Singapore-based Leena Prakash's cookbook “Treasures Of The Indian Kitchen” is full of easy-to-make recipes
“No butter chicken. No paneer tikka masala. No methi muttar malai.” Leena Prakash adds, “I know how to make these things. But this is not what we cook in our homes.” It's the same reason why she's not a fan of naan-from-scratch. “We go to restaurants to eat that. At home we make chappatis. And ten types of pulao.” Ten? Well, here's your first hint that Leena's home kitchen is far from ordinary.
A former banker, Singapore-based Leena Prakash has just released her first cookbook, “Treasures Of The Indian Kitchen.” Hefty, heavy and unabashedly pink, the book takes a meticulous look at home-style cooking across India. “My mother's family has influences from Maharashtra, the Konkan coast and Karnataka. My father's family is from Uttar Pradesh,” says Leena, explaining why her kitchen has absorbed influences from all over the country.
In the preface to her book, she says her army background contributed to her family's pan-Indian cooking style. “Posted in remote border towns, we had to adapt to the cuisine of that place. My parents believed in immersing themselves in the culture of a place, first by making local friends, then by making the local cuisine their own… Today, if someone asks me where I belong, I find it very difficult to answer that question.” Then, she married a Bengali classmate. “So another cuisine entered our home!”
Moving from Singapore to Hong Kong to Tokyo, as part of her job, Leena began to cook to connect with home. At first, she found herself constantly calling her grandmother for easy, healthy recipes. “I started putting it all in a word file. Cooking became my recreation. That's what I would do on weekends… cook and throw dinner parties.”
After the birth of her daughter, she quit her job. “We were living in Tokyo then. I took cooking classes on home style Indian food for expatriates as well as locals. People felt Indian food was complicated, and unhealthy. I wanted to dispel that myth. Our mothers manage to cook these meals three times a day, after all. And every meal my mother made included salads and vegetables.
For an Indian audience
The book, she says, is targeted at an Indian audience, as well as the NRI and international community. “When you pick up a dish from a different part of the country, and expose people to it, it really creates excitement. Most cookbooks only focus on the exotic. I wanted to do simple food as well. So you'll find a rogan josh, a chingdi malai curry. But there'll also be a quick baingan dish. A simple masoor dal with mustard oil and peas.
“I wrote this book over three countries: America, Japan and Hong Kong. It took me six years.” Currently based in Singapore, she's campaigning for Indian cooking. “I've been wanting to work with the Indian Government, to get Indian food declared a ‘World Intangible Heritage' by UNESCO like French and Mexican cuisines. I'm putting together a paper on the topic, and will be attending a conference in Canada focussing on this. My personal interest is in researching old cuisines... There's so much history and anthropology in the basics of what we eat.”
The book, which has been self-published, is available on Flipcart. Leena says she expects an Indian publisher to reprint and distribute the book shortly, bringing down the price. It was launched by Chetan Bhagat at this year's Jaipur Literary Festival, and has been doing well so far, she says. “The biggest compliment is that mothers and grandmothers love it.”