My journey into wild-harvesting and cooking seasonal, fresh and healthy, began at the age of eight. Our family had moved to a new house on the then outskirts of Poona (Pune), surrounded by the farmland of the landowner, which was being sold as plots to build. On three sides of our house was as yet farmland with a rich loamy-clay soil. Every June after the rains, leaf vegetables like Taikla (Cassia tora), Amaranth both the smooth & spiny stalked varieties, and two types of Purslane, sprouted abundantly out of this fertile land. Our neighbour, Mrs. Naik, whose family had a farm, was the one who taught me to identify and harvest these along with her. My grandmother walked ahead, in the knee-high growth, banging a bamboo on the ground to scare away the 2 m long rat-snakes that lived around us, with Mrs. Naik & me following behind, plucking the fresh vegetables. She also started growing sponge and bitter gourds, Malabar spinach, lablab beans, and more creepers along our fence. As also a small area with bananas, guavas, and deliciously fragrant purple chilis. As her eager assistant, I learned to help her tend to the plants, cut & clean exotic vegetables like banana flowers & the inner creamy core of a fruited banana plant (it fruits just once, then is cut down), to turn them into hearty vegetables. From the drumstick tree in our compound, (Moringa, which is now a super-food & nutraceutical), we harvested the young leaves to cook as a vegetable, the flowers fried into fritters besides the drumsticks were added to curries. Between her, her Mother-in-law, my grandmother & mother, I was learning all the time, because the kitchen activities, spices, and cooking processes just fascinated me. Besides, the gossipy camaraderie amongst these women was entertaining. We functioned as one family with the connecting doors always open, till the men came home.
By fourteen I already could cook for my family, which sure came in handy soon, as I was married at eighteen, to a famous artist. Eccentric & bohemian as he was, our open house attracted a stream of interesting artists, writers, poets, actors, theater & film personalities, and publishers.
For the following 17 years, despite having a profession as a landscape designer & consultant for organic farming, half my life was spent churning out meals for the endless string of convivial, creative, and inspiring people. On any given day there were five to ten guests. The flow started at six in the evening and continued dripping in late into the nights because the theatre folks dropped in after their plays ended at 12 or 1 am. The essence was to stock up the kitchen efficiently, think on the hoof, and cook fast & delicious snacks and meals for the crowd. Sometimes I think, the reputation of being a good cook has its downside, everyone eagerly came in time for dinners! Having said that, I was exposed to these fabulous personalities which broadened my horizons (and my brain!) at a very young age. The bonus was that their wives, some of them from the remote areas of Maharashtra, taught me many recipes too. The friends who were authors regaled us also with food stories from their region, of course with added juicy gossip or sharp critical comments! Communities were defined by their food habits so that was grist to the mill!
On this website, I am excited to share with you many little gems of undiscovered recipes A diverse culinary experience stretching from the Himalayan foothills along the coast on the west with an abundance of fish, over the biodiversity-rich Sahyadri mountains growing spices and coffee. Inwards to the plateaus with many grains and chili varieties, and deep into the arid millet growing interiors. The many characteristic robust communities living herein, have as many cuisines to offer. From the rustic farmers’ kitchens to the smaller provincial specialties which remain hidden from the mainstream. On to the refined vegetarian Brahmin cuisines. Added to these are the recipes learned from both my grandmothers, each from completely different communities- one coastal, the other from the interior. One a hardcore fish eater, the other a diehard vegetarian! Thereafter, recipes from my mother who was a very refined, modern cook, way ahead of her times. In between are myriad fabulous women & friends who were accomplished cooks. Because in India, if you don’t cook well, there was a time, that you were out of the running. Sounds weird in these ages, does it not?
I would love to take you with me through the culinary smorgasbord of India!