BOOKMARK Sarla Razdan's “Kashmiri Cuisine through the Ages” takes us through the nitty-gritty of the region's food culture, writes P. ANIMA

“I cook with love,” declares Sarla Razdan. A debutante author and a culinary enthusiast for a lifetime, her “Kashmiri Cuisine through the Ages” from Roli Books folds within its covers not only about 150 Kashmiri recipes but snippets about this homemaker's immense delight in cooking for distinguished guests who visited her home; her memories of a childhood in Srinagar untouched by violence; of walking four kilometres to college nourished by the simple haak her mother had laboriously cooked for hours; and vignettes of a Kashmiri life that was.

Sarla seems to be from the fast-dying tribe of chefs who cook for the sheer pleasure it gives, never to prove a point, but to thoroughly enjoy the compliments showered by a content guest. So she pins with pride adulatory notes from former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, singer Lata Mangeshkar and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who visited her home in New York, London and Delhi, as they were known to her journalist husband M.K. Razdan, and relished her all-Kashmiri fare.

“My cooking is appreciated by my friends and my husband says, ‘There is art in Sarla's hands',” she says about a skill that became a passion under the persistent appreciation it received. Her approach to cooking never gathers a competitive edge and continues to remain a hobby she exercises everyday. So the book took its own time to take birth. She dedicates the book to her father-in-law, who had suggested she pen down her recipes. “I worked on the book at leisure. It took me seven to eight years to jot down things and I worked leisurely, cooking the dishes, getting them photographed; a lot of time went into it,” she says.

Sarla's book quells misconceptions about Kashmiri cuisine. Firstly, she stumps you with its amazing range, that there is more to it than the Wazwan, nadru palak and the Kashmiri pulao. Secondly, in a cuisine considered overwhelmingly non-vegetarian, she churns out vegetarian options that please with their staggering combinations. Further, she makes Kashmiri cuisine a vivid partnership where meat finds its soul mate in fruits, dry fruits and vegetables.

Sarla blends the traditional lamb fingers with cauliflower and even apricots, she stuffs bitter gourd with minced lamb, sends lamb and plums on a walk and dares fish and green apples to find harmony. “I see the authenticity first,” says Sarla, about her approach. However, innovation seeps in as she polishes and perfects a dish. “Combining apricots and lamb is a variation I have done to an authentic recipe,” she adds.

About the variety of dishes that merrily make meat and vegetables bond, she says, “These are combinations we make everyday and are found in the Pandit cuisine,” but hardly written about. “Basically, these are the same things. I keep on experimenting, but the dishes have an authentic Kashmiri taste,” says Sarla. The author has included quite a few well-known recipes of the Muslim community too in the book. “For these recipes, I interviewed Muslim cooks and wrote them down,” says Sarla.

“Kashmiri Cuisine through the Ages” also gives snapshots of her early life in Srinagar. “I wrote what was in my heart. It is a personal book with true stories,” she says.