A journalist and columnist, Samar Halankar has written a book that combines recipes with his memoirs of how he started cooking, getting hold of his grandmother’s recipes through her letters to his mother, the trials and errors and mostly, the success stories from the kitchen. Samar believes in making do with what is available in the kitchen and if living away from home, using local ingredients to avoid excess baggage. He is also a great advocate of men learning to cook. He says, “My mother was working so she involved my brother and me and got us to help around the kitchen. That got me interested and then living away from home meant I had to know how to cook.”
Surprisingly, he is fonder of eating than of cooking. “I love to eat good food so the best way to do that no matter where one is, is by learning to cook.”
The tone of the book is chatty and informal and Samar has been generous with the recipes. Right from his grandmother’s recipes, a treasure trove written on inland letters sent to his mother just after she got married, he shares the results of his experiments with local ingredients. Other than kokum, a souring agent extensively used by people from his community and the coastal regions of west India, he believes in using what is locally available. So you have Couscous with bell pepper, zucchini and a Srinagar garam masala; a Dastakar fish which includes ingredients bought from a Dastakar Mela, and of course, his Goan fish curry, a zapped, ten minute version of his grandmother’s original recipe.
The book is also a funny take on his very non vegetarian dislike for vegetarian food and his reluctant acceptance of a few veggies on his plate being present occasionally. Having a vegetarian wife has of course instilled a healthy respect for them he says in the book. Ask him about a few tips for cooking tasty food and he says, “Dry roasting and then grinding your spices before using them always gives a certain effervescence to the dish. And always use some fresh herbs as they give the recipe a fresh twist.” And the favourite eating spots of this accomplished cook? “Royal China, near VT station in Mumbai and Shri Dutta Boarding House which is also in Mumbai.”
For those of you who are interested in cooking, or looking for some fun reading along with creative ways to cook the same old chicken or fish, this book is just right for you.