My flirtations with cooking started at 18, but my daughter is in the kitchen at 9 baking brownies, singeing her hand and mastering the art of choosing recipes from cookbooks
I am a cookbook junkie. I got my first cookbook when I was 18 or 19 and the book Hamlyn’s Indian Cooking focused on cooking “Indian" food to suit the palate of curry-loving British. Needless to say, my attempts at serving Okra with Onions and Tomatoes or Dal with Vinegar just did not gel in my Punjabi household.
But I persisted.
Perhaps the only dish that was not scorned off the table was Mutton Biryani because we were not biryani eaters, and so no one really knew what real biryani should taste like. Frankly, the height of experimentation in our house at the time was eating dosa, vada and idli as a treat for Sunday morning breakfast and that’s why I had to retire Indian Cooking within a few months.
Thereafter, I lost interest in cooking: if no one wants to eat what you put on the table, what is the point of cooking really? Besides, I must confess, vinegar in dal did not work well for my palate either.
My tween got her first cookbook when she was 8. Usborne’s Children World Cookbook with its step-by-step instructions and illustrations and images made it easy for her to imagine tea-time parties and dinners that she would host with dishes she would cook herself…one day.
Biryani Brit style and Brownies for Teacher’s Day
In the interim years, though, I did occasionally buy the Tarla Dalal, Nita Mehta and Sanjeev Kapoor variety of cookbooks, I don’t recollect using them much. It took me almost 11-12 years to pick up my second cookbook from which I cooked. I specifically acquired one that had recipes of Chettinad chicken and mutton stew, both dishes I had tried at a friend’s place and knew they could be replicated at home with ease. Thankfully, they were not booed off the table and that gave me courage to experiment a little with baking thereafter and so on in the years to come.
My daughter has had no such issues. We eat anything she makes (and thanks to Masterchef, she thinks “sprinkling" cinnamon powder on cheese strips placed on Monaco biscuits is “innovation"). To save ourselves from vigorous teeth brushing exercises to get rid of the taste of some pretty nasty “innovations" and save seriously expensive ingredients from going waste, lately, we have a policy: you have to eat what you make.
Last weekend, we bought her second cookbook, this one with little focus on baking and more on cooking simple dishes using fire. She tried making stuffed omelette and while flipping the omelette in the skillet pan burned her hand a little and promptly retired the book saying she was too young to get “injured while cooking".
Now, she is back to her favourite pastime: flipping through cookbooks and telling me what to make.
Like me, she goes through phases when we swear by one or two cookbooks for months at end. One the books on Italian cooking we love to use was presented to me by a friend who read all about my frustrated attempts at trying to perfect Nigella Lawson’s recipes (I have two of her cookbooks and can never seem to replicate her recipes). Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy taught me how to perfect my Bolognese sauce, whip up salsa di pomodoro, and make meat chunks with olives. Somehow I have not managed to master the art of making risotto but one day...
These days we are addicted to two cookbooks: Diva Green by Ritu Dalmia and Samar Halarnkar’s The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking. Dalmia’s Spicy Honey Dip, Carrot and Ginger soup, Spicy Mushroom Salad, Papa ala Huancaina are sure shot winners on our dinner table as are Halarnkar’s Rosemary Baingan Bake, Bank Roast Chicken (minus the Whiskey), Baked Fish in Tomato sauce and Simple Sauf Paneer and of course kheema.
One of these days, I am going to rescue her retired cookbook and encourage her to make Fried Rice with Vegetables and Moussaka, both dishes she read about with great interest in her new cookbook.
Meanwhile, a new book on 50 Best Cakes has found its way into our hands.
This weekly series appears on Tuesday and looks at what’s new with food, drink and how we are interacting with it.