Chandra Padmanabhan’s Southern Flavours brings together the best of her last three books along with 50 fresh recipes
Meet Chandra Padmanabhan. That is, if you don't already know her. She's probably hand-held many of you through your first sambars, rasams and poriyals. Author of Dakshin (Harper Collins), Southern Spice (Penguin) and Simply South (Westland), her tried and trusted books on South Indian recipes sell all over the world. Dakshin, her first book, is so successful that it has been reprinted regularly since 1994. “I have absolutely no clue how many copies of it have sold,” she smiles, “I'm guessing at least a 1,00,000.”
Chandra's new book Southern Flavours brings together the best of her last three books along with 50 fresh recipes. “Lots of people had been asking me to put the most popular recipes together in one book,” she says, adding that she's targeted it at beginners, whether they're the traditional audience of young brides, or the expanding market of tourists looking for simple, workable cookbooks to take home as souvenirs. Ingredients are easily available, processes are simplified and methods are practical, keeping in mind the cramped modern kitchen. Chandra's instructions, as always, are detailed, clear and simple. “I've also taken into account nutrition and diet,” she says, explaining how this book is different from the rest of her work.
Ironically, this Geography graduate tripped into cook books by accident. “I always cooked at home because I felt it was my duty to see that my family was healthy. So I'd keep track of their health and nutrition. If they didn't like keerai, I would find a new way to serve it. My mother-in-law was a great cook — and she had a lot of patience to teach. She was my first teacher — we would try out recipes and have fun in the kitchen.” Chandra's cooking is inspired by all the southern states. “My mother's side, they all come from Karnataka, my father's from Thanjavur… so we are a kichadi ourselves,” she laughs.
She gradually started writing on food for S. Muthiah's ‘Madras Musings'. Then the managing director of Harper Collins asked her to write Dakshin, her first book. “I didn't expect it to be so successful. I was under the impression that South Indian food is a taste you acquire. I didn't realise that South Indian kids were in need of an English cookery book so badly.”
Southern Flavours patiently starts with the basics: Plain rice made three ways, in a pressure cooker, stove top, microwave oven. It goes on to explain kuzhambu, and how the trick to getting them right is balancing the flavours of the souring agent — whether it is tamarind, tomato, sour curd or lemons — with salt and chilli. There's plenty of variety, sambar alone comes in three styles, with spinach, shallots and the podi potta paruppu sambar of Tamil Nadu. There's an entire chapter on rasams, from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, all made with a slew of unusual ingredients — coconut milk, rice water, lime — beside the usual tomato, black pepper and cumin seeds.
To increase the nutritional power of family meals, check out the power-packed poriyal, made with fenugreek leaves, long green beans and green plantains, besides the bean sprout dosas, ragi roti and oats rava idli. Even decadent dessert features some virtuous entries such as carrot payasam and green gram laddoo.
“I also thought today South Indians like to cook food from different states. There's not much variation in ingredients, you don't have to shop specially for any of these recipes. It's simpler.”