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Swipe Right on Bananas this Quarantine Season (there’s recipes!)|Wine and Wasabi™

This is the first of a series we’ve planned that feature one versatile, inexpensive ingredient and provide short, quick and simple recipes (with stories, always stories around it) featuring it as the main ingredient, that we think will hopefully help you get more creative in the kitchen and help you beat the lockdown blues. Scroll down if you wish to skip straight to the recipes!

I remember clearly how much I hated bananas. If I took one to school I’d remind the banana how much I hated it after every bite. Friends found it amusing but it was a very serious affair. The issue was on my end so I had to let the fruit in question know respectfully that it tasted like ass.

Perhaps it was the sickly sweet smell that wafted through the air if they were kept on the table, not strong enough to demand immediate attention but there to distract you if you were just close enough. Or it could have been the colour, yellow wasn’t among my favourites, and this yellow went through far too many changes in intensity for me to be enamoured. It was an imposter, this fruit. So many other nicer fruits were always a dull or bright version of their outsides but this one was white, even as it pretended to be otherwise. Could a kid really be expected to trust a banana?

The first time someone produced intrigue about the fruit in me was the character Baby Baachan from a very cute little series with the same name. The anime featured a baby who was born with the spirit of the deceased grandma inside her and taught her teenaged granddaughter how to make bananas taste like dessert, among other useful little tricks that would help her in life.

I found these little lessons quite impressive and the banana one seemed like something I’d be able to immediately try. It was a simple task, microwaving the banana till the outside turned a very unappetising black while the inside became soft and squishy and pudding like. I think the reaction I saw on TV would be best described as: UwU

It’s an emoji, you don’t say it out loud. Image: Reddit

Of course, I tried it that evening, hated it and was laughed out of the kitchen. I believe it’s because the adults in my house had tried in vain to make me like this fruit and were quite possibly relieved to have not lost to a fictional old baby.

I felt betrayed.

It was gross and felt like it’d gone off completely. I spat it out. Thinking back, warm slippery banana was probably what put me off more than the taste, I don’t really remember what it tasted like. I was too engrossed and disgusted by the texture.

It was a missed opportunity.

Image: MPA – Anime Food Porn

Cut to the present where I’m a complete convert and love bananas, the riper (and I mean rotting) the better.

The soft inviting cream colour, the distinct flavour profile, subtle but very much discernible, and most importantly the texture. Bananas are firm but melt in your mouth. There’s very little give. You bite into it and it vanishes. It’s the perfect fruit for when you’re feeling a little too lazy to chew or get out of bed and toil in the kitchen but want something quick, filling… satisfying.

Even within the simple profile, it carries infinite possibilities for elevation, it’s the perfect fruit to combine with a varied range of flavours. It’s classic, like vanilla. The west’s obsession with banana splits and calling it the ultimate sundae makes a lot of sense. To think I spent so much of my childhood troubled at the thought of kids all around the world, missing out on better ice cream because they refused to see sense.

It’s a sexy little thing, a banana. They creep up and grow on you, and come puberty, you realise there’s more to them than meets the eye, and I don’t just mean the shape. (I had to bring this up. We can now smile and move beyond it to the recipes.)

Image: Barnaby Brooks Jr.

So it’s safe to say I like bananas.

Their flavour is among my favourites, it’s in everything from my morning smoothies to my condoms, and most importantly in my desserts. It’s a long and irrevocable process when one goes from despising a flavour to using it in their final exam in culinary school.

Banana. Dark chocolate. Rum. Those were the primary flavours in my dessert and an exam that changed my life. A love story for the ages.

My story aside, bananas are cheap and easily available even during the lockdown which has produced a scarcity of ingredients. This is where their importance in your life lies.

Even if you don’t share my passion for bananas, buy them, eat them, and store them well.

Now is the time one must, despite natural instincts, force ourselves to live as frugally as possible and minimise wastage, and ingredients as versatile and easily available as bananas need to find pride of place in your home.

They are among the few true heroes of pandemic ingredients.

Image: Steins;Gate

Bananas can be had raw or cooked. They are easy to work with and are brilliant fresh or frozen, ripe or rotten. When buying bananas, no matter how many you buy, go for ones that are firmer to the touch and sightly green. Unless you’re planning on having or using them the very same day you buy em, it’s best to go for raw(er) bananas which will give them a longer shelf-life. If you’re worried they’re too ripe and will go bad, peel and chop ’em up and freeze ’em and use in smoothies or make ice cream (keep reading for recipes).

If you’re tired of bananas, here’s a few recipes to get your creativity flowing.

It’s a short list to help elevate your meals and give you options when you’re out of ideas, or have too many and are scared you’ll waste them, and a basic pantry should suffice.

1. Make a Smoothie

Image: The Dreaming Foodie

Smoothies don’t always have to mean raw spinach and the colour green. They can be fun and (ful)filling. I love a good smoothie that balances nutrition and taste. One of my favourites for the morning is Nigella’s Go Get ‘Em Smoothie recipe that I’ve repurposed to lower calories and increase benefits.

You will need:
• 1 large or 2 small bananas (fresh or frozen)
• 150 ml milk (any milk)
• 1-1.5 tsps instant coffee (if using ground coffee, make a shot of espresso)
• A scoop of protein powder (or 3 tbsps drinking chocolate or malt powder)
• A sliver of ginger (optional)
• 1 tsp honey (or to taste)

Break the banana(s) into smaller pieces so it mixes in quicker. Blitz all the ingredients together in a blender and enjoy.
This list makes 1 portion.

It’s a simple, basic and quick breakfast option that includes a caffeine hit, not needing to bother with an oven or hob and tastes great. This is ONE of innumerable banana smoothie options, go crazy and experiment till you find your favourite mix!

2. Make Pancakes

I have been making two ingredient pancakes a lot lately. Didn’t trust the idea till I saw Casey from @blogilates make em. They’re great and so very easy to make.

You will need:
• 1 large banana
• 2 eggs
• Splash of oil (to grease your pan)
• Jam, Maple Syrup, Chocolate Sauce, etc (any topping(s) of your choice)

Mash the banana with the back of your fork in a bowl to get a smooth paste. Add two eggs and whisk with the fork to combine into a homogeneous mixture. Once combined, set aside and put a non-stick (ideally, but any flat option will do) pan on medium-low flame. Grease it with oil and let it heat up. Once hot, ladle small amounts of the ‘batter’ and pour into the pan. Wait till bubbles form on top of the pancake and flip. Once done, remove from the pan and make the rest. This makes about 7-8 tiny pancakes, enough for one person.

This is a great breakfast option, perfect for the lockdown season when getting a meal with very few ingredients is the best way to go. We’re all looking to make our grocery run last longer. Do yourself a favour though, don’t compare with a buttermilk pancake, that’s just setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you have more time and ingredients to spare, try a banana pancake or crepe recipe, there’s tonnes available online and unlikely to disappoint.

3. Bake ’em.

This is a riff on the failed microwave experiment from years ago. There’s no way I was losing to a baby and I found the best combination. It’s one of those truly #uglydelicious recipes and will surprise you.

You will need:
• 1 large ripe banana
• 30 g or some chocolate (anything goes, just chop it up into tiny pieces)
• A scoop of ice cream (totally optional and for serving)

Heat the oven to about 200C/180C fan. Make a slit through the skin of the banana along one side – making sure you don’t cut all the way through to the other side. Poke in the chocolate pieces along the cut. Put each banana onto a sheet of foil and crimp the edges together to seal into a parcel. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook for 25 mins, or until the bananas have turned black. Serve with a scoop of ice cream and any remaining chocolate.

This can be made in an oven, a microwave or a pressure cooker. I usually make it in the microwave, and depending on the ripeness of the banana it takes about 3 to 5 mins, and is a quick and delicious treat. If in doubt about conversions and timings, google!

4. Make a Tartine

Image: Pinterest

Tartines are open-faced sandwiches and look so very fancy, but are very simple to put together and instagrammable. Back when I was living alone and had early morning classes, I’d make a banana tartine for breakfast all the time. One portion is filling and makes you feel like you’re doing good by your body.

You will need:
• 1 slice of toasted bread (anything will do, but something crusty will be better)
• Half a large or 2 small banana(s) (thin slices)
• 1 tbsp nut butter (I prefer peanut, but anything goes) or ricotta (chhena)
• Pinch of Cinnamon
• 1 tsp honey

On your toast, smooth on the nut butter. Top with the sliced banana. Drizzle the honey on top and sprinkle with cinnamon.

BONUS: A more decadent version of this would be to microwave or pan fry the banana slices with some sugar and butter till it becomes sticky and sweet, and use that on the toast, following the rest as is. Add some ice cream and it becomes dessert.
Psst! If you’re feeling too lazy after making the banana topping, skip the toast.

5. Make a Sandwich I

A weird one, but what’s life without a little bit of cray, right? It’s a savoury option with bananas and extremely simple to make.

