons who walk away with plates smelling of fragrant masala, the first line on Appavoo’s menu board is likely responsible for some of the kitchen’s popularity among the market’s visitors: Not only are all of the menu items organic, but all dishes are also free of “gluten, wheat, flour, nuts, soy, and corn.” Made from a blend including rice, millet, kidney beans, and spices, Appavoo’s dosa come with 11 choices of flavorful fillings and sides, most of which are cooked with ingredients sourced from local farms.
“There is no secret anything in any of our recipes,” Appavoo says. “Our secret is that we use our own products. This is our simple goal or our simple mantra: our farmers produce, we cook.”
Appavoo says that she and her team make all components of their dishes from scratch, using raw, fresh ingredients. This includes garlic and ginger, which Appayoo dries herself, and her signature Chettinad roasted chicken spice blend, bags of which customers can purchase at the market to try at home. Visitors to the stand can also purchase jars of fermented dosa batter, ready to be cooked for a quick and healthy meal.
Whereas Anji’s Probiotic Kitchen focuses its farmers market menu on the dosa variety, its website holds a weekly menu of healthy chutneys, sambar, and other dishes from South Indian cuisine. Customers can place a to-go order from Saturday to Tuesday at 2 p.m., and food will be ready for pick up from the kitchen at 4745 Walnut St. on Wednesday at noon.
To make all this happen—the market menu and the takeaway meals, the spices and batter, the painstakingly selected ingredients—would be a full-time job on its own. But Appavoo already has a full-time job, working as a global technical lead at IBM, solving IT issues which arise around the world. After she finishes her long day of remote working in cybersecurity, she logs off, pulls back her hair, and rushes to the kitchen to plan the weekly dishes.
“I work for a global team, so that gives me a lot of experience with how to organize,” Appavoo says wryly. As she uses her spatula to mend a torn dosa, she admits that she routinely works 80-hour weeks, sometimes 90. “I work hard,” she says. “But I have goals.”
Appavoo explains that since she immigrated to the U.S. 23 years ago and settled in Boulder for the past 15, much of the Indian food she has encountered is an Americanized version of North Indian food: more sugar, more all-purpose flour, and more heavy cream. Inspired by her mother’s South Indian cooking style, which she says relies more on vegetables, meat, and a base of probiotic-rich grains, she was motivated to bring the healthy food from her own family recipes to the Boulder food scene.
“I always look for good food, and it’s always frustrating to me when I go to Indian restaurants and it tastes not like my home,” Appavoo says. “I don’t feel like that’s actual, real Indian food, and I have not gone to an Indian restaurant for many, many years. And when I go to restaurants, I always look at their base. The meat and veggies are good, but the base is always all-purpose flour, and it’s always a bad base, like pasta or bread.”
For Appavoo, who follows an array of functional medicine doctors through social media and podcasts, a healthy base is the key to a healthy meal, and routine consumption of an unhealthy base, such as those full of flour and processed sugar, can lead to myriad health issues, particularly digestive problems. This is why, Appavoo explains, she and her team put so much care into making their gut-friendly dosa batter, a process which involves much more time and effort than bringing pasta to a boil.
“I strongly believe that food is not just calories or an allergy—food is the medicine, food is the [cause of] inflammation, food is the instructions that upgrade or downgrade our biology with each bite we eat,” Appavoo says.
Despite her passion for food and the medical impact of diet, Appavoo maintains that she is not a professional chef—and therein lies the homemade taste and high quality of her dishes. She plans her menus as if she were cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a large family or a casual meal for her daughters’ friends; she focuses her attention on making small batches with care.
“I’m not here to earn tons of money from the food or anything,” Appavoo says. “I haven’t learned any commercial tips and tricks—this is how I want to run my business. Purely homemade recipes, like if you came to my house.”
In 2016, Appavoo brought her homemade cooking talents to the Boulder Public Library, where she and her helpful neighbors cooked a full lunch for more than 300 unhoused people. At the time she was grieving the simultaneous deaths of her sister and her director at IBM, a woman who had mentored her throughout her work at the company, and turned to cooking and volunteer work as a source of meaning.
“My sister and Laura passed away the same month, and I couldn’t tolerate that pain,” Appavoo remembers. “I was even admitted to the hospital because it hurt me so badly. I lost two wonderful people in my life. So I want to honor them.”
For Appavoo, what drives her business—her weekly menus, her farmers market booth, and her packed work weeks—is a desire to do something meaningful for those around her, as opposed to something commercial or commodity based.
“I can’t change everything,” she says. “I’m not here like a superhero or anything. I just want to give my participation, and learn how I can participate, because I love this country, and I love these people, and this is my home . . . I just want to share this love with my community through healthy food.
Anji Appavoo’s Chettinad Roasted Chicken:
- Pour 2 tbsp of coconut or olive oil into a pan.
- Add 1 tbsp of Anji’s spices on very low heat; sauté for a few seconds till light golden brown.
- Add ½ tbsp fresh crushed ginger & garlic; sauté for a few seconds.
- Add 1 lb chicken pieces, 1 fresh chopped tomato (or 1 tbsp of tomato paste), ¼ tbsp Himalayan pink salt. Mix well.
- Cook chicken, stirring occasionally, until it’s ready. Enjoy with rice, dosa, or quinoa.
Spice Ingredients: Red Chilies, Cinnamon, Toor Dal, Cumin, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Star Anise, Cloves, Turmeric, Curry Leaves, Bay Leaf, Fennel Seed, Mace