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Grandmother’s recipes for today’s cook: Mallika Basu

Quick fixes but no compromises on taste Mallika Basu

Quick fixes but no compromises on taste Mallika Basu  


In her latest cookbook, Mallika Basu merges childhood kitchen memories with the fast-paced needs of today

As a child, I remember helping my grandma grind idli batter in the heavy aatukallu. The backbreaking work of producing food didn’t make the kitchen a very attractive place. When I did finally enter it, I experimented to reduce my workload, much to mum’s disapproval. Reading Mallika Basu’s Masala: Indian Cooking for Modern Living took me back to the time when mum would peer over my shoulder, saying, “This is not how it’s done.” With tried-and-tested recipes and kitchen hacks and tips, the book is clearly meant for those to whom it is dedicated: ‘All those who think they can’t cook’. Excerpts from an interview with the blogger and author:

You write about not liking mealtimes as a child. How did you to grow to love food?

I was a picky eater. The more my parents worried and my mother stressed at the dining table, the less I enjoyed mealtimes. My parents eventually gave up trying to force-feed me. I started noticing that I was surrounded by a love for food and a great passion for cooking. So by my teenage years, I started appreciating the incredible bounty of flavours, cuisines and cultures that made it into and out of our kitchen, and, of course, my favourite restaurant haunts. The final moment that sealed my love for food was when I left my home in Calcutta for university in England: the combination of hunger and homesickness.

In the introduction, you talk about “drawing on the memories and updating them”. What did this involve?

When I first started cooking, I would call my family and ask for instructions. The recipes I was given were always heavily dependent on andaaza (guess). I started recreating and documenting them in my then food blog, mishaps and all. It’s been over 12 years since and there are still missteps to this day. I don’t deep-fry at home, for instance, so the baked onion pakoras in Masala were tried 12 times before they came out of the oven crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside.

Could you tell us about the making of this book?

The book is a very personal one inspired by my own busy life. I found myself simplifying Indian recipes so they could fit into my lifestyle. I wanted to create something that reflected the way we live, eat, cook and entertain today, not just based on nostalgia for the way our nanis and dadis lived. So, I picked recipes that were simple to create; that fit into the amount of time we have and that are loved by the family.

Chepa Vepudu, a crisp-skinned, spicy-fleshed fish

Chepa Vepudu, a crisp-skinned, spicy-fleshed fish  

Many of the recipes are from my half-Bengali, half-Dilli childhood home in Kolkata, which adopted all sorts of recipes from India and beyond. I travelled extensively in India in recent years and picked up my own favourites from chefs and homes that invited me over. There are others I created, like the pulled pork vindaloo, which marries a taste for one of my favourite places with an international technique.

Do you have any personal favourites among these recipes?

Lots, and my own copy is thoroughly stained with food. I make the murgh haryali a lot, as it’s simple and just bubbles away in the oven. The pulled pork vindaloo and badami gobi musallum are great centrepieces for parties. The raw cabbage thoran, a recipe from my hosts in Alleppey, is a fantastic summer salad. The lychee chilli cocktail is a great ice-breaker when I have friends around. I also make a gingered version of khubani ka meetha, served with zaffran (saffron) cream, which I ate to excess when I visited Hyderabad during Eid. My favourite chapter is the one called brunch.

Your best cooking hack?

Please don’t judge me, but I use a spring-loaded ice-cream scoop to measure even quantities of dough and batter as I am not crafty in the slightest. I also oven-cook a lot of curried dishes so that my clothes, hair and nails don’t smell like a dhaba after a long day of work.

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    Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 6:20:06 PM |

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