You will need:
• 2 slices of white bread
• 5 slices of cheese (go for something salty)
• 2 slices of ham
• 1 small or half a large banana
• Knob of butter

Top a slice of bread with 2 slices of cheese, followed by the slices of ham, and then 1 slice of cheese on top. Chop the banana into thin slices and arrange on top of the assembled sandwich. Finish with the remaining slices of cheese. Close the sandwich with the second slice of bread.

Heat the butter in a skillet or non-stick pan. Fry the sandwiches until golden on the outside and the cheese slices start to melt.

It sounds very weird, but tastes very good. It’s high on the calories, yes, but is anyone really counting anymore? Besides, you can reduce quantities to make it a ‘skinnier’ version but I’d recommend going big since you’re already home.

6. Fry ’em

Image: Happy and Harried

Banana fritters or Pazham Pori is a snack from Kerala that I tried a few years ago thanks to one of my friends. I was an immediate convert. They’re so easy to make, and so good!

You will need:
• 65 gm ap flour
• Pinch of baking soda
• Pinch of turmeric
• 1 tbsp sugar (optional)
• 1 tbsp rice flour (also optional, makes the fritters crispier)
• 75 ml water (you may require more, or less, to make a smooth batter)
• Oil to deep fry (this oil can be used to fry other things and to cook, ie. reused)
• 2 large bananas (firm bananas are better for frying)

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl with a fork or whisk. Add the water in parts and mix into the dry ingredients to make a smooth paste that isn’t too runny. Make sure there aren’t any lumps. The consistency should resemble thick buttermilk, and coat the back of a spoon very well.

Cut the banana lengthwise, through the middle to get two long slices. Cut each long slice through the centre to get four to six pieces from each banana.

Heat the oil in a kadai or deep pan till it starts to smoke. Once the oil is ready, coat the banana in the batter till it’s covered well and slide into the oil being careful not to drop it in and risk the oil splashing. Fry in small batches till golden brown.

Remove from the pan and drain the excess oil on kitchen paper. Serve hot, it’s best enjoyed in the evening with some chai.

The recipe I have provided is as basic as it gets, if you have friends or family and a recipe you can find that is yours and unique, go right ahead and use that. These are times when we’re alone and shared recipes are a connection made, like no other.

7. Make a Sandwich II

Image: Minimalist Baker

Another banana sandwich I often make involves chocolate and is college student approved. It’s any meal you want it to be, and is and all time favourite in my household.

You will need:
• 1 banana (sliced)
• 1-2 tbsp nutella (or any chocolate spread)
• 2 slices of white bread (or any bread)
• Knob of butter
• Crushed roasted peanuts (ideally hazelnuts, but peanuts are great too. Optional, ofc)

Assemble the sandwich by spreading Nutella on one side of both slices of bread. place the banana slices on top, add the crushed nuts (if using) and close the sandwich. Heat some butter in a pan and fry the sandwich till golden on both sides. Enjoy hot or at room temp. You’re welcome.

8. Make Ice Cream!

Image: NYT Cooking

This is the one I’m most excited about. Ice cream is quite possibly the best banana recipe in existence. And you need next to nothing to get the most creamy satisfying scoop when there’s no other option. And it’s very healthy when you think about it.

You will need:
• 4 – 5 bananas (overripe)
• Any flavour of your choice ie. 1 tsp vanilla essence to Nutella to peanut butter to anything you have lying around and would want to have in your ice cream (optional)

Chop the bananas into slices. Place in a single layer, into an airtight container and freeze till solid, usually for about 2 hours. Once frozen, put the banana pieces in a food processor (or powerful blender, but a processor yields better, smoother results) and pulse.

The texture will change from crumbly to oatmeal-like to smooth overtime but it’s so calming to watch it happen. Once smooth and gooey, empty into the airtight container and freeze for a few hours. You can add your flavouring options once it’s smooth and pulse to combine to the entire batch or add the flavours when you make yourself a scoop to enjoy.

Yes, it’s basically one ingredient and magical in a way.

There are, of course, the usual suspects when working with old, rotting bananas. Banana bread tops my list but there’s muffins, pies, cakes, tarts, even Mangalore buns…the options are endless when you combine bananas with flour, and each one yields better than satisfactory results. If you have an oven, baking equipment and some time, go right ahead and get on the internet or phone a friend for recipes they swear by.

My banana bread recipe might feature on this blog someday too, and it’s worth the wait, but today’s post is more for everyone and #quarantinecooking friendly, using as few ingredients as possible and as little time as possible, while still managing to make something interesting out of it.

If you’ve made it till here, thanks. We hope you’ll find some of what you read useful and enough to get some creativity flowing.

Image: Speakzeasy

As a little bonus, you should know that banana peels are very useful as well. If adding them to your fruit smoothies or candying them feels a little too extreme (although totally safe to do if you wash ’em well) try using them in your skincare or as fertiliser for your houseplants (Google is your BFF here) and get more out of one product.

In case you have an ingredient you’d like featured in this series, let us know and we’ll try and see how to use it in many different and fun ways!

Happy cooking! Stay safe!

Sulagna

*the images used in this post are representative in nature

Quarantine Content: Thoughts on Food Writing and a PSA|Wine and Wasabi™

Hi!

Hope you’re safe and at home as you read this.

Things have been changing rapidly around the world and it’s taken us at Wine and Wasabi™ a while to process what’s happening and get to a place where we’re comfortable writing or talking about anything. Everyday there’s new information to process and accept, and it’s all a little overwhelming. We’re slowly getting accustomed to our new way of life but it’s still work in progress.

Last night, during a phone call with my partner, I was struck by how the two of us have been struggling with our mental health. And how, although we weren’t bothered by distance at the beginning of this unplanned lockdown, it has managed to take a toll on our relationship as well. We were feeling rather smug about it all after our first online movie date this year, but wow, what a departure it has been, all in the course of a few weeks.

Being stuck at home has not been easy, there’s a lot to do but the uncertainty of our current situation is proving to be more of a burden than the endless list of chores. Even as we’ve tried to wring out every ounce of productivity and positivity from within (like we’re hardwired to do) it’s been a fruitless endeavour for the most part. As the lockdown keeps extending, we’re being forced to keep repeating the same cycles and there’s only so much motivation you can derive. And that’s… probably been the hardest part for us.

Yes, we’re both extremely aware of our privilege and keep oscillating between feeling grateful and guilty, but it is what it is.

There’s also the dilemma of seeing a lot being written, in terms of food and stories around it, and we’ve had a hard time understanding, like a few others, where and in what capacity we’d like to add to the noise, or if at all.

The presumably unplanned Indian lockdown and its effect on the socio-economic situation of the nation as well as its impact on the spread of the disease is varied and complicated. I believe that this state of affairs along with the popular blogs, articles, lists, recommendations and recipes being produced around it panders to a specific section of society. It continually leaves larger, marginalised sections unaddressed even as they face more risks everyday. What’s worse, there’s very little useful communication from the central government addressing issues the majority of the population is facing as a result of an extended lockdown.

The rest of the developed world is worse off as it struggles with a higher rate of afflictions from the virus that shall not be named. But this is a global pandemic that is burning out the best public healthcare systems in the world. Considering the state of our public healthcare system and the government aid being provided, it’s all a bit bleak, even as friends and journalists try to shed light on the daily positives.

As tweet after tweet from David Chang, chef and owner of the Momofuku group of restaurants, comes through –

I become more anxious at the irreparable damage these times are causing to the service industry. In our country, with all its employment loopholes and unorganised workers, even as a large percentage of the population is engaged in various service sectors, many smaller businesses are looking at major losses they may not be able to recover from. Jobs are being lost and unemployment is rising rapidly at rates comparable to the Great Depression.

Food is political, and it is clearer than it has been in a century, as stocks keep dwindling in markets even as the PM keeps putting out videos reassuring the public that there’s no need to hoard. Trains full of food have been stopped due to communication errors between the state and central governments. Food is an expensive commodity at this time which only the richer classes seem to have proper access to. With rising prices and scarcity the urban economic divide has made the failure of the capitalist system worldwide clear as day.

There’s another reality one can’t ignore: this lockdown is extremely gendered. With everyone at home, suddenly women are finding themselves back in the kitchen, churning out meals and doing the dishes as others (mostly men) sit around, doing nothing but complain. Even if help is provided, and chores are divided, it’s ultimately the woman who functions as the manager, on whom the responsibility lies. In such a situation, cooking no longer remains the fun, creative and fulfilling activity that our Instagram feeds often advertised it as being.

But cooking is an art, and we’re true believers of that. Simple or complex, cooking is an activity that is helping so many discover themselves and keep anxiety at bay bringing joy to our lives. It’s helping maintain structure in our days and giving us a sense of accomplishment.

There’s so much going on, it’s dizzying.

Everyone’s upset and tired and feeling anxious and #covinfluencers trying to make the most of the situation, have come into existence promoting health advice and calm in these alien times, adding to the confusion around how to prevent the disease.

A little respite comes in the form of phone calls from frenzied friends who’re being forced to manoeuvre life in isolation but don’t know their kitchen beyond instant noodles and have the barest pantries I have ever had the misfortune of trying to navigate. Those half hours of panic are actually quite fun for us.

