Mita Kapur is not new to the literary world, despite being a first-time author. Here she opens up about the writing – rather the cooking – of her book, The F Word.
From organising literary events to writing about lifestyle and women-centric issues; from handling multiple authors simultaneously to heading a literary agency (Siyahi), Mita Kapur has done it all. It now appears that the lady was also a cordon bleu cook with an exhaustive knowledge of cuisine and cooking techniques! Stepping out of the closet and making the great cross-over from handling authors to becoming one herself, Mita Kapur presents her lip-smackingly delectable debut book, The F-Word.
Food writing seems to be finally coming into its own. Considering we live in a country known for its rich and diverse cultural cuisine, why do you suppose it has taken so long for food-centric writing to take its place in the sun?
We've only just begun... food writing in India needs to explode since we have such a vast reservoir of food traditions, recipes and stories connected with both. In its own manner, writing about food helps document socio-economic-cultural transitions of a region and it's essential that we do justice to it before losing out on the multi-layered diversity; actually “diversity” as a word doesn't do justice to what we have...
Do you think television and its sensational hostesses are responsible for presenting cookery in its glamorous new avatar?
It does seem to be working. I've heard many people say “I love watching Nigella; she is so sensuous”. On the whole, food and cookery shows on TV have contributed to creating a buzz around the culinary world. Look at how popular “Highway on my Plate” is with Rocky and Mayur.
You're a familiar figure in the literary scenario, handling events, authors and, presently, heading the literary agency Siyahi.... When and why did you decide to cross over and turn author yourself?
Writing is a quiet process; no one comes to know when you do write... it's the events that get highlighted! If I don't write for a few days, I start getting crabby and impatient. Siyahi's work is constant but some part of the night is kept for tapping away on the key pad. This book was written for my kids; I wanted to give them something that they'd value and pass on.
Why did you choose food as the topic for your debut book?
It's a pretty conventional story. I used to watch my sister cook and was always fascinated by how each dish comes together. I love eating and experimenting, so cooking became a natural corollary. Consciously observing the changes in the kitchen, as a reaction to changing lifestyles, made me think about it. Added to this was the fact that I am a part of a food-crazy family. I wanted to share some stories and make people identify with cooking as fun and creative and not a chore.
The title of the book is deliberately provocative and misleading!
It was intended that way.
Is every recipe in the book tried and tested by you?
Yes... each recipe has been cooked and tested many times.
You've been very frank in discussing the child-rearing years of your life, not hesitating to bring up some private and sensitive matters. How do your kids react to this?
My kids were very open to the idea; I guess they've also learnt to be frank and upfront about everything so their reactions were normal, as if, it was the done thing to do.
Now that we've sampled the appetiser, can we look forward to more dishes from the kitchen of Mita Kapur?
Yes...work is on....am back to learning but it will take some time.
Anything else, you'd like to say....?
No, just that I had a lot of fun writing this book...
From the book
We hurtled up the rough, craggy hills in a four-wheel drive, swerving dangerously to avoid sharp edges. The evening breeze whipped against our faces and our racing heartbeat warned us to hold tight. There was another open jeep racing down the same hill. Why was it swaying so recklessly towards us? Shatrunjay raised his hand and said, ‘Khama gani, see you at Seengh Sagar later.' The driver was a lady. Her head was covered and the pallu of her sari was tucked under her arm. Her 90-year-old mother was seated next to her. ‘She has some gumption, driving over a no-roads terrain with such ease,' I thought. Shatrunjay spoke with immense pride: ‘That's my mother; she takes care of the kitchen.' What would otherwise be assumed as a normal duty for a ‘head-covered' woman, had different implications here. She was on her way to oversee the cooking of the evening meal. The ‘kitchen' happened to be the Deogarh Mahal's, with its huge scale of operations.
I was introduced to the lady in question over succulent soola grilled on charcoal, in a serene landscape gently illuminated by candles. The valley spread before us, the sounds from the forest filled us with tranquillity – nature and man seemed to coexist in perfect harmony. I walked over to the chulha where another ‘head-covered' lady was deftly rolling out makkai ki roti, while keeping a keen eye on the dal. A playful toddler gleefully ran up a small sand hill and rolled down, squealing happily at the clouds of dust he raised. Throwing green chillies, ginger, garlic into an earthenware pot and smiling at the protesting sizzle, the lady said, ‘Dal ko chamka lagayo.' ‘Chamka' as in tadka, or tempering. It made the meal dance for me. In many ways, cooking is like performing a dance – the rhythm, beat, timing, expression… I smiled and went back to the Rani of Deogarh, Bhoo Ratna Kumari, who has led an action-packed life with her husband, the ruling Rawat of Deogarh, Nahar Singhji. She immediately launched into food talk.
1.5 kg meat (mixed pieces)
60 g garlic paste
4 tbsp ghee
250 g onions sliced
250 g curd
6 green cardamoms
24 dry red chillies, stems removed
4 brown cardamoms
1 tsp heaped cumin seeds Fresh coriander chopped
4 tsp dry coriander powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp turmeric
Method: Clean, trim and pat dry meat pieces. Add red chillies, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt to the curd and whisk well. Heat ghee and sauté garlic till light golden. Add onions, green and brown cardamom and sauté till onions are golden brown. Add meat and sear on high heat till meat changes colour. Remove pan from fire, add curd and return to medium heat to let it cook. When curd dries and masala looks done, add 6 cups of water. Cover and simmer till the meat is tender. Garnish with fresh coriander.
Tips: You can choose to sieve the gravy; I do. You can choose You can choose to sieve the gravy; I do. You can choose to pressure cook the meat; I don't. There is nothing like trapping the flavours within the mixture of ingredients and giving them the liberty to bring the best out of each other. Don't hurry them up.
Lal maas is a typical Rajput dish. If you notice, there are no tomatoes. It's made from the local ingredients that were found easily during hunting expeditions, which was one of the favoured pastimes of the Rajputs.