Sanjeev Kapoor gets talking about his latest book Dakshin Delights that celebrates South Indian cuisine

By the time you're done with reading Dakshin Delights, you'll end up thanking Savithri amma, who has been weaving her magic wand over Sanjeev Kapoor's kitchen for over 20 years now. The family cook is the reason Sanjeev, famous chef and TV cooking guru, fell in love with South Indian saapadu.

And, this book is a sort of tribute to the pleasure Sanjeev derives from the cuisine. “You always like to eat something different from what you are used to. From Savithri amma, I learnt to appreciate the characteristic taste of the South,” says the affable chef, who achieved super stardom with his cookery show ‘Khana Khazana’.

Personal favourites

Most of the 66 dishes in the book are Sanjeev's personal favourites. But, he has balanced out the book with a flavourful mix of the pungent and the mellow, the celebrated, and the delicious but not-so-popular dishes, and vegetarian (70 per cent) and non-vegetarian fare.

Happily, he's stayed away from the regular culprits in every book on South Indian cuisine — idli, dosa and vadai; instead focussing on wonderful variations such as the spicy, pepper- and cumin-infused Kanjeevaram idli, the coarse, crispy Maddur vade, and the spongy, fragile set-dosa, studded with a dollop of butter!

“That was intentional. There are some iconic dishes, and others that are as delectable, but not found outside their place of origin. The idea was to introduce people to them,” says Sanjeev.

And, quite a few dishes have a story behind them. The kaalan, for instance, has been recreated from a friend's kitchen. And, some others have been tweaked to suit Sanjeev's taste buds. “So, if there are 50 versions of sambar, mine's the 51st,” he laughs. And, there is no dilution in the basics, just to make the book more palatable.

“It's just a matter of keeping your ears and eyes open when you are in front of food. If people have been cutting vegetables a particular way for ages, there must be a reason, and you should respect that,” he says.

In addition, with his tips for things what every South Indian would consider mundane work — such as making tamarind pulp and sambar powder — the chef ensures even non-cooks get it right, every time.

“People take these for granted, little knowing that it is critical information. Also, I've made an attempt to prepare non-South Indians to appreciate new flavours such as dry coconut,” he says.

Sanjeev is known for his accurate measurements that make even rookies churn out great stuff. And, this book, he says, will be no different, for the recipes have been tried and tested by his team.

So, what is the one South Indian dish Sanjeev can't do without? “Well, choosing one would be difficult, but puliyodharai is a near-staple at home. Sometimes, we use the spice powder, at others, we make a paste. Just mix it with some leftover rice, and go ummmm,” he goes into raptures.

(The book, published by Popular Prakashan, is priced at Rs. 295)

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