#quarantinecuisine is slowly gaining a massive following across nations and cultures and is an unlikely creative activity bringing the world closer together even as we practice #socialdistancing and navigate a lonely new world.

So, what’s this post about?

The truth is we don’t know.

There’s two of us, and there’s a lot around food we’re passionate about. So we’ll try and tackle everything we think and feel and see, that you might find useful, and that might make you smile or help take your mind off things or engage you, through recipes, lists, news and posts on life under lockdown from our little corner of the world.

Sulagna (and Arunava).

La Dolce Vita : A Valentine’s Dinner|Wine and Wasabi™

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw

Till date, the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had is one I spent drunk out of my mind with my best friend, back in 2016. We were both very single, hated the idea of the day being only for couples, wanted to shake things up, and more importantly, take control.

With my partner, V-Day feels like a bit of a farce. As mushy as we might be, heart shaped pizzas aren’t really for us. After several failed attempts at meeting all kinds of impossible expectations, we decided to host a dinner last year to celebrate a truer love: the love we have for food.

But over the years, I haven’t been able to forget the day I spent with Besto and how much it has come to mean to me.

And so our first rooftop dinner of this decade celebrates both the joys of being single and having brilliant friends, companions, or partners who make an otherwise awful day better from far or near, just by being there.

The new seven-course menu is inspired by the various girls nights I’ve had over the years along with traditional romance/breakup flavours and is a selection I turn to often for comfort in my pyjamas, complete with shots (so no driving on the way back, please)!

Details:

  • Date: 14th February, 2020
  • Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Cover charge: ₹2000 per head (all inclusive)
  • Address: Accessible area in Salt Lake, Kolkata (easily reached via both City Centre and the Bypass).
  • Contact: +91-8697406710

Simply fill up this form and we’re good to go!*

*limited spots, as always

Text and curation by © Sulagna Maitra, 2020.
Design and art by Srijita Kar for Wine and Wasabi™

Look forward to having you with us. Bon appétit!

Sulagna and Arunava,
Wine and Wasabi™

Food Writing 2019 |Wine and Wasabi™ Recommends

2019 has been a lot. Just… a lot.

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it's been a YEAR

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Oddly enough, it’s been quite a spectacular year for food writing. Food became part of mainstream political discourse in earnest and has stayed relevant. More people are slowly becoming aware of food and its impact on the environment in varied parts of the cycle from production to consumption. The industry is branching out and the Indian scene is moving towards catching up to the global scene. There’s been significant strides towards blurring of lines between stories and recipes.

My partner, who truly believes he knows nothing about food at all, came up to me and mentioned how he’s slowly learning more, independently, which to me means food writing is branching out. On a personal note, I discovered some brilliant new authors and found areas of interest related to food and life I didn’t even know existed.

But at the same time, some books got more undeserved attention than others and that is a bit of a shame. A certain Bon Appétit contributor’s book comes to mind (as petty as that makes me sound, I couldn’t not mention it). Please comment below on which one you think I am referring to and let’s talk about that.

My list is coming out rather late. I missed all the opportunities to publish something earlier on–unlike every other massive publication–but then again, we’re two people and they’re 20 at least, if the food department is modest. Between ‘spring cookbooks 2019‘ and ‘the cookbook gift guide that covers everyone you know 2019‘ there’s a mind-numbing number of lists featuring food writing.

As it sadly happens to be, most lists are largely recipe book lists. While that is absolutely fine, food writing is going through a massive makeover and is slowly but surely creeping into a place where it can no longer be dismissed and that has truly been what the decade has been about. So mentioning only recipe books or having separate lists to accommodate more books is pretty unfair. (Something like a Bollywood awards show, overlong and people-pleasing af. Plus, we’ve already done quite a comprehensive piece on cookbooks earlier this year.)

2019 is coming to an end and we are moving towards another decade which is already looking like something out of a Margaret Atwood novel, so I’m forced to will myself into finding positivity in the form of food once again. A big part of this has been reading, especially this year. Here’s a few that have comforted and inspired me to learn more, rediscover myself, cook, be unapologetic and become a better eater:

Nigel Slater – GreenFeast Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter (Fourth Estate)

“Much of my weekday eating contains neither meat nor fish … It is simply the way my eating has grown to be over the last few years.

Image Courtesy: Indie Thinking by Harper Collins Publishers

A Slater book is an unmistakable entity and always a treat, even when it has only meat-free recipes. The thing is, as with most others, particularly in the industry, eating has changed – the environment, age and well-being becoming the most common factors to adapt to a more ‘frugal’ lifestyle.

GreenFeast is just that. It is what Nigel Slater eats regularly, with variations and a keen understanding of how annoying it is to spend hours prepping food but also looking for interesting ideas to make dinner less of a chore.

But hey, that’s two books!

Well yes, but they’re two parts of the same book in a sense. Slater has written a fair few cookbooks but what is so different about his writing is how the recipes are presented. From his memoir to these two vividly coloured hardcovers that truly represent the feelings evoked inside, you’ll find yourself curling up with either book under a warm blanket, just reading for comfort even when you don’t necessarily need instructions on how to make a perfect butternut squash soup.

I prefer the autumn/winter recipes to the spring/summer ones but that’s mostly because the seasonal divisions don’t work the same way in India as they do in the UK, but they’re the perfect initiating example of the blurring of lines I mentioned early on. The content isn’t radically different but will change the way you think about cookbooks and eating interestingly.

Bee Wilson – The Way We Eat Now (Fourth Estate)

“The story of modern cooking is not a simple tale of decline but a more complex and hopeful one. When we say that ‘no one cooks any more’ we often have in mind a particular version of home cooking that depended on women being confined to a life of unpaid labour. By contrast, the new cooking of our times is done by a wider range of people in a wider range of ways.”

Image Courtesy: Goodreads

Bee Wilson is probably among the most important discoveries this year for me. Her work, along with that of a few others, has helped me understand and streamline my research interests and opened up a bunch of exciting avenues.

But let’s be real, this book isn’t for everyone. It is, in parts, too dry and much too serious. One might go as far as to call it (shudders) academic. Wilson is a food historian and anthropologist who tackles modern eating practices in a world that is much smaller and less diverse than it used to be, offering not advice but her own informed insight. She addresses essential considerations to make in the modern world and in relation to food. Just reading this text in isolation and not following up with others will leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.

Let’s face it, most people would still much rather look at food and romanticise about it when it comes to the day-to-day. And if by chance you read a ‘serious’ book about food you’d rather it tell you what is wrong or dictate so you don’t have to bother thinking about it.

But it’s quite simple: everyone I’ve met believes on some level that they’re more clever and live cleverer than the average person. But the same people say ‘oh but everyone else is doing it’ when making shoddy decisions about food and purchasing. I told my father a week or so ago: Don’t be the average person when you shop for food, be how you are in your daily life, smarter. Use your purchasing power for better.

Although I was met with grunts and huffs and puffs of disapproval, I hope you give this thought and this book your consideration and time.

Ella Risbridger – Midnight Chicken & Other Recipes Worth Living For (Bloomsbury)

“There are lots of ways to start a story, but this one begins with a chicken…in a cloth bag hanging on the back of a kitchen chair. It was dark outside, and I was lying on the hall floor, looking at the chicken through the door, and looking at the rust in the door hinges, and wondering if I was ever going to get up…

But this is a hopeful story. It’s the story of how I got up off the floor.

It’s also the story of how to roast a chicken, and how to eat it. This is a story of eating things, which is, if you think about it, the story of being alive. More importantly, this is a story about wanting to be alive.

Image Courtesy: Goodreads

This part cookbook, part memoir, and part love story is something I found randomly during one of my late night Amazon browsing sprees. It was just a random purchase for me at the time but became the first cookbook I cried about after completing it.

By the end of the year–which proved long and full of difficult conversations with my partner–it became one I turned to for hope when things got tough. Don’t get me wrong, we survived our first apparent death year and came out stronger but Ella’s struggle with depression and her short-lived love story shall remain one that gave me strength and to find it in love.

Midnight Chicken is powered by Risbridger’s boyfriend’s death from cancer, just as she was finishing the book. Don’t read the acknowledgments first, you’ll start crying before you even begin the book. She says she wrote the book in part to keep their world alive even if he couldn’t be. The collection neatly explains how cooking knits itself into the day-to-day business of living which, is a bouquet of experiences and emotions and worth living out.

Charlotte Druckman & Others – Women on Food (Abrams)

Image Courtesy: Amazon

This my favourite food anthology of the year.

There are about a 100 contributors and that, in my experience, is very atypical. Druckman has been calling out industry bullshit for years and is a pro, but here she has truly outdone herself. The women have been startlingly honest and poignant, whether it’s the interviews or the essays. Among the more interesting parts in the book is the Lexicon section where Druckman gives prompts and all her contributors provide an opinion on the same.

