Jamie Oliver Posts

“Tarkari” by Rohit Ghai

I love cooking. I cook very day. I enjoy reading recipe books. I have done so as long as I can remember. I collect recipes. I have four notebooks of handwritten recipes, spanning generations. They are a repository of so much information in terms of food habits, what is in vogue in a particular age, etc. Inevitably recipes get passed orally within families. Writing down recipes presumes that the families are educated, especially women, and cooking techniques are clearly spelt out. Families like mine have written and shared recipes for generations. I have handwritten recipes from the last century. These are precisely written. Short. Nothing elaborate. Easy to replicate. No fuss. Recipes by women meant to be used. No time wasted in reading and understanding.

In recent years, especially ever since Paul Hamlyn made four-colour, illustrated cookery books by Margueritte Patten phenomenal bestsellers, recipe books sell consistently. Most often, little expense is spared when it comes to scrumptious layouts, specialist food photographers are hired and double-page spreads are the norm. In recent years, this domain has slowly and steadily been overtaken by male writers. Again, fine. Except that some of the bestselling recipes books are becoming more and more tedious to read. For instance, Jamie Oliver. His early cookbooks were a delight to read but the newer ones are too elaborate. Even Joe Wicks churns out some interesting recipes but far too expensive in terms of ingredients used and too complicated when it comes to increasing portions. Cookbooks should be easy to read, easy to understand, and the recipes are easy to visualise in one’s minds eyes. Of course, printed cookbooks are now competing with the Internet where many recipes and videos are available, not tucked away behind paywalls. So to maintain the fine balance that will persuade readers/consumers to buy expensive hardbacks for a few recipes is tricky. Having said that, London-based restauranteur and Michelin star chef Rohit Ghai’s Tarakari: Vegetarian and Vegan Indian Dishes with Heart and Soul seems to achieve this balance. It is a pleasure reading the recipes. Easy instructions. To-the-point. He adds details like focusing on consistency or batters and gives reasons. Most of the recipes included in “Tarkari” are adaptations of what he learned in his mother’s kitchen. So they are familiar recipes such as “Aloo Tikki”, “Dal Makhani”, “Pesarattu”, “Chole Bhature”, “Tadka Dal”, “Jaipuri Bhindi”, but as happens with Indian households, there are variations. Also, being in London, some of the dishes like “Chickpea and Samphire Salad”, “Kadai Tofu” and “Courgette Mussalam” are examples of fusion food. They are not classic Indian dishes but they work.

Tarkari is reminiscent of very well-made Indian cookbooks by non-resident South Asians like Meera Taneja, Sameena Rushdie and Madhur Jaffrey. I am definitely going to be trying some of these dishes. Rohit provides tips and cooking methods with generosity, love and kindness and not the niggardliness that exists in some folks when asked to shares recipes. Rohit Ghai’s explanations of vegetarian and vegan dishes fulfil many of the parameters I seek while reading or sharing recipes.

Buy Tarkari. Use it.

13 Nov 2021

Vikas Khanna’s “My First Kitchen” and Jamie Oliver’s “5 Ingredients”

I love cooking. It is my stress buster. I read recipe books, experiment with dishes and those that come out well, I note in my handwritten recipe book. A collection that has handwritten recipes in it of at least four generations of men and women. It is always challenging to balance nutritious meals with simplicity and within affordable budgets.

The other day my eight-year-old daughter asked me while I was writing down a recipe in my book whether it was essential for everyone to write and consult recipes. This is coming from a kid who prefers to learn cooking by watching me in the kitchen rather than consult recipes. She has been assisting me in the kitchen from before she could walk. This may sound like a tall claim but it is true given that I would plonk her on the kitchen surface and get her to pluck leaves for a salad or help mix cake batter. Soon she was using the rolling pin and stirring dishes on the stove. Of course all under supervision! Anyway, getting back to cooking in the kitchen with beginners.

When I was doing my undergraduation, some of my classmates would proudly claim that they had never set foot in the kitchen and did not even know how to make a cup of tea let alone boil an egg. I was horrified. Not necessarily that these were mostly girls from conservative backgrounds and were soon to be married off, so how would they survive in their new homes? I was truly concerned about their well being as it requires all your wits and more to learn to negotiate spaces in your marital home. But I was also horrified at another level. How could their parents have brought up their children in such a manner so that they did not even know the basic survival skills of cooking? This is not a socially coded gendered preoccupation. It is basic survival skills.

Modern living is very strenuous and is full of stresses. It does begin to prey on one’s health too. Given the shortage of time reliance on fast foods and takeaways is inevitable. The growth of this industry can be gauged by the mushrooming of apps that provide delivery of food packets from various outlets to their customers. It is undoubtedly a booming industry. Having said that if with a little planning and stocking up on ingredients putting together a nice dish without too much fuss is easily done. Those with familiar with cooking can easily rustle up something even at the end of a long and tiring day at work but there are many others, first timers to the kitchen, who are unable to proceed without instructions. For such scenarios, easy-to-learn and easy-to-consult recipe books, I came across — Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients and Vikas Khanna’s My First Kitchen— published a few months ago. Both are magnificent hardbacks with full-page colour photographs and extremely easy instructions on putting together dishes. To an experienced eye many of the recipes in the books are fairly balanced nutritionally while to a beginner they seem like easy-to-rustle-up tasty dishes. The plus point for both the recipe books is that there is practically no fancy equipment or ingredient required to create the wonderful creations shown.

Jamie Oliver has been known for many of his recent publications to do full page spreads of every single recipe he mentions. It is a very generous allowance from his publisher but it is understandable given how well his books sell especially at Christmas time. And this is exactly the element that makes his cookery books ever so attractive as every single recipe is well illustrated and thus easy to consult. So even if you miss understanding a particular step of the process, it all comes together upon seeing the picture accompanying the recipe. The food photographs in the book are of excellent quality, a feat that is unfortunately not achieved by most cookery book publishers. His philosophy of cooking has always been on the quick, easy and nourishing. And it comes through in the recipes collected in this particular book with recipes such as Speedy Steamed Pudding Pots, Chocolate Orange Shortbread, Smoky Mushroom Frittata, Creamy Mustrad Chicken and Peachy Pork Chops. All easy to make as long as the ingredients are handy.

In a similar vein is Vikas Khanna’s My First Kitchen, a collection of basic recipes  (mostly Indian) that are easily turned out. For instance Pumpkin Orange Soup, Creamy Beetroot Spine, Roasted Basil-Sesame Chicken, Sprouted Lentils with Coconut and Tamarind and Green Papaya with Clove-Nigella Scent. These are only some of the recipes. Most of them are easy to make but these are most certainly meant for a cook based with easy access to a variety of ingredients.

So to all those wishing to eat at home and perhaps learn a few recipes try these two cookbooks, a good start for your forays in to the kitchen.

To buy on Amazon India 

Vikas Khanna ( Hardback and Kindle)

Jamie Oliver ( Hardback and Kindle )

3 November 2018 

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