Shipra Khanna’s cookery class was all about simple cooking served with love

Soon after landing in Coimbatore, Masterchef India Season II winner Shipra Khanna shopped for vegetables and provisions. Her shopping bag held carrots and cheese, spaghetti and sauces, coffee and cream, butter and beetroot. And, she used all of them to whip up a delectable many-course meal.

Shipra, 31, was in town for a vegetarian cooking workshop organised recently by Kovai Shopping and Rinky Shah at The Residency. She taught participants around 15 recipes covering starters, main course and desserts.

One thing that marked the recipes was the easy availability of ingredients. And, even if they were not available, Shipra was on hand to help with substitutes. So, we sampled a beetroot risotto made with idli rice instead of the regular Arborio. For her trademark yam mousse, she planned to use apple compote. But, Shipra chanced upon fresh strawberries at the local store, and changed her recipe. “Imagine getting fresh strawberries now! And, I love strawberries. I just had to use them,” she says.

Using this substitution technique, she also makes cheesecake — not with mascarpone but with desi paneer. Then, there was a recipe (chilly polenta with concase and stir-fried veggies) that called for polenta (cornmeal). “If you don’t get it, use our regular sooji,” she said.

There were about 90-odd participants at the interactive workshop, a majority of them young and eager to learn something new. Many wanted recipes without garlic, and Shipra, a self-confessed lover of the aromatic pod, said they could try using ginger instead.

Among the recipes were baked buns and tiramisu, the former a delicious, buttery delight loaded with vegetables. There was also bruschetta, falafel with babaganoush, Moroccan salad and Tex Mex pizza.

Shipra, who started cooking at the age of nine (she made aloo gobhi in her Shimla home), says that because she’s been a homemaker for 10 years, she has perfected the art of tweaking recipes to suit the ingredients and time available. “Many ingredients are too expensive, we all live on a budget, right?” says the chef whose forte is French cuisine.

In interviews, she has said that cooking kept her sane during a difficult marriage. She cooked for her family, for her children (her daughter has cerebral palsy), to ensure they ate healthy. “My daughter needed loads of fibre. So, I would substitute maida with fibre-rich flour, opt for honey instead of sugar… she loved fried foods, I learnt to grill them, so she would eat healthy,” she recalls.

Shipra’s TV show is set to take off soon and she’s working on a book, tentatively titled, My Cooking Journey: The Spice Route.

The celebrity chef also uses every opportunity to speak about how women should stand up for their rights. “Imagine, despite being an educated woman, I allowed those in my marital home to push me around. I took everything thrown at me. Luckily, I got a chance to move out and prove myself. Not many girls are as lucky.”

But, she is soon back at her effervescent best, speaking about the food in Coimbatore. “I always try and explore local cuisine. I never knew you got rice noodles (sevai) here. I had that and a parotta from a roadside cart in Gandhipuram way past midnight. They were delicious.”

SHIPRA’S TIPS

Keep it simple. Don’t overcrowd ingredients in a dish.

While serving, ensure a plate has a helping each of starch, vegetable and protein.

Must-haves at home? Oil, milk, flour and eggs (optional). You can bake anything with these.