From ‘badass’ and ‘woman chef’ being the most despised words in a professional kitchen to eating alone as a woman of colour in the US becoming a deeply personal take on the systemic racism, rampant in the country, the stories are inspiring, infuriating, funny and meant to give you enough courage to hype you up on your way into the industry and take down the patriarchy!

In an industry where women are often overlooked, it is a very real and fierce look at the women who are more than a part of it despite all the rubbish they’ve had to take on to survive.

Selina Periampillai – The Island Kitchen (Bloomsbury)

Image Courtesy: Book Depository

With only 80 recipes, this book might be on the expensive side but this is among the only books of its kind. The Island Kitchen explores food from the islands in and around the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Mauritius and the Maldives.

For the most part the story of the food is the story of people who migrated to the islands from Europe, Asia and Africa, resulting in vibrant and invigorating flavours. Therein lies the payoff. 80 recipes turn into 80 stories that, through the author’s family and their collective tastes help you understand the culture of the islands better. King prawns with tamarind and coconut, Creole saffran (spicy turmeric) rice, and cumin and lentil flatbreads are all on my to-cook list.

This is a cookbook, a beautiful cookbook and sometimes that is all you need.

This year there has seen a welcome selection of books on food from all over the world. I shall not list them separately but, be it Mandalay, East, Zaika, Jubilee, Baan, Taverna, Zaitoun, Bazaar or others like it, some exquisite food has been written about this year. And all are on food cultures that aren’t necessarily as lucrative to write about but offer incredible insight into popular cuisines from around the world, but perhaps more importantly tell stories of the people.

Kwame Onwuachi – Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir (Knopf)

Writing a memoir at 30 seems a bit premature, but not surprising, if you’re Kwame Onwuachi.

“I come from a long line of restauranteurs, from a family whose roots were made of gravy and whose blood ran hot with pimentón.”

Image Courtesy: Amazon

Onwuachi’s story is inspiring. The life he has led up to this point, and his accomplishments in the culinary world, a community not known for its diversity at the top, is noteworthy and an important piece in the culinary narrative of immigrant African-Americans.

We get a glimpse of his childhood and his relationship with both his parents, one of whom was abusive, we see a child develop and then later beat a drug addiction and go on to take an interest in culinary arts, which ultimately changes his life.

He discusses starting a catering company, his journey through culinary school and learning from some of the greatest kitchens, being on “Top Chef,” and the highs and lows involved with opening his first restaurant in Washington, DC, a tremendously ambitious project that taught him a great deal about the business and himself.

But what’s more, we see a boy turn into a man and make it in an alien world and ultimately shine. It’s uplifting, no matter where you are in life.

Jonathan Safran Foer – We Are the Weather (Hamish Hamilton)

Reversing climate change, “requires an entirely different kind of heroism”. This heroism is “perhaps every bit as difficult” as the sacrifice Foer’s grandmother made (when fleeing Poland to escape the Nazis) “because the need for sacrifice is unobvious”.

That sacrifice begins, as the book’s subtitle suggests, at breakfast.

Image Courtesy: Kogan

In 2018, despite knowing more about climate change than ever before, we produced more greenhouse gases than we have ever produced, at three times the rate of global population growth. Climate change, therefore, exists as a rhetorical challenge as much as a scientific one. The most pressing question is how to persuade people to act, and to act now, both on an individual basis and, particularly, collectively.

He argues that individuals must help with a situation that is undeniably universal but can feel oddly impersonal. He calls that sensation “fatigue of the imagination” and much of the book is spent wrestling with it. It helps that he puts his own flaws out front, acknowledging that though he no longer eats meat he “can’t imagine a future in which I don’t want to”.

A warning: this is a life-changing book and will forever modify your relationship to food. I can’t imagine anyone reading Foer’s lucid, heartfelt, deeply compassionate prose and then reaching blithely for a burger. So maybe save it for your #veganuary endeavours.  

Mitchell Davis & Others – Signature Dishes That Matter (Phaidon)

Can one really have a list of food books and not include a Phaidon hardcover?

Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question.

Image Courtesy: Amazon

If I had the money I’d buy every Phaidon Food publication, but I don’t, so for now, I’ll settle for owning a couple and pining after the rest. But that’s not why this book is on the list.

With the decade ending, my feed is constantly flooded with people looking back. There’s only celebration, appreciation and nostalgia; no one recollects all the hardship. Somehow, it’s very human to forget the bad parts once they’ve passed or been conquered. And so, among Phaidon’s many gems, this one particularly stands out to me as relevant.

For the food historian, Signature Dishes That Matter presents a comprehensive collection of the restaurant dishes that have defined the culinary landscape since the 18th century.

The James Beard Foundation’s Mitchell Davis, who wrote the foreword, calls the cookbook “a definitive canon of cuisine.” The list is organized chronologically and curated by an international team of food writers and critics who weighed in on what dishes—from timeless classics to innovative dishes of the present—are iconic in global cuisine.

Each description of a dish is paired with an extensively researched illustration, taking into account plating conventions and other details.

This, again, isn’t a book for everyone. It’s more a gift for the food nerd you know and love but it is also about looking back at developments that define the current scene in the industry and in your home.

Which dish do you think made the list?

Mark Diacono – Sour (Quadrille)

People have generally become smarter about their understanding of food and cooking. The decade began with the release of The Flavour Thesaurus and others like it followed in the form of The Missing Ingredient and Ratio to name a few. Sour is another great example of looking at an element that is often taken for granted but has a transformative effect on flavours and food.

The act of souring, for instance, is key to producing global favourites like cheese, wine, and chutney. Citrus spoils food, but just enough to enhance it. Diacono expresses his disappointment in the change in the food scene over the decades quite plainly:

“And then everything drowned in an avalanche of sugar.”

And you almost can’t help but smile at the bitterness that one statement carries, bitterness he passes on to you through his writing.

A lot of Sour is spent explaining to you what sourness actually is and how it works on various foods and to what effect. It’s all a bit science-y but never boring. The book ends with quite an extensive list of recipes to help you understand and manoeuvre the flavour and enhance your cooking.

Jeff Gordinier – Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it all with the Greatest Chef in the World (Tim Duggan Books)

One word: Noma.

Image Courtesy: Goodreads

Now that I have your attention, yes this book is about Rene Redzepi. But it is also about the author.

I’ve heard that satisfaction leads to complacency which in turn leads to mediocrity. So what I’m saying is, most of us are screwed.

So when the head chef of the most important restaurant in the world is dissatisfied and gets in touch with a New York Times staff writer in a personal and professional slump, you know you’re in for something incredible. In their shared hunger for risk and reinvention, the two men find common ground that binds them throughout a four-year culinary odyssey.

In Hungry, Gordinier chronicles this adventure—from gathering figs in parks around Sydney to hunting for sea urchins in the Arctic Circle—with vivid prose that is sure to make your mouth water. Along the way, Gordinier locates what makes the world’s greatest cook, the world’s greatest cook. First there’s his outsider status as an immigrant from Macedonia. Then there’s his almost pathological curiosity, shared by a young, international crew of talent he gathers around him, all bound together by his ethos: “keep moving”.

You come out of the book feeling rather insecure, but also with a sense understanding of what makes Redzepi tick and maybe even a spoonful of that same enthusiasm, now forever mixed in you.

Ten isn’t a lot, specially for the skeptic to whom I made big claims early on about this being a great year for food writing. But here’s the fun part, I’ve sneakily added a bunch of names and introduced you to authors who should be a good enough gateway in case you’re really curious. And if you’ve made it this far, I’m going to venture a guess and say that you are.

2019 has been largely about change in diet and stepping into a more non-meat lifestyle in general. What began with #meatlessmonday has become about a much greater and more permanent alteration in how we consume food. And several books have been on food catering to such a shift so as to encourage more people to make the change. Veg by Jamie Oliver for one is a great resource that has been quite popular.

Food writers concentrated more on making a predominantly non-meat diet seem palatable to a population that is extremely dependent on meat for nutrition and tends to treat veg as an afterthought. An Indian diet accommodates that more than most, yes, but there’s a long way to go and what I’m saying has nothing to do with religion or politics.

Other books which have been extremely popular this year with critics and the masses alike are strictly recipe books and I’m not keen on including them here even though they’re quite great. One of these (that I can’t not mention) is Nothing Fancy. It includes simple recipes to make when entertaining at home ie. impressive looking but won’t take all evening to make.

So, even if you’re hosting, you spend time with guests instead of in the kitchen, something I struggle with a lot. Joy of Cooking was also revised and re-released and is as thicc and as helpful as ever.

An important chef, woman of colour, and breaker of stereotypes I must also mention is Asma Khan.

This year has undeniably been about women conquering the scene and she’s been the woman of the year for me (enough reason for you to definitely look her and her book up). She’s changed British cuisine and the idea of what it means to run a food business as an immigrant, running an all-women kitchen and is all kinds of #goals. The fact that she’s from Kolkata is the cherry on top.

I’ve never been one who’s comfortable looking back, but this has been a year of finding common ground with loved ones and learning to be more accepting of myself, my failures and pausing when necessary. The books have helped, the socio-political climate of where I’m writing this from, has not, but I’ve met determined, beautiful and unique people and somehow there’s still hope.

