Everyone remembers their first time. I remember mine. It was in a quiet neighbourhood in London in the year 2001. I used to work the breakfast shift in a posh hotel and usually got home by 4pm. The flat was almost always empty; my landlady almost always at “the gym”. The doorbell rang barely a minute after I walked in. It’s almost as if we had timed our arrival. Today was the day, and Jamie Oliver was finally here.
I grabbed The Naked Chef, thrilled that after today, I will be a cookbook virgin no more.
I scoured the book for a pasta recipe that had the least number of ingredients. It was a toss-up between the Farfalle with a Quick Tomato Sauce and Tagliatelle with peas, Fava Beans, Cream and Parmesan. I didn’t know what a fava bean was then, the tomato sauce won, and I fell in love with the world of recipes.
Nearly two decades and over 200 cookbooks later, I still feel the same excitement each time a new one arrives with the mail. These books have always been a lot more than inspiration for my meals. Recipes are a form of prose that I can snuggle up to. The voyeuristic pleasure of reading about how someone cooks, and wants you to cook, is something between the joy of feeding and that of being fed.
Case in point is soon to be released Asma’s Indian Kitchen by my friend, London cook and restauranteur, Asma Said Khan. I’ve spent countless nights perched on her kitchen stool, being fed with food and stories, so wasn’t in the least bit surprised when her book was announced. I know her book will be filled with tales of the generations of women who have inspired Asma to cook and feed the way she does. Asma’s book will nourish a lot more than my belly.
Another book that I can’t wait to dive into is columnist and author Mallika Basu’s Masala. (I still cannot get over the fact that nobody else thought to name their Indian cookbook Masala before now!) Mallika and I met on Twitter. The first time we met in real life was in a dusty old kitchen, to cook for a long table of journalists and bloggers. This is a bit corny, but it honestly was love at first bite. She’s a livewire from Bengal with a natural instinct for flavours. She grew up a picky eater, and this perhaps informs the easy style with which she approaches food. Mallika cooks real food for real people with real kitchens… her book is based on a very real story – hers – and I can’t wait for a peek into her life.
I have an awkward relationship with Bengali food. I love their rolls but not the puchkas. I’m dazzled by how they use mustard but run miles from their fish. When I first visited Kolkata, I ate all the right things at all the right places, but give me Bombay’s bhel, Amritsar’s kulchas and Hyderabadi haleem any day. I had all but given up Bengali food until IFN Chef Ananya Banerjee sent us her brand new book Bangla Gastronomy – The Journey of Bengali Food. Her second cookbook, published by Popular Prakashan, has made me curious about Bengali food, and its culture, all over again.
The book is a treasure-trove of not just traditional Bengali recipes, but also the foods influenced by the British, Anglo-Indians, Chinese and Mughals. And as for my favourite part – the anecdotes Ananya shares with each recipe. From her tip about the Jewish Kolkata baker that makes the best Christmas cakes (Nahoum in new Market) to the little story about the phool kopir shingara (cauliflower samosa) her mother ordered for breakfast on winter mornings – with each turn of a page, I grew a little more curious about the life of a generation of Bengali families.
Each recipe is “tried, tested and tasted”. So I began my rediscovery of this cuisine with her Robibarer Mangshor Jhol – an everyday mutton curry, popular for Sunday lunch in most Kolkata homes even today. The recipe is reproduced here with the author’s permission:
Robibarer Mangshor Jhol – Everyday Mutton Curry
1kg fresh mutton, cut into medium pieces on the bone
2 tblsp mustard oil
1 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cup onion-tomato paste (made with 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 2” ginger, 4-5 garlic cloves)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
2-3 medium potatoes, halved
Salt to taste
1-2 green chillies, slit
1 tsp ghee
¼ tsp garam masala powder
Heat mustard oil in a pressure cooker. Add sugar and bay leaf and sauté for ½ minute. Add onion-tomato paste, mix and sauté well. Add turmeric powder and red chilli powder, mix and sauté till oil leaves the sides of the cooker.
Add potatoes and mutton and mix well. Add 2-3 cups water. Please note that this will be a watery gravy. Add salt and mix.
Close the lid of the cooker and cook under pressure till 5-6 whistles are given out. (Cooking time depends on the quality of the mutton.)
Open the lid of the cooker when the pressure reduces completely. Add ghee and garam masala powder and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot with rice.
I followed this recipe to the T and the results were delicious! For more Bengali food by Ananya follow her recipes here.
And now for my highlights from India Food Network this week:
I have been gushing about this bijoux bar in the Kala Ghoda heritage precinct all week long! We went for a wee glass (actually, three) along with Master of Wine Sonal Holland and came away very, very impressed.
I’m a sucker for tiny cakes and Kamini Patel is back in our kitchen to make us a batch of these scrumptious banana muffns. They’re super quick and absolutely perfect with the gallons of tea you are likely to drink this monsoon!