“Indian food is going to rule the world palette in the years to come,” declares renowned chef and cookery writer Mridula Baljekar. Based in London, Baljekar is in India for some time. She says the popular perception that the West can't withstand Indian chillies is no longer true. “In London, the Naga chilli called bhut jalokia, named after its ghostly hotness, is getting popular. Bangladeshi restaurants have moved ahead of vindaloo to create tindaloo, which is even spicier. Their latest fad is to organise competitions where the person who can withstand the spiciest recipe is declared the winner.”
Baljekar finds it astonishing that while the world tastes India, the Indian middle class is warming up to world cuisine. “The good thing is a lot of fusion is happening. Part of the reason is ingredients are easily available. Like in Khan Market you can get even the most exotic of ingredients. A lot of chefs are against fusion food as it kills the purity element, but I am all for it. Food is not just an art. It has functional and utilitarian value as well. If the combination works for a set of people, there is no harm in trying different things. It is part of the evolutionary process.” She created Indian tea mousse when she got inspired by coffee mousse.
With bestsellers like “Low Fat Indian Vegetarian Cooking” and “Fat Free Indian Cooking” to her credit, which helped in changing perceptions of the nutritional value of Indian food, Baljekar is now writing about regional Indian food.
It is no longer about Mughlai either, as Baljekar plans to put North East food on the world map. “North and South Indian food has already made it big. Now it is time for the North East to make its impact on the gourmets. The trend is towards balanced food and retaining the flavour of the spices. North East food provides both. In Assam people have khar at the beginning. It is made out of the trunk of the banana and is alkaline in nature, and at the end they have tenga which is an acidic preparation made out of lemon and tomato. It is rare to find such balance.”
Baljekar finds overcooking a perennial problem in Indian households. “Another perception that is changing slowly is that expensive food is considered to be rich food.”
Recently, she watched Julie and Julia, and finds herself closer to the character of Julia Childs. “Like she popularised French cooking, I wish to create a following for Indian food.” Does she have to argue with publishers like Julia did? “Of course. I want to give every little detail about the ingredients…their nutritional value, availability, etc.”
Do the recipes tend to get too long in Indian cuisine? “They do, but it is not just the case with Indian cuisine. Italian recipes beyond pizzas also require great detailing. I don't see it as a handicap in the spread of the flavours of Indian cooking.” And presentation? “Yes, that is a drawback. How much you can experiment with a curry? But you can take out the solid part for presentation. For instance, in chicken makhani, you can take out the pieces, put them in a bowl and play with the visual appeal.”