The upcoming decade looks promising and will begin on a more positive note than on which this one ended. And maybe you’ll end up checking out at least one if not all of these books for inspiration too. Here’s hoping.

xx

Dissendium: An Evening at Hogwarts|Wine and Wasabi™

A disappointed muggle goes about her life still believing in magic. It’s a little weird to explain to people, and lonely even with the massive fandom all around you.

There’s so much about that world that I wanted to experience. Most importantly, but probably not limited to butterbeer.

Wands and charms and everything else aside, butterbeer – whatever this curious alcoholic, caramel flavoured, hot/cold beverage is – seems like it’s something us muggles will have to only wonder about forever. No matter how ‘authentic’ a version they’re serving at Harry Potter World pales in comparison to the taste and meaning of the real thing.

Butterbeer, Hogwarts, and everything around it has come to mean so much to our world over the years. A symbol of warmth, friendship and belonging for the magical folk, yes, but Merlin’s beard! It’s exactly the same for us non-magical folk too…

“All I want to do is be at Hogwarts with you, eating turkey legs in the great hall while listening to the carols of the ghosts gliding past us. Then maybe we can go to Hogsmeade to get a butterbeer.”

Eternal Youth by Maria Elena

This world is a place where we feel like we belonged more than where we are at times. It’s unrequited love. It’s the little things. The sense of familiarity and camaraderie you feel when you come across someone else who recognises the most subtle of references, or isn’t bewildered by:

“I’m so hungry I could eat a Hippogriff…”

Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

You waited for that letter and were crushed when it didn’t arrive. I know I was.

It would’ve been the stuff of your wildest dreams or a ticket to get out of where you are and wanted to escape from, or anything else. No one hopes for a letter from a boarding school, and yet…

It’s taken you years to reconcile yourself to your non-magic fate.

But. Here’s an escape for a night. A chance to find that hidden passageway away from whatever it is you need a break from. It’s temporary and inspired from a place of intense longing, love and the delicious food that always appears out of nowhere.

zis ‘eavy ‘ogwarts food

Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

This eight-course dinner is back for food lovers to enjoy a meal in the company of similar minded people and experience an open day at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…through food!

Pssst….we’ll be preparing a few intoxicating potions too and recommend you don’t drive home.

Take the Knight Bus instead!

Details:

  • Date: An Evening in December, 2019 (exact date forthcoming)
  • Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Cover charge: ₹2300 per head (all inclusive)
  • Address: Accessible area in New Town, Kolkata (easily reached from Novotel).
  • Contact: +91-8697406710

Simply fill up this form and we’re good to go!*

*limited spots, as always

Text and curation by © Sulagna Maitra, 2019. 
Design by Srijita Kar for Wine and Wasabi™

Look forward to having you with us. Bon appétit!

Sulagna and Arunava,
Wine and Wasabi™

Kitchen Control 101 : Cook/book|Wine and Wasabi™

At a little over 23, I’ve had the privilege of living away from home a couple of times already and each time, the experience has been different due to differing circumstances.

While living in a hostel, student accommodation facility or PG can give you the comfort of having someone keep warm meals ready for you at the end of a long day, I’ve found that after a while it becomes repetitive, and sometimes might even seem like a bit of an inconvenience.

Also let’s be real, the timings for these set meals are a real bitch.

It’s a privilege to come back to prepared food when you’re away from home and can’t cook (or be bothered to) but unless it’s the kind that helps you miss home a little less, what even is the point? I find myself lacking that ‘magic something’ in food that is batch prepared at canteens and served by semi-polite people who don’t really give a shit all the time.

I’d much rather be in control and not bound to have puri and dal (a reference based on recent experiences) on a Monday morning just because the canteen thinks it’s the best option to kick start a work/school week.

I’d rather start the week however the fuck I want to. Healthy, sugary, savoury, maybe even nothing at all – the possibilities are endless when I’m in charge.

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🥑 🍞 🥓 #adulting

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The argument here is that I come from a place where I enjoy cooking, maybe more so, that I can cook. Sure that’s true, but I believe that you needn’t be a classically trained chef to be able to cook, find it therapeutic or be good at it in the first place. And that no matter at what stage you are at, it’s a life lesson, and whatever your gender, cooking is a massive skill to possess!

I’m a chef, and I no longer see daily cooking as therapeutic – something I initially did. It’s become mainly about control. I like being in charge of everything I consume, doesn’t mean it has to come out of my kitchen. I just like the idea of having the option of sleeping in and having dry toast on a Monday morning if that’s all I want.

Control I’ve noticed, is one the best things about adulting in general. We’re willing to put up with every shitty circumstance for a little bit of that.

Consumption is a massive aspect of control. Why let go of that because we are made to feel like cooking requires two heads or an extra pair of hands?

You’ve survived +2 math. Trust me, you got this!

As much as I like takeout on a particularly busy day, and I’ve had days when dinner couldn’t be more than a bag of chips, being left at the mercy of the overzealous PG Aunty is annoying.

Which is probably why this month long work trip has been bit difficult for me. Perhaps Delhi would feel more like home if I’d cook a little and be more in charge instead of living on what the copious amounts of restaurants in the city had to offer.

I love eating out, but not all the time. Kabhi kabhi ghar ka khana really helps on an emotional and nutritional level. Perhaps if, like my colleagues, I could pack myself – no matter how meagre – a lunch, I’d take a break once in a while.

But my lacklustre tryst with Delhi hasn’t been the inspiration for this post.

This year has been strange for my partner and I – several of his friends moved out of the city, some of whom I was close to on some level as well. While I’ve become okay with separation from loved ones over the years, he is still quite sore, new to feeling the absence of people he had grown so accustomed to being around.

But the fact remains that a conversation with any one of these many friends of different temperaments reveal that they are all moving on from the shelter of college canteens and home to that of the terrifying world of adulting, mostly alone.

For many, cooking isn’t proving to be of much success and for others, it’s something they’d love to try but are afraid of. There’s another group – the ones that can’t be bothered (and that’s fine too) but realistically only for the short term.

Lastly, there are the ones who want to be healthier. They’re in a bit of a fix.

If I had to pin point one conversation that prompted this post, it would be the one I had a few weeks ago with a distraught friend who wasn’t being able to wrap his head around why his flatmate refuses to eat vegetables.

There are also juniors who’ve reached out over the years to ask for survival tips, some others who’d just like a bowl of khichdi on a cold day to feel warm and some more who want to sleep in on a Sunday morning instead of making it to 8 am scheduled breakfasts at the mess because they have no choice (or maybe that’s just me).

This post is for all of them (provided they have access to a functional kitchen, no matter how tiny) and really anyone who has recently moved to a new place, is alone or comes back to an empty or semi-empty home after a busy day, would like quick, hassle-free fulfilling meals or just want to learn a new skill and be more in control.

Most importantly, it is for people who want to eat well.

The following list of books has been a massive help to me and others I know from the food community when we started cooking for ourselves regularly, when I realised that maybe shopping and cooking for one is kinda tougher than for eight, when I was a little in over my head with it all and mum was unavailable for recipe advice.

Disclosure: Please note – we have used Amazon affiliate links on this post. This means we might earn a commission if you click on a link (in the section title or within the sections themselves) and sign up for or purchase something through it.

Regardless, I seriously hope that investing in any one of these if not all, helps you begin your independent food journey too!


If you’re at the ‘I can only boil water’ stage or worse:

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Source: food52

This is the Holy Grail of beginner cookbook bibles. It starts at the very basics and patiently holds your hand through the entire process of cooking just about everything and if you’ll only be bothered to invest in one book, this should be it.

This also comes in a few other iterations if you’re so inclined:

How to Cook Everything Basics
How to Cook Everything Fast
How to cook Everything Vegetarian

But unless you’re vegetarian, I’d recommend purchasing the original or Fast.

Cooking Basics for Dummies by Marie Rama and Bryan Miller

Source: theworks.co.uk

I don’t know why the Dummies books get so much hate from people (read: my partner). I’ve invested in a few over the years (ignoring his not-so-subtle disapproval) and I find them quite useful.

One needs to simply accept that not everyone is ‘smart’ at everything and that’s okay. Ego isn’t good when you’re learning kids, learned that the hard way. It’s okay to take things slow and learn from the very beginning no matter how stupid some things appear.

For Dummies also has a lot to offer in terms of variety once the basics are conquered:

Baking for Dummies
Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies
Grilling for Dummies
Nutrition for Dummies
Cast-Iron Cooking for Dummies

It’s an endless list for whatever your health and cooking requirements are. The books are very simply written too which makes it better for people who want to learn to cook without frills.

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Source: CBC News

This is ideal for students and professionals alike. It gives you notes on how to plan meals and shop on a budget. The recipes are simple, approachable, healthy and take a very tight budget ($4 or equivalent/day) into account which is always the case for food when you’re a student.

No matter how much allowance you’re given (or make), somehow it is all spent on booze and books and clothes.

