When the obesity index of a family, which can't think beyond food, fluctuates steeply uphill the stage for hi-voltage drama is set in the kitchen. The cook wants to finish work fast, so it's easy to ladle extra cooking oil into the saucepan and leave the food on high flame.

I hate oily food so much that at times I've walked away from the dining table when food has just been served, just to embarrass my cook. But when it comes to cooking meat or chicken, I use only ghee, which in turn amuses him.

The quantity, of course, is the prime issue and he watches me with an eagle eye, waiting with bated breath to catch me using that give-away extra tablespoon of fat. He's still waiting to taste victory while I've had a series of triumphs... when he's just poured oil into a cooker for the veggies and I've walked in, silently dished out at least four spoons of extra fat, and walked out with my head held high, not a word said.

Simplify as you go

I've always tried to minimise steps and ingredients, which make food too complex and ‘weighty'. One such recipe which I learnt from my ma-in-law was Lemony Cauliflower, an inheritance from her army days over 30 years ago. It's a rather quaint dish reminiscent of a past obviously influenced by the British.

The sauce is a sort of a white sauce, made in olive oil, minus the cheese. It was rather bland and, to overcome the typical cauliflower flavour, I added dry red chillies and fresh green chillies. White sauce can put off many, since baked dishes are not trendy any more. But it looks appealing if it's left rather thin and the red chillies leave a swirl of orange in the whiteness.

It's a nice change eaten with crisp garlic toast. To add some zing and to replace the cheese, a generous dash of lemon pepper does the trick. I can't figure out what chemical reactions take place within but the flavour turns cheesy; what more could one ask for?

Not that Fish Moilee is heavily calorific but even if a few degrees of difference can be made to the daily dinner, I make the effort. So it's olive oil again and in a fairly reduced quantity since the onions don't have to be fried golden brown.

Murg Irani is a slightly rich chicken recipe, but it's irresistible. It's unbeatable with a butter-garlic naan or plain boiled rice, and I always overeat when it's on the menu.

Because of the cream and curd content, a lot of fat floats up to the top, making it look lethal; I'd ladle it out if I were you. If it's being made for a regular dinner at home, I make it in two tablespoons melted ghee. The curd is from double toned milk and 50 g cream is diluted with 50 ml milk. I've laughed at people spooning the curry into their mouths, as if desperately trying to keep the taste on their tongue forever. It's simple to prepare and, strangely, a very no-stress dish.

Three kinds of dal

There are people who still want to see that proverbial half an inch of tadka floating in a bowl of dal; the answer to that is same dal can be served in three different ways for the same meal: just plain boiled dal with chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies spooned over and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The second option is tadka made in precisely one teaspoon of ghee with a pinch of asafoetida and cumin seeds.

The third and not so sensible option is the ghee-laden onion and garlic tadka, which everyone seems to prefer and I frown at it, much to their amusement.

My constant argument is ‘what makes you think that food can't be tasty with less or no oil?' Believe me, murg makhni made in olive oil with no cream or butter tastes as good as, if not better, than the original.

Lemony Cauliflower


1 large cauliflower cut into medium florets

60 g cheese (optional)

3 tbsp butter

3–4 dried red chilli deseeded and broken

3 tbsp flour

2 green chillies sliced diagonally

2 cups milk

Fresh coriander chopped

Juice of 2 lemons

Salt and pepper to taste

Rind of 2 lemons

Lemon pepper to taste

Method: Blanch cauliflower till done but crisp. Drain and keep aside. Melt butter, stir in the flour and sauté for 2–3 minutes. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, till the sauce is only slightly thick. Add lemon juice, rind, salt, pepper, cheese. Add the cauliflower to the sauce. Add red and green chillies and let it cook for 2 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander.

Fish moilee


500 g fish fillets

50 g desiccated coconut

6 small onions

6 cloves garlic

20 g ginger

1 tsp turmeric

2 stalks lemon grass

3 green chillies

800 ml coconut milk

Salt to taste

Method: Sprinkle the fish fillets with salt. Roast the desiccated coconut till golden, add to the rest of the ingredients (except coconut milk and salt) and grind to a paste. Heat oil, fry the paste till it leaves the sides of the pan, add coconut milk and stir on low heat for about 3–4 minutes. Add the fish and simmer till it is done. Season with salt and serve with rice.

This is a Malaysian version of Indian fish moilee, which normally requires onions to be stir-fried to a golden brown and has no lemon grass.

Murg Irani


1 kg chicken

10 g green cardamom

250 g onions chopped

150 g almonds blanched and sliced

10 g ginger paste

1 tsp saffron soaked in milk

250 g curd

A few drops of kewra

100 g cream

Juice of 4 lemons

20 g garlic paste

Salt to taste

10 g red chillies crushed

Method: Heat ghee, add the chopped onion, sauté till slightly brown. Add the chicken pieces and ginger. Let it cook for 10 minutes. Strain the curd and cream, add to the chicken. Add garlic, red chillies, cardamom, almonds. Let it simmer (do not add water) on slow fire till done. Add saffron and remove from heat when the chicken is tender; add kewra and lemon juice and transfer to serving dish