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The kitchen goddess
She has been called the Nigella Lawson of Indian food, but that's a title Anjum Anand is uncomfortable with. She sounds just as passionate about food as Nigella does and with the voluptuous lips, bronzed cheekbones and glossy hair, looks like an Indian version of the British celebrity chef.
A regular face on BBC since 2007, Anjum has brought about a genteel revolution in a nation that equates curry with Indian food.
Born into a family with Punjabi and Marwari influence - and second of three children - Anjum grew up with a love of food not shared by her siblings. Though her parents moved to Europe nearly half a century ago and Anjum herself is a global citizen - she speaks English, Spanish and French - it's her Indian roots that she has embraced.
"Although I grew up in the West, coming home every day was like entering a little Indian colony, " says Anjum.
"I was always welcomed by the spicy aromas emanating from my mother's kitchen. Cooking Indian food keeps me close to my roots and is the most important way I remain healthy, " she says.
Never too far from the kitchen, by the time Anjum was 18 years old, she was struggling with her weight and it was her quest to find foods that worked for her, that prompted Anjum to write Indian Every Day: Light Healthy Indian Food in 2003, a wealth of tasty recipes that were also healthy. Since then she has written two best-selling books on Indian food - Indian Food Made Easy (2007) and Anjum's New Indian (2008). Her third book Anjum's Eat Right for Your Body Type (2010) -a health, lifestyle and diet book - was inspired by the principles of Ayurveda and had over 80 healthy eating recipes from all cuisines.
Not afraid to mix-and-match flavours and cooking processes that most people think are alien to Indian cooking, Anjum's efforts to make Indian food popular have paid off and put her on the world culinary map. Her six-part series on BBC Two, Indian Food Made Easy (2007-08 ), along with her recipe books and business venture Spice Tailor - a range of Indian sauces - have done exceptionally well.
Her latest endeavour, Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast, sees the 40-year-old toss up some innovative never-heard-before concoctions stretching vegetarian food to unbelievable limits. Sample this: spiced steamed Cavolo Nero, coconut stuffed okra, caramelized apple malpua are just some of the exotic recipes that the book lists out.
While these dishes may sound anglicised, Anjum contends that with every passing generation our palate diversifies. With inter-cultural marriages now the norm, food has become the crucible of experimentation. That also explains the Bengali influence in Anjum's repertoire as her in-laws are based in Kolkata.
She observes, "It's amazing how in every region of India we use the same spices/condiments but so differently. Punjabis have mustard greens, Bengalis use the ground mustard seeds in most dishes and in the South they temper almost every dish with mustard seeds. Also, while in North India we grind our red chillies, in the South it is common to use whole dried red chillies. "
Gujarati food, Anjum feels, has lighter flavours with international appeal, such as 'undhiyo' made with potatoes, roast peanuts, aubergines, sweet potatoes and parsnips stirred in a masala sauce.
Anjum's brand Spice Tailor gives the option of adding spices and sauces according to individual taste buds and preferences, while encouraging people to partake of the distinctly Indian flavours.
While Anjum is all for traditional recipes, she feels a sprinkle or two of new ideas is necessary to make food relevant.
"When I got married I would call my mom-in-law in Kolkata and ask her for traditional recipes. Now she depends on my recipes to serve her bridge group as she feels the need to serve something new every time, " she shares.
According to Anjum, being adventurous in the kitchen is a necessary first step. She often borrows flavours from street foods to excite the palate and push Indian flavours into the international arena. The spice-crusted halloumi with fig and pistachio chutney and 'mile-high chickpea pancakes' are just some of the pleasures tucked in for the truly global food palate that craves some base flavours.
Interestingly, Anjum's tryst with vegetarianism began after marriage since her husband, from the Jain community, is a vegetarian and so are her children. Lunch at home, she says is Indian and while other vegetarian options do exist, Anjum prefers to make Indian food with a twist to familiarise her kids with their roots. It could be rajma chawal with artichoke fritters, or if she makes paranthas, she ensures that the accompaniments have no fat for a balanced yet tasty meal.
Great cooking, says Anjum, comes from the heart. "Cook from your heart, be open and good will come out of it. "
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