You can get the ebook for free too, but a purchasing a copy means you’re donating to people who are less fortunate and that’s always a good idea.

Cooking Outside the Pizza Box: Easy Recipes for Today’s College Student by Jean Patterson

Source: Slideshare

This book doesn’t have any special recipes. It’s quite run-of-the-mill in terms of its repertoire.

Its USP, however, is the fact that there are a couple of chapters that break down how to shop for, clean, and store food, as well as make menus for yourself. The best is probably the section which gives you alternatives to kitchen equipment that may not be available to a student.

For a beginner with very little resources, that sounds like important information to have access to, right? But if you’re the intuitive kind, you might want to give any of the other four on this list precedence over this one.

The Starving Artist Cookbook by Sara Zin

This is one of the most delicately done books on this list and among the only ones on this entire post without any food photos. Instead, the artist and author, Sara Zin, has watercolour paintings of all the food she’s compiled in the text.

It’s a labour of love and a result of the overwhelming number of cookbooks she encountered while still a beginner and just learning to manage finances and cook for herself.

You go on a bit of a journey with this one and it’s beautiful. Strap in!

Also read: our piece on another beautifully illustrated book, Cake  by Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman (and the honey cake I made from it).

© Sulagna Maitra, 2019.


If you HATE cooking:

The I Hate to Cook Cookbook by Peg Bracken

Source: Bon Appetit Mag

The name of this 1960s classic is pretty spot on. Think in terms of a lot of food that will be ready in less than half an hour and aimed at making the life of the cook easier.

“Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them,” says the opening line. “This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.”

Bracken’s book is smart. She has a dry sense of humour, an affectionate condescension towards men, and a heavy dependence on premixes. But most importantly, she pokes fun at the joy that women were supposed to prescriptively take in their domestic duties.

There are newer versions of this. If you’re lucky you might find an old or used original copy for a lot less than the MRP.

What the F*@# Should I Make for Dinner?: The Answer to Life’s Everyday Question (in 50 F*@#ing Recipes) by Zach Golden

Source: Goodreads

Let’s be honest, all the cursing you’ll find in this book is a tiny bit gimmicky.

BUT!

It’s hilarious to read and if that’s not enough, the recipes are genuinely great and for the people who may not like to really think hard about what to make for dinner after a long day of work and aren’t very good at it.

Golden’s a screenwriter so he writes to sell, and the book is fashioned similarly. There’s a website by him with links to recipes that are failsafe, but I’d recommend the book, for the cursing as much as the food.

(I’ve included the image of Men’s Cooking Manual because it emphasises on techniques and is useful, but is not primary list worthy.)

There are a million diets out there. If I were to list books catering to every kind, I’d probably need a separate post for that. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make a list of healthy favourites soon, but if you’re someone who is new to meal prep and healthy eating and cooking, I’d probably recommend you start with these:

Happy Food by Niklas Ekstedt and Henrik Ennart

Source: Amazon UK

This is more educational than for recipes (only about 38 of those inside). It’s an important book to consider though.

The authors are a chef and researcher pair who marry food with gut and in turn mental health to give you a crash course on the relationship between the two along with recipes that are not difficult but are great resources in understanding food-health relationships. Quite the rollercoaster.

It isn’t a textbook. There are brilliant photos and about 13 chapters on gut health and mental health. Whatever your take on food and mental health, this is a great place to get a wholesome idea of how things work, recipes and to put you on a positive path to healthy living.

The Doctor’s Kitchen by Dr. Rupy Aujla

Source: Kogan

This book is by a (very cute) British-Indian doctor who I have had the pleasure of meeting. He is a full-time GP practicing in the UK but when it comes to curing sickness, he believes the longterm solution is with a food-first approach.

If you live and eat healthy, chances of you getting sick are significantly lower. Simply put, prevention is better than cure. There is a lot of Indian food in his cookbook too but you’ll also find middle eastern, British and other cuisines.

It’s very millennial friendly because it offers variety and keeps things interesting and is made for busy people (like himself).

His latest book The Doctor’s Kitchen – Eat to Beat Illness is also another good option.

There’s always his youtube channel, website and instagram for you to look him up his recipes, videos or general wholesomeness.

Nobs Cookbook by Lucy Mountain

Source: NOBS

Nobs stands for No Bullshit.

This is a cookbook and lifestyle guide of sorts created by a nutritionist and personal trainer couple. The recipes in the book are meant for everyone and are really simple.

What I love about their philosophy is that they want to move away from the culture of demonising any kind of food (or food group) because it may not be as nutritionally dense as others. Simply, a kale salad and a donut are both food items, labelling one as ‘good’ and the other as ‘bad’ is unnecessary and could lead to unhealthy relationships with both.

The guide is a subscription based workout program catering to both gym goers, people who workout at home and newbs, and you can follow them on Instagram for a better understanding of it all.

I’m focusing here on the cookbook. It has a lot of fun recipes which are easy and filling and healthy and totally doable at the end of a long hard day or if you’re entertaining guests.

(Also, Lucy is a treat to follow online. She’s funny, unapologetic and real.)

Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks

Source: Product Testing UK

This is another very interesting take on healthy eating and living.

I must admit that his recipe videos freak me out because he yells and throws food into utensils to cook ’em, but if he wasn’t yelling, I’d be on board.

The recipes are simple and really take no time at all. Unlike Jamie Oliver (no shade) whose 15-minute recipes are anything but, these are actually ones you might be able to finish preparing in less than half an hour and are nutritious.

The books come with workout plans and I’m not very sure about that side of things. I only speak for the cookbooks and as far as healthy living goes, you’ll manage to make quite a bit of progress with his recipes.

He also has a bunch of other In 15 books you can check out depending on your dietary preferences and exercise needs (which is a bonus).

The Wholesome Kitchen by Pooja Dhingra

India’s dessert queen made the book for the times when you want something fun but without the guilt because sadly guilt has become such a big part of our relationship with food.

Dhingra’s book isn’t a health/diet book but it has simple recipes that work well and is a better approach to snacking in general. She’s written it with her nutritionist sister-in-law and elaborates on her own struggles with food and weight loss.

She’s got recipes which are part of her ‘JUMP’ range at Le 15 and includes things you can make and store and consume overtime keeping Indian kitchens and the climate in mind. She’s also got Bollywood’s healthiest contributing recipes and some lovely pictures.

I love her and the ‘indulge’ section is where she shines. Expect a lot of zucchini and chia as substitutes for regular ingredients.

For the ambitious beginner or if you only want to cook on your day off:

SIMPLE by Ottolenghi

Source: Penguin Books Australia

I have massive respect for Ottolenghi and the influence he wields over the world of food (fangirl!).

Simple is among his easiest books to follow even if you’re a beginner. The instructions are comprehensive, there is a lot of variety, a list of alternatives to ingredients that might be difficult to find and the beautiful pictures which will immediately make you want to drop everything and cook.

If you’re new to Middle Eastern food, there are menu ideas at the very end of the book for every occasion.

If you’ve mastered Simple, you might also want to consider:

Plenty by Ottolenghi
Jerusalem by Ottolenghi

Often, recipe books don’t have to just be a set of instructions, Ottolenghi makes them beautiful reads as well, much like Nigella, but her writing is perhaps for another time, another list, another story.

Simple celebrates food and life and a philosophy. Eat well and you shall live well.

Cravings by Chrissy Teigen

Source: Popsugar

Whether on Twitter or in this book, Chrissy is unapologetic and hilarious.

There’s a recipe for everything you’d ever want at the end of a busy workday or on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or on your period. The recipes aren’t elaborate, they aren’t for chefs, they’re for real people, busy people who love to eat and plan their day around their meals.

A lot of the recipes are ones she’s usually cooking for herself and he family. There are a few which are her mum’s. Funnily, there are just as many pictures of her as there are of food, if not more, but the recipes work, which is what matters.

She’s also got another book, Cravings: Hungry for More, if you’d like more of her sparkling personality and more of her delicious food (although I don’t have this second one in my collection yet).

Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One by Anita Lo

Source: Eater

I found Solo while going through a weird phase in my life – still uncomfortable but adjusting to the idea of possibly dying alone. The book was released last year and is among the very few books on this list written by a Michelin Star Chef.

Anita Lo is very busy, has given up on relationships and has resigned herself to the idea of being single for the rest of her life. But it isn’t sad – the single life – when you can cook. Everything is fine at the end of a long cold tiring day if it ends with a hot meal or on a sweet note.

This book is a lesson on life as much as it is on cooking, at least that is what it’s been to me. Being alone doesn’t necessitate a pitiful dinner of cornflakes out of the box (nothing wrong with that, we’ve all been there, but it’s okay to celebrate yourself with an elaborate meal-for-one on the reg).

Lo’s recipes aren’t complicated though; she cooks all day so she keeps things quick and simple(ish) for herself, and for you.

I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown

Source: hip2save

This book is by a TV chef so it’s made out like that. But beneath the frills is an excellent book on food, the science of the why’s and how’s and references.

