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Q&A | Vidhu Mittal

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-05-2014 Seema Chowdhry

Reinventing the plate

Her first cookbook, Pure And Simple: Homemade Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, won an award in the Best Easy Recipes category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2009. The book, with its detailed approach to 100-odd classic vegetarian recipes from the Indian kitchen, had people asking for more. On the advice of her publisher, Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books, Vidhu Mittal decided to work on a second book.

This time, she wanted the recipes to be a mix and match of Indian cooking techniques and ingredients with some Western staples and methodologies. So if you want to try Chatpatte Salaad Ke Paan, Angoori Hara Panna, Kofte Kacche Kele Ke, Mattar Paneer Francisi, then Mittal’s new book, Pure And Special: Gourmet Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, must find its way into your kitchen. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How is your second book different from the first?

This has more tikkas and more kebabs, more evolved dishes, and a larger variety of desserts. I have also tried to do fusion food.

I used to conduct cookery classes in Bangalore for 17 years. Over time, I realized that what’s missing is the home-cooked recipes, the daily food that should be passed on from mother to daughter. Today youngsters can make a pasta, a cake, a Thai dish but they cannot cook a meal—a simple dal, roti, sabzi. Even my daughter could not do it. In our time it was different, we learnt from our mothers, we were exposed to the kitchen.

Pure And Special—Gourmet Indian Vegetarian Cuisine: By Vidhu Mittal, Roli Books, 224 pages, Rs 1,295I felt at the time that there was need for a self-explanatory book, which would have every little detail in the recipe, from how much water was needed to soak the rice to how long you need to pressure-cook a dal. That’s how the first book, Pure And Simple, came about.

I feel now people have access to a lot of global ingredients. I wanted to explore what we can do when we mix and match those with Indian vegetarian fare. I also wanted to simplify the recipes, retain Indian flavours and blend them in a way that they look presentable and are palatable.

What are the key areas that you focused on while putting this book together?

I am very particular about the dishes I create. They must have a colour appeal. The moment you lose that, you will find it is no longer attractive to people.

Lotus Stem and Pasta Salad, Water Chestnut and Asparagus Pilaf—did you just want to be different or do these ingredients actually work together?

Kamal kakdi (lotus stem) looks and tastes similar to pasta, so they work together. I only had to figure out which kind of pasta would work best with lotus stems. After a few tries, I zeroed in on farfalle, a tooth-edged pasta. In salads, it’s important that the size of the ingredients match. Otherwise, it is tough to eat it. Also, the dressing can be applied uniformly only if all the ingredients are uniformly cut.

It was the same way for the Broccoli Cheese Kebabs. I had never really tasted paneer (cottage cheese) with broccoli, but I felt they would work well together. If I added anything else to the broccoli, I would have had to compromise on the green colour, which I dislike.

You have used water chestnut in a few recipes—surely it is not an easy ingredient to incorporate?

I come from Uttar Pradesh, where water chestnuts are available for a limited period around Dussehra. I have used it in a salad, as a vegetable, in a snack. Remember, this is one ingredient that changes taste according to age. A tender water chestnut is best eaten raw or mildly sautéed, and is perfect for salads. But when it ripens, it needs to be cooked more.

You are big on baking in this book. Baking as a technique is not common in Indian recipes...

People today want to eat foods made in a different way. I did not want to just do baked vegetables like we have seen for ages, but add an Indian touch to it. There is a cauliflower bake (Cauliflower Au Gratin Indien) in which I have added peanut powder. Also, because I do not eat too much cheese, I had to think of different things to do with my baked dishes.

What is your idea of gourmet food?

Gourmet food for me is really fancy vegetables not seen in daily Indian cooking, which should be combined and made in a way that has a little bit of Indian flavour. No matter how much we travel, a lot of Indians will like food with a slight Indian touch. Asparagus with water chestnuts in pulao, Brussels sprouts in bhel, broccoli with daliya, strawberry with coconut in phirni—I work on dishes that are not just fancy-sounding but can be eaten and have the right masalas, texture and flavour.

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