Tarla Dalal passes away at the age of 77, leaving behind thousands of vegetarian recipes and millions of happy cooks

Twenty first March 1980. The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking. I bought the book at the Calcutta Book Fair. It was the first cookbook I owned. In her opening lines of the book, Tarla Dalal says: “It is not as if vegetarians are problem people…”

I know a lot of both vegetarians and non-vegetarians who love her for that one line alone! This book (and all the other hundreds that she has written) has enough and more recipes for veg cooks to wow their non-veg guests. And for the latter, they have enough and more for their ‘troublesome’ friends who will not touch their chicken butter masala!

Leafing through the well-thumbed, splotchy pages brings back happy hours spent in the kitchen. The chocolate soufflé page has brown splatter on it. It was my stock dessert, fool proof. In the chapter “Weights, Measures, Temperatures and Times” I have done complicated calculations taking help from her conversion table. I have converted decimals into fractions, divided, multiplied, added and subtracted. If only my math teacher could see that! Best of all there are large spaces beneath each recipe and at the back for your own notes. In one of Tarla Dalal’s books, I have copied down recipes my mother sent me in inland letters, just after I got married. Rasam powder, kootu, Morukozhambu, dosa….

For a lot of us Tarla’s books were moms in absentia. Through them, she reassures, gives options, suggests alternative ingredients and explains complicated cooking terms. She inspires you to try things that otherwise you would dismiss as just too complicated and not worth the trouble. She could have well called her books, “Cooking for dummies”. Simple, sensible and precise, even the most clueless-about-food person could follow her recipes and turn out respectable fare.

“She is India’s first food celebrity, and she will always be,” declares chef Sanjeev Kapoor. “But for her, I don’t think I would have written any of my 150 books. She was the reference point for all of us. I met her for the first time long after we both started doing television shows.” For Sanjeev, it was not just the fact that she transformed the food industry at a time few others had picked up that ladle. She was also a lovely lady whose affection and cheer enveloped him whenever they met.

Tarla Dalal’s cheery nature, her warmth and affection is what people who have met her remember the most. Says food writer Mallika Badrinath: “I will always remember her calling me ‘darling’ ever so often. She made me feel loved. She was my role model. I’ve read so many of her books, watched her on TV and wondered if I would ever meet her in person. I did. I got to cook with her twice… once in Chennai and the other time in Coimbatore. She was in her 70s, but what a bundle of energy she was! Professionally, she’s a stickler for perfection and she never hesitated to share tips. That’s something I try to emulate. I’m amazed that she was working till the very end. That is what most of us aspire to do.”

Not just cookbooks, Tarla Dalal’s ‘Cook It Up With Tarla Dalal’ a weekly show on Sony Entertainment television was a big hit too. Actor-model Sudhanshu Pandey who worked with her on the show remembers: “Shooting with her was great fun. She was the loveliest doll. The channel showcased us as a grandmom and grandson cooking together and that was how we bonded. She was a happy soul who laughed at the silliest jokes. There were times when, we had to stop shooting till she settled down. That’s how I’ll remember her always — laughing and living life to the fullest.”

Says MasterChef India Season 2 winner, Shipra Khanna: “At a time when women cooked within the confines of their homes, she was probably the first lady who broke rules. As a kid, I remember watching her on television and being mesmerised. She’s taught millions through her books and TV shows. She’s an inspiration to all chefs. She made cooking look easy. She came across as a very warm person on screen. And, cameras don’t lie.”

Tarla Dalal kept pace with the times. She made vegetarian cooking exciting, adventurous and elegant. Italian, Gujarati, rice-based recipes, simple pickle and paratha books, food for kids, for diabetics, for the figure conscious and even books on home remedies…She has tried, tested and shared vegetarian food of every conceivable kind. From starters and soups to salads and deserts, healthy breakfast menus to cakes and cookies…vegetarians will never be at a loss thanks to her.

Tarla Dalal is one of the top five best-selling cookery authors in the world. She has written a total of 206 titles, several of which have been translated into Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and even Dutch and Russian. She has sold over four million copies. She has conducted cookery shows across the world and written extensively in newspapers and magazines, including her own magazine, Cooking and More. She also has a website. In 2007, Tarla Dalal and Mallika Badrinath met at a food festival in Coimbatore. MetroPlus was witness to a lively interaction between the two food writers.