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How Maunika Gowardhan Found Comfort In Indian Home Cooking

How Maunika Gowardhan Found Comfort In Indian Home Cooking
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Maunkika-Govardhan Maunika Gowardhan learned to cook from the women in her family.

Maunika was one of the first friends from overseas that I made in the world of food blogging. I still remember the afternoon when she had come over to our house. I had cooked a Bengali lunch for her, and was very nervous as she is a professional chef. I was so happy when she said she liked it!

Since then I have been really inspired to see her go from strength to strength. To watch how she developed her blog where she brought out the variety of Indian regional food.

The way she grew her catering business in the UK to reach Indian regional food to celebrity clients. Her association with Jamie Oliver (including appearing in YouTube videos with him) is an example of the great heights she has reached by the dint of sheer hard work. And this, I am sure, is just the beginning.

When her book contract happened, I was equally happy and proud of her. Indian Kitchen has finally launched in the UK and I received my copy from her recently.

Maunika Gowardhan’s book is going to be launched in India this month. I caught up with the cookbook author to talk about her writing journey.

How did the idea of writing a book come about?

It wasn’t an idea as much as a way of living. Whichever city people live in, we all want to be able to fit delicious food as part of our lifestyle. Chaos, chores, friends, family, traffic, e-mails, meetings and travel all leading up to going home and looking forward to a sit-down hot meal.

One where a simple plate of food spells that you are ‘home’ and there is something more reassuring about it. It’s the calm, a chance to unwind from the day and there is flavour, taste and that ultimate satisfaction of having a good meal.

But the questions that we always ask are - how do we all fit in dishes that we can cook midweek, what do you cook on a weekend, and what do you save for those late night cravings when you open the fridge door at 1 am? Indian Kitchen gives a glimpse of all that and more!

Who, if anyone, did you look for inspiration while writing the book?

I look at life as inspiring! Not just the book, but in general people I work with and interact with hugely inspire me. For my formative years of introducing my palate to good food, of course I have my family to thank for that.

Tell us about the Indian Kitchen? Who do you think would find it most useful?

The chapters in Indian Kitchen are divided such as Hungry/ Lazy/ Indulgent/ Celebratory, and in essence I wanted to fit in recipes that would work for the times we need them. It’s just how my grandmother cooked and so did my mum based on their busy lifestyles.

A long drawn recipe for Chimbori Kalvan was on a Sunday afternoon affair. When there is time, the process of putting the dish together is equally (if not more) enjoyable than the eating itself!

For other days there is always dal, rice, sabzi, which factor in the midweek busy days. When mum celebrated with dinner parties; out came the gamechangers with biryanis, meat gravies, parathas and salads followed by two or three desserts. That’s how I ate and it felt like the natural way to divide this book.

Were there any challenges that you faced while writing the book?

None really. Every experience while writing, cooking and photographing this book has shaped it to become what it is. A beautiful cookbook (yes I’m biased!), but also one where the recipes are family oriented, achievable and work based on our lifestyle. I am fortunate to have such a fantastic team at Hodder & Stoughton/ Hachette India to work with. They make half my work seamless!

How different is the book from your website?

I think the website stocks recipes from all across India, but these particular recipes in Indian Kitchen; they have stories, memories and, of course based on breaking a myth that Indian food takes forever!

Is the book aimed more at an international audience or the Indian reader?

My website has a massive global audience, and a lot of traffic actually makes it way from an Indian audience too. I’ve been inundated with enquiries and e-mails as when the book is out in India over the last year.

Also there are those writing in from Australia, Dubai, USA and South Africa. There is a generation in India that does love to cook and eat, but then again I also appreciate being in food I take the time to explore what’s out there across regions in India, which is something I am keen to pass on to reader of Indian Kitchen.

What excites you the most about the book?

The whole journey of it is a thrill! It’s a privilege to have written it and one that I do not take lightly. My job excites me full stop! How many people you know can wake up every morning and say they cook for a living and absolutely love it? That is what keeps me going.

Which part of the writing process did you enjoy the most? Did you dread anything?

Every aspect is different. The writing, testing recipes, photographing and cooking a massive amount for the book shoot and ultimately eating of course was pure pleasure! But, now that it’s out seeing many people take the time to Instagram, tweet, FB and even e-mail what they have cooked from Indian Kitchen is surreal and absolutely gratifying

Can you share 3 tips for first-time book writers based on your experience?

I don’t have three! Just one – enjoy the process because the glory always lies in the process before you get to the final result.

cardamom-pistachio-cake Photo: Helen Cathcart

Recipe for Cardamom and Pistachio Cake

On Sunday afternoons at home in India, when everything was quiet and the family were having their afternoon siesta, nothing gave me greater pleasure, at the age of 15, than a spot of baking, and making this recipe in particular was not just foolproof, but sheer joy.

I was always so proud when I presented it to my parents over their afternoon cup of chai. Fast-forward 20 years and baking hasn’t always been my strong point, but there are always some Sunday afternoons to reminisce about my formative years – and this yoghurt and cardamom cake helps me do just that.

Ingredients:

60g ground almonds

150g caster sugar

225g self-raising flour

Seeds from 6–8 green cardamom pods, crushed to a powder

1 tsp baking powder

150ml sunflower oil

1 egg

200ml Greek yoghurt

handful of chopped pistachios

For the syrup

100g caster sugar

4 green cardamom pods

1 tsp rose water

For the garnish

chopped pistachios

edible glitter

dried rose petals

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Line a 22cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Sift the ground almonds, sugar, flour, ground cardamom seeds and baking powder into a mixing bowl.

3. Whisk the oil, egg and yoghurt together in a separate bowl. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until you have a smooth, thick batter. Add the chopped pistachios.

4. Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly while you make the syrup.

5. Heat 100ml water in a saucepan and add the sugar and the cardamom pods. Mix well and simmer over a low heat for 4–5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat – the syrup will thicken as it cools. Add the rose water and mix.

6. Transfer the cake to a plate and, using a skewer, prick a few holes in the surface at regular intervals. Pour over the syrup while it is still warm. The cake will soak up the residue from the plate.

7. Garnish with chopped pistachios, edible glitter and dried rose petals. Serve the cake on its own or with some fresh fruit.

Recipe taken from Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan (Hodder & Stoughton £25)

Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan Karmakar

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