She’s not a household name – yet. But online and in Britain’s North East, fans feast on every morsel of Indian food knowledge that drips from Maunika’s lips. And a look at the debut cookbook from this ‘Cook in a Curry‘ will no doubt endear her to the wider world.
Mumbai-born Maunika is now settled in the UK, but that’s not to say her recipes have assumed a British accent. Not a jot – one of the joys of her writing lies in the fact she’s so keen to make authenticity acceptable to all-comers, lending her cooking and character equal appeal to Indians and non-Indians alike. Years spent honing her tone for her own website, various British publications, and Vogue India were not in vain; putting Maunika on the reading lists and radars of a few folks you might have heard of: Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver, and Yotam Ottolenghi.
Having shared screen space with Maunika, all will no doubt be happy to have her constantly to hand in their kitchens, albeit bound between the covers of her cookbook. ‘Indian Kitchen’ is a compelling compendium, featuring Maunika’s own evolutions and interpretations of recipes revealed to her by her mother over the years through notes, emails, and conversations; not to mention the families and friends whose homes she cooked and ate in across India.
Font fiends will note that the typeface in ‘Indian Kitchen’ is as clean and no-nonsense as the instructions it imparts. Its use for such an easy-to-devour cookbook is all the more apt when you learn its name, ‘Pica’, refers to a medical condition where one just can’t stop eating. A chapter entitled ‘Hungry’ makes a further, plaintive appeal to the appetite.
With over 120 recipes in ‘Indian Kitchen’, Maunika also has you covered if your yearning is for something ‘Indulgent’, ‘Celebratory’, or if you’re feeling just plain ‘Lazy’; the recipes in each chapter yielding food for all those respective moods. Although there’s strong adherence to authenticity, it’s woven together with this cook’s ability to render the unfamiliar familiar; sharing a taste of her traditions so they feel uncannily like the reader’s own.
All the warmth and wit in the world is all well and good, but it means little if the style isn’t backed up with substance. Although much Indian cooking is a product of ‘andaaz’ (relying on one’s senses to guide them), that intuition can only arise when a cook has an understanding of ingredients, equipment, and techniques. In Indian Kitchen, the latter is covered through the clear, concise methodology employed in each recipe; the former through a chapter devoted to demystifying ‘Essentials’. At the rear appears a supplier section, revealing where to source elusive items online, in the UK, and in India.
If that’s not enough amuse for your buche, we’ll move on to the food itself, pausing, as many will, to cast a hungry eye over Helen Cathcart‘s texture-driven, well-composed images that bear the photographer’s trademark fresh, almost Nordic feel; presenting Indian dishes in, quite literally, a whole new light. It’s good to see many of the original dish names intact, given their English equivalents where necessary. I’ve always found this a handy way of picking up bits and bobs of culinary vocabulary; much like a magpie collecting shiny doodads.
With recipes for everything from farcha – the Parsi answer to KFC – to Gujarat’s spongy, cornbread-like khaman dhokla; via Assamese spiced potatoes, Malyali kozhi biryani rooted in Kerala’s historic Muslim community, and the mustard-y Bengali steamed fish ‘bhapa maach’, you could plan your meal as a region-roving culinary tour. Clearly, one of Maunika’s intentions is to both highlight and celebrate the key differences between cultures’ cuisines across the country.
But most mouthwatering to my mind are Maunika’s Marathi and Malwani recipes; the latter referring to the food from a community of the Konkan coast, which fringes Maharashtra, Goa, and Northern parts of Western Karnataka – yielding a cuisine that’s a sort of Venn diagram of the edibles of all three areas. Marathi sweetcorn aamti is a family recipe for a tangy, sweet, hot dish that introduces the use of gram flour as a thickener, whilst the Malwani hirwa tisrya masala will win many over to the taste of clams crammed into a gorgeous coconut-based paste.
Most pleasing is the introduction of simple, widely-relished but til-now-unembraced-in-Britain bits – pohe (a toss-up of beaten rice, spices, and a few other ingredients, often); tasty savoury semolina porridge, upma; and curd rice that’s gently spiced and mixed with cool, thinned yogurt: basically, basic, humble dishes that are very worthy of the attention that should be afforded to cheap, nutritious fare that’s speedier to put together than many so called ‘fast foods’.
It would be impossible for this mithai-munching Spice Scribe not to end on a suitably sweet note. And, with nigh-on a dozen recipes afforded to dishes laced with sugar, spice, and all things nice, that’s no hard task, whether one is in the mood for a silk-smooth shrikhand or an Indian-accented bake like cardamom and pistachio cake.
This might be Maunika’s first cookbook, but it would be nothing shy of criminal if it were her last. ‘Indian Kitchen’ should be welcomed by everyone into every room of every home, everywhere.
Stock up your shelves – More incredible Indian cookbooks to covet
A few more food-led finds that have made my shelves groan a little louder of late…
- Secrets From My Indian Family Kitchen by Anjali Pathak
- Mother India At Home: Recipes Pictures Stories by Monir Mohammed and Martin Gray
- Prasad – Cooking with Indian Masters by J. Indersingh Kalra
- ‘Indian Kitchen’ by Maunika Gowardhan with photography by Helen Cathcart is published by Hodder and Stoughton
- To read more Indian cookbook reviews, click here
- To read about some of my favourite Indian cookbooks of all time, click here
- To read about great Indian food-led books and memoirs, click here
- To read about Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta’s ‘Bong Mom’s Cookbook’, click here
- To read about Rinku Bhattacharya’s ‘The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles’, click here
- To read about Tony Singh’s ‘Tasty’, click here
- To read about Cyrus Todiwala’s ‘Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay’, click here
Image credits: All images by Helen Cathcart from ‘Indian Kitchen’