Wholesome Home cooking -
From Mom With Love

By Kavita Chhibber

It all began with Pushpa Bhargava, a stellar cook, sitting with her sister in law one fine day and poring over a cook book written by hubby Vikram’s nani(maternal grandmother) - Saral Bhojan Kaise Banaye (How to make simple food). The recipes were excellent, the methods mind boggling. “ My grand mother wrote things like-put salt to taste, and when the dish is ready take it down from the stove,” laughs Vikram. “ Now how does a beginner know what is salt to taste or when is a dish fully cooked? She wrote it for my aunt who was still young and unmarried in the hope that it would teach her cooking. I think my aunt may have preferred climbing a mountain instead of wrestling with such instructions.” Pushpa says her own daughter Vandana would balk at cooking anything Indian, because it was “too complicated.”

An extended family of several nephews and nieces, their friends, their own children’s’ friends would often flock to the most popular aunt and uncle, to eat Pushpa’s wonderful home made food, and say how much more delicious it was than the restaurant food. That gave birth to the idea of creating a cook book that was easy to follow by the second generation Indians and others who were not Indian but liked Indian food.

“ I didn’t think I was going to write this fancy cook book. My thought was to write down recipes and pass them on to my kids and their friends,” says Pushpa, but egged on by loved ones and a huge mass of enthusiastic youngsters, Pushpa began what later became a  grueling five year project of writing this book. “ We looked at so many cook books on Indian food and found that most of them catered to fancy dining and restaurant style food. There was not a single book in the market telling you how to make wholesome Indian food that you can eat three times a day and not feel miserable. Try eating the rich Indian food at restaurants and see how you feel after all that cream and butter and oil in your system.”

Pushpa has tried each recipe at least 35-40 times, to make it perfect. “ We would be on these long Delta flights and I would be keying in recipes on the computer as Pushpa dictated them to me,” says Vikram.  The book was designed by son Vivek’s mother in law.

Then came the thought of doing pictures. The duo happily took their little tested and tried 1 mega pixel camera and Vikram took some pictures that were so rectangular that daughter Vandana came in and threw them out. “ Then I went and bought a 5 mega pixel camera and of course had to learn how to use it.” The pictures were quite a story. There would be days Pushpa would labor for hours, take out her fancy dishes creating picture perfect food, and Vikram would come back from work and just as he would get ready to shoot, the sun would go down or it would get cloudy and there would be no pictures. Or there would be a great photo shoot and then they would see this ugly oil stain on a dish on the computer and would start all over again.

The end result however is a beautifully written book with recipes that a first time beginner can look at and create a multi-course meal, safety tips and home remedies thrown in as a bonus. All nervous questions are already answered. Pushpa and Vikram have found readily available alternatives to the Indian utensils used for Indian cooking, and Pushpa did away with complicated spices, using simple spices to create delicious meals. Though a vegetarian who has never eaten one morsel of meat, there are plenty of non vegetarian dishes, that Pushpa was able to create with daughter Vandana’s help, as she did the taste check. “ The other day my son Vivek came home, saw these non veg dishes I had cooked and said Mom what happened to you, you quaked at the sight of raw meat, and I said well I wrote a cook book you know,” says Pushpa with a laugh.

And knowing that wholesome cooking can be extended to fancy dining as well, Pushpa has included menus for fine dining when you entertain friends.

So how did they decide which recipes stayed and which were cut out?

“Well, all the recipes  there are requests from our kids, their friends and  other loved ones. In fact my sister in law was getting irritated with my niece because she had given me this long list of recipes she wanted in the book. “Why are you hassling your aunt?” She asked my niece and she replied, “Because I will be using this cook book and I want my favorite recipes there,” refusing to budge.”

What is the most satisfying thing for the two, now that the book is out and doing brisk business?

“The other day my daughter Vandana cooked this extensive meal for her in laws using this book, and this from a girl who balked at the thought of making a single Indian dish was quite satisfying. Also the fact that we were able to translate good cooking to easy instructions, without making it dry and boring, has been great. I personally feel that if you have this book, you really don’t need anything else.”

Pushpa’s favorite recipes for hot summer days:

Panna (Sweet and Sour Green Mango Drink)

Serves 4

Preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients:

2 large green mangoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder, roasted and ground
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups water

Method:

Boil mangoes on medium heat in covered saucepan with enough water to cover them for 45 minutes or until skin gets soft.
Let cool for about 30 minutes.
Peel and scoop out pulp from skin and seeds. Grind pulp with water in blender until smooth.
Add other ingredients and blend.
Let cool and serve with ice cubes.

TLC Tip: Panna can be used as a delicious side dish with paranthas. In this case use only one cup of water and no ice.

Serving Suggestion:

Serve with ice cubes in tall glasses as a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.

Fruit Cream (Light Fresh Fruit Dessert)

Serves 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 banana, thinly sliced
1/2 apple, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup grapes, cut in half
1/4 cup strawberries, sliced
1 small can fruit cocktail, drained
1 small can Mandarin oranges, drained (other fruits such as pineapple, mango, etc. can also be added)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 pint heavy or light cream

Method:

Mix cream and sugar in bowl. Add fruits and mix lightly. Serve chilled.

Serving Suggestion:

Serve in glass bowls as a refreshing and light dessert on a hot summer day.

For more information on the book go to www.momsindiancooking.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the interviewee(s) and/or authors and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.


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