interview It is important to bring love into the kitchen, says cookbook writer Mallika Badrinath
W hen Mallika Badrinath was growing up, the women in her joint family shared in their spare time activities. She remembers big bedcovers being embroidered that way. A maami would start something, and when she was called away, an athai would add a few stitches to it, then the periamma would take it up and embellish some more and so on, till the project was completed in no time. Cooking too, was a collective activity, and, as Mallika remembers it, as enthusiastically accomplished.
At a food festival in Coimbatore, Mallika shared her early memories of food as a young girl in Salem. She also spoke of the new book she was working on. Mallika has 24 recipe books to her credit in English, Tamil, Kannada and Telegu. She currently also hosts popular cookery shows “Suvaiana Samayal” and “Unavum Ootamum”.
Passionate about cooking, Mallika spent many hours copying down recipes from her athais, peraimmas, paatis and mamis. It was when she was wading through these recipes after marriage, trying to locate something, that her husband first suggested she publish them. In 1988, Mallika took all the curry recipes she had, and put them into her first book and called it “Vegetarian Gravies”.
“I grew up in a joint family, which gave me ample opportunity to learn about food and techniques,” she says.
One of her most prized possessions is her grandmother's own recipe book that includes the unusual jasmine rice. Mallika describes how jasmine buds are moistened, laid out on a muslin cloth covering the rice that is then steamed.
There is a recipe for orange rice, too. “During Margazhi, my grandmom made a kalanda saadam a day. From this came my book ‘Rice Delights'.”
Rare dishes such as these find their way into her books. These recipes may otherwise have been lost forever.
However, Mallika is aware that householders are busier nowadays, and many may not have the inclination for complicated procedures. So, she has altered the recipes in a way even the most harried cook can follow. It is interesting to note how from her first book, where she advocates the use of ghee instead of oil to fry the masala, Mallika graduates to cooking with soya, less oil, tofu and other healthier options.
She is currently working on an oats special. While oats are healthy, lesser cooks than Mallika who have tried to cook with oats have ended up with a gloopy mess. Her oats cook book is in its finishing stages, so we will have to wait and see. She takes a little longer than most to write her books, says Mallika. This is because she tries out all her recipes before she puts them out there for everyone. “Even a beginner should be able to follow my instructions,” she says. And, according to her, “The most important garnish in all my recipes is a smile.”