There are a couple of versions of this one and it’s been updated to keep the pop culture references fresh but overall, on the cooking front, you’re sorted no matter which one you choose to buy.

If you’re so inclined you can find him and his work online for a lot less money (or free) as well.

The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Source: OXO

The Faux Martha is a blog and drool worthy Instagram feed that’ll make you want to get up and live the good ‘minimalist’ life.

All the white backgrounds and pretty plates aside, the food her book and the blog features, is quite simple and ideal for a newb to emulate.

I’d have days when I’d cook something, look for positions with natural light and feel like a fancy food blogger even as I took pictures only to prove to my family that I was indeed eating healthy and trying to live a balanced life.

It’s infectious.


If you’re the noob who’s stuck having to host a party or worse impress a date or the fam:

Wine. All the Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking by Marissa A. Ross

Source: The Real Good Life

Whether it’s a meeting with a senior or impressing friends or a date, this cool book by one of my favourite wine people in the world will make the subject less pretentious, intimidating, boring or disgusting.

You needn’t study wine to become good at it and understand your own preferences, and someone who knows their shit while ordering booze, well now that’s sexy.

Buying wine shouldn’t be as stressful as it is, and this will become your ultimate saviour!

Let’s Stay In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish the People You Love by Ashley Rodriguez

Source: Barebones Living

This book comes from the author of Date Night In, which is another book you might want to consider if cooking with your partner is something you want to consider as a romantic or relaxing activity.

For Ashley, food is a lot about sharing joy with loved ones – your friends, partner or family and it shows in her writing. The recipes make for cozy nighttime reading and are ones that are best shared with others, both in consuming and preparing.

If my floof was a little less about finding his corner on the bed and working on the laptop for the date nights we have at home, and a little more about actual human interactions, we’d totally be doing ones where we’d cook together and not bother with takeout.


This last list is for the times you miss home and Mum’s cooking:

Depending on where you’re from, the cookbooks you choose might be different. The Bengali-Indian in me has time and again turned to these books for the familiarity of home without necessarily having to deal with the complexity of a full-blown spice box:

Masala: Indian cooking for Modern Living by Mallika Basu

Source: MallikaBasu

Interestingly, Basu has admitted that she didn’t know how to boil water when she herself first moved from Kolkata to London and had to teach herself everything from scratch.

Her book is very no nonsense because she’s busy, has a job, children, and a life. Her recipes are all very Indian but the kind you can make and enjoy in half an hour or so. She also covers recipes from all over the country even though the Bengali ones peek out and take precedence occasionally.

She’s just really cool and although the book is made primarily keeping an alien audience in mind, the recipes feel authentic. For a beginner, this approach to Indian cooking is really helpful because starting with the basics of spices and what certain terms are and what they mean and how they add to the dish, are all very important ideas to develop, even if you’re Indian AF.

Indian-ish: Recipes and Antic from a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna

Source: Dartmouth Alumni

This one is by a true ABCD and millennial, and is for the city kid. There are a couple of videos on Youtube if you’d like to test the waters before buying this (and I suggest you do that).

But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t like it for anything other than the whacky versions of actual Indian food it has to offer. The book has easy recipes that the author grew up eating at home as an American-Indian and how she remembers these recipes that her mum altered to create a very unique blend of the Indian and the American flavours.

If you like Maggi a 100 different ways, why not look at other Indian food that basically does the same? Always a great option for the nights you have really random things at home and you need some way to make sense of all of these ingredients in one dish.

The Bong Mom’s Cookbook

Source: Bong Mom’s CookBook

The aloo bhaate lover in me couldn’t resist adding one of the most comprehensive books in English with only Bangali khabar.

This has all the Bengali recipes you could ever be in think of, and a couple of others which are staples of Banglalis, on a winter evening or rainy weekend morning.

This book came about after the success of the author’s blog that features more than just Bong food so that is also something you can choose to look up for inspiration on any random day.

Indian: At Home with Madhur Jaffrey by Madhur Jaffrey

Source: Goodreads

Madhur Jaffrey is a badass who taught the world to cook, consume and fall in love with Indian food. She’s the grandmum everyone needs in their kitchen with tips and tricks. This is the simplest and most laidback of all her books.

Cook away with reassurance of the end product being amazing friends. She’s got your back.

This is a list where I’ve tried to keep every kind of prospective cook in mind, the inspired to the lazy, the homesick to the explorer and everyone in between. Most of these books aren’t by chefs, they’re by normal people with day jobs who happened to discover cooking. Many of them also have blogs or websites which are free and offer the similar content, in case cookbook purchasing won’t fit your budget at the moment.

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Healthy #shakshuka for one. 🍳

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Recipes in most of these books don’t require an oven, just the simple kitchen setup works for many, but a microwave or an OTG will probably be able to give you access to every single recipe in all the books.

In case you’re looking for something more specific or different kinds of help with starting/keeping at it, comment below or reach out to us on social media and we might end up curating new posts on the basis of it!

I’m also considering other lists on basics in kitchens/cooking, not the Basics with Babish kind (another super helpful series of videos you should check out btw) but on things like a list of equipment you need in a frugal setting, meal prep basics/ideas, etc.

Hope this helps. Let us know how else we can help.

Let’s get cooking and take control!

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#winnerwinnerchickendinner

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The Way Out of these Elections is Through Our Stomachs|Wine and Wasabi™

Food is often overlooked by the average voter when thinking of politics but it is actually used by politicians as an insidiously powerful tool to further their agendas.

The election season we are in now is no different. The present government continues to use food to both galvanise and alienate voters with the obvious intent of remaining in power for another term and rewrite India in their own image, for good (pardon the dramatics, these are trying times).

So many of the things we consume have been catalysts for major administrative changes in Indian polity over the years. The 1857 Uprisings and the controversial ‘Chapati Movement’ before it (when something as simple as our round chapatis being distributed from hand to hand in the country set the ball rolling for the freedom struggle) are pertinent examples of the power of food to instigate unrest or disturb the status quo.

“A chowkidar–an Indian village watchman. All Indian villages had one, and it was these men, running between their homes and the nearest neighbouring settlement with chapatis, who so effectively raised panic among the ruling British.”
Smithsonian

This election and India’s current state of affairs going back especially to the last five years seem to be moving in an eerily similar space. Only instead of a united movement against a government clearly not suited to lead in these changing and fragile times, opposing forces have still ended up standing against each other.

There’s no simpler way to say this: this is an clearly election fuelled by divisions of caste and creed. Those vying to (re)gain power get this very well and are making unflinching use of it for electoral gain.

Bans have been imposed in the name of religious sentiments. The controversy surrounding the banning of beef and the almost proportional rise in buffalo slaughter has not only affected the lives and livelihoods of many, depriving them of easily accessible, nutritious and cheap food but also sown further seeds of division among the people.

This itself shouldn’t be the case in the professedly secular state of India. Others are using the origins of some of these dishes to both consolidate their majority vote banks and promote a sense of separation and disjointedness.

There is also unchecked violence in the name of religion and food that has scarily become very commonplace in India in the recent past that very few in power feel the need to address. And let’s not forget the blatant shaming based on food choices politicians feel securely entitled to engage in.

All this (and more) is very intricately worked into our current elections and the results they are clearly intended to produce.

Prevalent in so many Northern states (and rapidly escalating in the one I call home for now), it’s an epidemic that seems to show no signs of slowing down, especially if the results of the previous elections are repeated.

(That is not to say that some of these distressing signs haven’t already started recurring in states where the tide has recently turned.)

India, even with all its supposed development (read vikas) that is advertised before every election, is primarily an agriculture driven economy (and that too not even a highly mechanised one at that).

Production of food, mainly by intensive manual labour, is what still provides the country with economic aid to stay afloat while the producers of this food either die of debt or are forced to live lives of acute poverty and dissatisfaction.

Despite the curious absence of consolidated data, numerous observers and opponents of the current government have claimed that farmer suicides have increased to record percentages in the last five years causing massive protests.

How are we measuring progress when there is such an expansive gap in society?

And, more importantly, how much further are we willing to tolerate governments that refuse to be accountable to its people in almost every meaningful way possible?

Then there is, of course biryani, the light in our lives, the fire in our souls that wields the power to momentarily make us forget our woes and escape into its perfect pillowy textures and delicate gorgeous flavours.

We can get to the debate on ‘veg biriyani’ later.
Source: The Biriyani Blogger

The beloved rice and meat dish is the staple in almost all Indian households in one or more of its numerous local variants as a beloved option to enjoy during celebrations or as an indulgence.

The dish has a checkered origin story with very little known about where and with whom it all truly began (much like the contested origins of our grand old country itself).

It is truly an object of ardent passion among many of us. But once innocent questions and debates about which variety was better (with or without a potato, spicy or sweet, etc.) have now been nudged into murkier territory about the people who consume it or the kinds of meat used in it.

Its popularity is possibly rivalled only by the humble khichri, of which also many iterations exist. It came under quite a fire of controversy in recent times as rumours of it being proposed as India’s national dish went around for a while.

