Prerna Kapoor’s butter chicken is legendary. The Parker resident earned her butter chicken queen title when she won a Denver cook-off for the dish, something that surprised her, but shouldn’t have. Kapoor grew up eating her way through her parents’ Indian restaurants in Japan, so you could say the specialty is in her blood.

Kapoor’s killer recipe, along with many other competition-worthy dishes, is featured in the new cookbook, Culture Dish: Stories & Recipes by Refugee and Immigrant Women. The book is a special project by Picture Me Here, a 10-year-old program that connects Colorado refugees and immigrants via creative workshops in photography, videography, and writing. In addition to the coveted recipes, the book, which was released in September, tells the moving stories of 16 refugee and immigrant women living in Colorado, from Denver to the North Fork Valley.

“The book gets people to see our story as well as the recipe,” Kapoor says. “There’s nothing else like this on the market. It has the recipe, but also the person’s journey, how they ended up here.”

Close up of butter chicken with side dishes behind it.
Kapoor’s butter chicken. Photo by Lynn Townsend

Fort Collins–based photographer Brigid McAuliffe first got involved with Picture Me Here 10 years ago, when she hosted a photography workshop for Bhutanese women in a one-bedroom apartment in Aurora.

“There were crazy language barriers, but we realized photography was a powerful way to break down those barriers,” she says. “It was only supposed to be a couple months, but we ended up meeting weekly for five months and put on a photo exhibit. The women who were so shy on day one were up there talking about their lives in front of their photographs on the walls.… I totally fell in love with the project, and it evolved and grew.”

One of the evolutions incorporated food and the cultural identities that go hand in hand with the tasty topic. Many of the women profiled in the book had to learn to cook at a young age to support their families—some in refugee camps—and most of the recipes they share are for foods they remember eating as children in their home countries.

To photograph and capture these women’s experiences, McAuliffe brought on collaborators from across the state, including Denver photographer Lynn Townsend. The resulting Culture Dish cookbook allows us to share a meal with them via their stories, photos, and recipes.

“One objective of Picture Me Here is to connect people of various backgrounds and cultures and find what we share in common, while also celebrating our differences,” McAuliffe says. “I can’t think of a more powerful way to connect and celebrate culture than through sharing meals and the stories they hold.”

For the cookbook, a team of people—from a photographer to an ESL teacher to other immigrant women acting as translators—went to the recipe creators’ homes to cook alongside them (and often other generations of women, including children and mothers) and to learn their stories.

A photo spread in Culture Dish. Photos by Lynn Townsend

“That was the most beautiful part of the project,” Townsend says. “Being invited into each of their homes. No matter their circumstance, we were so lovingly invited in. It was an empowering experience for everyone involved. Each woman, as they cooked, we would converse about their lives, how they ended up in the U.S. Many fled wars. There was every reason under the sun that they ended up in the States, but having that intimate conversation and getting to learn about their lives felt like the most humbling experience.”

Besides Kapoor’s butter chicken, Culture Dish shares the recipes for Malala’s Madagascan spilanthes and potato soup, Paola’s Mexican chile rellenos, Mai’s Laotian boiled chicken, and many more. To get your hands on the Culture Dish cookbook, order here, or keep an eye out for it at Ruby’s Market and local bookstores. All proceeds from the $30 book go back to Picture Me Here, to continue bringing more programming like this to the local immigrant and refugee community.

Prerna Kapoor’s Turmeric Milk

Kapoor’s version of haldi doodh (turmeric milk) uses toasted almond flour in place of additional spices to imbue a rich flavor. But if you’re eager to up your seasoning game, Culture Dish has several recipes that show off her spice prowess.

Serves 2

1 tsp. ghee
1 tsp. almond flour
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 3/4 cup milk of your choice
Sugar, to taste

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the ghee on low heat.
  2. Add the almond flour, then cook while stirring for 20-30 seconds or until it turns light pink and fragrant.
  3. Add the turmeric, and cook for 10 seconds or until it changes color, as well.
  4. Add the milk, then bring the mixture to a boil. Add sugar to taste, then serve.

Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.