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When Chandri teaches you how to cook

Chandri Bhat believes food must enrich and educate PHOTO: R. RAVINDRAN

Chandri Bhat believes food must enrich and educate PHOTO: R. RAVINDRAN  

Food researcher and cookery expert Chandri Bhat launches her first book of recipes. She speaks to CHITRADEEPA ANANTHARAM about why traditional cooking must be preserved

1993. I reluctantly accompanied my mother to attend Chandri Bhat’s cookery class. A top brand offered it for those who had purchased its electric rice cooker. The class opened up a whole new world of possibilities for 20-year-old me.

From cooking just rice, I was confident enough to make carrot halwa, rasmalai, pineapple kesari, date pudding, caramel custard, coconut pulav, dum aloo, chicken corn chowder, chicken pot roast, kheema biryani, dhansak, khaman dhokla — all in the electric cooker!

That’s what Chandri does best — educate. She not only teaches pupils how to cook a particular dish, but educates them on spices, techniques and processes.

All these years, she stopped with teaching. But, on September 10, Chandri released her first cook book, Kitchen Nostalgia. She has also done the food styling for the book.

Why did it take this long for a book?

“I don’t like to work in isolation, and writing a book calls for that. I’ve always involved myself in food research or consultancy, which gave me opportunity to interact with people,” says the 78-year-old.

Even this book is for a cause.

Chandri is a food consultant for Savera Group, and when she got to know Nina Reddy had been elected president of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), she wanted to do something to raise funds for them. She put together 50 of her popular, well-tested and tried vegetarian recipes, mostly gravies drawn from across India, Thailand and Malaysia. All proceeds from the sale of the books go to NAB.

Why only 50 recipes and why did she stick to vegetarian fare?

“It was a conscious decision. Globally, many people are turning vegetarian, and these recipes can be tried with ingredients easily available at home. Also, gravies work well because they can be eaten with rice or even store-bought bread or rotis,” smiles Chandri.

Many families in the city have been using Chandri’s recipes for two or even three generations. Her USP is accurate recipes with clear instructions.

“Recipe or cook book writing is an art. Ingredients need to be given in the order they go into the dish. Measurements have to be standardised, and the recipe should not confuse people. That’s why I’ve included tips and suggestions on every page,” she says.

Kitchen Nostalgia is Chandri’s endeavour to also preserve the cooking tradition.

“Gone are the days where families preserved their cooking traditions and family recipes. With many people migrating abroad and the increase in mixed marriages, cooking has become diversified. I wish families go out of their way to preserve recipes handed down the generations,” she says, adding that communities must serve traditional meals at least at weddings.

Do Chandri’s recipes focus on health? “My measurements for oil and ghee are standardised, and one can always reduce them,” she says.

Avoid refined oil. Instead, use cold pressed sesame seed oil, coconut oil and ground nut oil and a moderate amount of ghee.

“Add a small portion of millets to rice and cook them together, so that you get used to it; gradually, increase the proportion. Add flax seed powder to wheat flour when you make roti or gravy, use finely chopped coriander, mint, holy basil or curry leaves in your roti, gravy or salad,” she elaborates.

Chandri is an ardent fan of pressure-cooking, as is evident in the detailed description of pressure-cooking time given in each recipe.

“The pressure cooker and pressure pan are essential for Indian-style cooking. The pressure pan is especially useful when we stir-fry ingredients first and then add water and cook. Instead of the number of whistles, I always give the number of minutes a dish has to be cooked,” she says.

And for those who wish to prepare vegetables using less oil, Chandri suggests an OTG, which, says Chandri, cooks them to perfection.

So, what do recipes mean to Chandri? “These four decades of teaching, I’ve never shared recipes for the sake of it. I’ve used them as a medium to teach cooking. It is up to my students to understand and adapt recipes,” says the food researcher who is currently researching the cuisine of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.

With the cookery book, Chandri hopes more people will take to cooking.

That, she says, will make her happiest.

Kitchen Nostalgia, priced at Rs. 699, will be available on Amazon.in from October

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