This ultimate comfort food is however as Indian as the rest of us, with its history and geographical variants all over the place. From the roots of its name in Sanskrit, to the kitchens of the Mughal Emperors and Hyderabadi Nizams to the festivals of Durga Puja in West Bengal and Pongal in Tamil Nadu.

The dish is quite an interesting metaphor for country that feeds on it as well.
Source: The Chutney Life

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that almost every region of the country has its own spin and recipe of these beloved dishes.

And why not? A country as varied in its culinary repertoire as ours is a rarity. Just like its many local languages and more prominently in its food, India’s creative range is as vast as it is diverse. Although one could say that the rice and lentil concoction is an ideal representation of these varied cuisines, it would be a crude and reductive argument at best.

Food and traditions vary from household to household and are exquisite in their many iterations. To propose a national dish is not just ridiculous but frankly quite disrespectful of the nation’s many cuisines.

And yet, here we are.

Biryani (because let’s face it: between the two, you would always pick biryani) is also the much laughed about crowd-pulling agent in electoral meetings, campaigns, rallies, and, as it turns out, a commodity that has frequently been used to ‘bribe’ voters at polling stations since 1926, if not earlier.

That aside, political candidates are constantly using consumables to appeal to the voter, whether they offer you the food, or photograph themselves indulging in it, all in the hopes of being #relatable or local and thus appealing.

The recent trend however is demonising food for favouritism. Bengal itself, for example, has had targeted attempts at polarisation with leaders of the BJP asking us to stop eating fish (!) and more recently mutton as well. These are but humble attempts when compared to their increasingly boisterous Ram Navami processions and the equally riotous campaign rally we were subjected to recently.

Clearly, not everyone loves their cows for being holy.

The de-facto ban of beef (that apparently started out as a closure of illegal slaughterhouses only) has already led to so many lost lives and ruined livelihoods due to extremism from fanatical supporters (of religion or and silence from the rest.

Then there’s the entire issue of mainstream public discourse, or whatever passes for it these days. Debates as a whole have become these strange exchanges that deal in sound and fury over all other concerns.

The Nation does want to know, but not like this.
Source: Giphy

In this heightened state of affairs, food finds itself in the midst of undeserved and unnecessary scrutiny.

But that is what makes it so important and worthy of attention for all of us who votes will (hopefully) have a decisive impact on the outcome of the ongoing elections.

Think about it. Biryani and khichri being discussed in these newsrooms with an almost fanatic fervour is taking an apparently harmless discourse on rice and promoting the false binary sense of ‘Us vs Them’ using misleading origin stories of the two and marking them out as ‘Indian’ and ‘Foreign’, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’, ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’, respectively.

(Maybe the Nation does need some khichri before all this is over, but not in the way they think.)

As an often silent observer I find myself seeing the most ridiculous and banal reports on issues ranging from the miracles of cow urine to the rape of a daughter by the father slowly becoming the norm in recurring news cycles.

While these are not explicitly related to food they are certainly related to the mass fantasy that the people in power are promoting with the promise of a return to some prelapsarian notion of a pure and peaceful (read Hindu and perfectly patriarchal) India that is based on everything but facts.

All this and so much more while the party in power once again comes up with a campaign not of actual facts or figures but of patting itself on the back because the “people” have come up with yet another slogan that creatively and cleverly rhymes “baar baar” (again and again) with “Modi Sarkaar” (Modi government) while others of their ilk make ominous predictions that these are the last elections this country will ever have.

There’s an enormous amount of evidence building up over the years about how intimately our stomach is connected to how we think and feel. The gut is now pretty widely known as our second brain and with very good reasons.

Notwithstanding that you might be surprised to see how clear a picture one can frame of this election (and the policy matters that it should have been fought over) by privileging issues that concern this organ ranging from farming to starvation and unemployment to midday meals in public schools, cow vigilantism, and even minority rights .

Surely, we must stop and consider whom to vote for (and I sure hope most of us already have). There are alternatives everywhere, regardless of all the noise around us saying otherwise.

Think about it. It’s (really) easy, if you try.

Are we really what they ask us (not) to eat?

© Marion Nestle from her book Eat Drink Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.

Jolly Good Food: The Enid Blyton Pop-Up|Wine and Wasabi™

“A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish, great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk. ”

Enid Blyton, Five Go To Billycock Hill

Be it The Famous Five or Malory Towers, these simple, yet appealing descriptions form the heart of the love so many of us share for Enid Blyton and her stories. From ginger beer or Silky’s pop cakes to the plain boiled egg, these stories found a way to make them all feel very mouthwatering and exciting.

The entire journey of Wine and Wasabi™ started out with us trying to create our own tribute to these escapist treats in the best way we know : cooking! That became our first pop-up, and the rest (hopefully) is history.

Caving to requests, we’re doing it again. This time with a new menu (see below) to make things more interesting. Bring your love for these cherished childhood classics to this one-of-a-kind six-course rooftop dinner that no fan would want to miss!

Details:

  • Date: Saturday, 30th March, 2019
  • Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Cover charge: ₹1000 per head (all inclusive)
  • Address: Accessible area in Salt Lake, Kolkata (easily reached via both City Centre and the Bypass).
  • Contact: +91-8697406710

Simply fill up this form and we’re good to go!*

*limited spots, as always

menu for food pop-up by Wine and Wasabi (TM) enid blyton themed
Text and curation by © Sulagna Maitra, 2019. 
Design by Arunava Banerjee for Wine and Wasabi™

See you soon. Bon appétit!

Sulagna and Arunava,
Wine and Wasabi™

La Dolce Vita : A Pop-Up Dinner|Wine and Wasabi™

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw


Valentine’s day is built up (and sold) to be so much (and so many) things at the same time, but ultimately never is. Be it because of people involved or just because of how things are, things (or someone, or a dynamic, moment, or day) are so rigidly supposed to be a certain way but either simply aren’t or worse, cannot be at all. It’s tiring, even stressful sometimes. And it can begin to get stifling…

Not the case with food however. You know exactly what you’re getting in for, are rarely disappointed, and with us there’s an almost guaranteed happy ending in the works for you here.

This dinner is to celebrate food (whether alone, with your loved ones, or with interesting strangers), that which is with you from the very beginning, every step of the way, in every kind of relationship, including through your first dates to your breakups and everyday in between with an eight-course Italian (with a dash of the French) inspired rooftop dinner by Wine and Wasabi™.

Details:

  • Date: 13th February, 2019
  • Time: 7 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Cover charge: ₹2100 per head (all inclusive)
  • Address: Accessible area in Salt Lake, Kolkata (easily reached via both City Centre and the Bypass).
  • Contact: +91-8697406710

Simply fill up this form and we’re good to go!*

*limited spots, as always

Eight-course menu for wine and wasabi pop up.
Text and curation by © Sulagna Maitra, 2019.
Design and art by Srijita Kar for Wine and Wasabi™

See you soon. Bon appétit!

Sulagna and Arunava,
Wine and Wasabi™

Honey Cake, Or the Importance of Eating in Earnest|Wine and Wasabi

Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a rut and even when you’re doing what you love, it’s all a little too monotonous and no longer as exciting as it was when you started?


I bake and cook for a living. It’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. But I also want to make new memories around food, discover and learn about other cultures, and grow. Working in a kitchen, making the same recipes doesn’t really allow for that.

Not as often and as much as I’d like, anyway.

My customers are amazing people who give me the chance to be an integral part of their special days and I am grateful for that – that something I do on occasion makes someone smile. It’s a special feeling, and any chef you will ever meet gets off on it, specially the pastry people.

However, there are a few things that are set in stone when it comes to us apparently:

  • We love sugar.
  • We might have alcoholic tendencies.
  • We love precision and take pride in how baking is both an art and a science.
  • We spend long hours, measuring and perfecting even the simplest recipes, knowing that on the other side, someone is going to take that first bite and smile because that’s what a sweet treat does.
  • Oh! We’re secretly party people who are awkward.
  • And… cake has a special place in our lives.

That being said, sometimes, specially when the brief to potential clients is “go crazy and ask for any flavour combination you can think of”, and people respond with “Erm I think I want a plain chocolate cake”, I want to kill myself. (Disclaimer: I don’t.)

Maybe it’s me, but where is the imagination! It’s at such times that this dissatisfaction sets in.

There’s no doubt that there’s money in it for me and, let’s face it, chocolate is one of the sexiest flavours out there. So why am I complaining? Am I even really complaining? It’s hard to put a finger on but it’s still something that happens and I am compelled to tell it like it is.

It’s not bad really, just a vague feeling that there is something more out there, that something is missing. I may be childish, but the excitement starts dying bit by bit and the need for a rekindling is real.

[It’s like that 30 Rock episode where Jack Donaghy is very happy with his life but wants to vomit in excitement about something, anything, like he did on one his birthdays as a child. And then he finds it again on his 50th birthday, in Liz Lemon’s ad video.]

I may have taken too long to get to it, but this post is really about that rekindling. It’s about a cake (yes, always a cake with us pastry people) that brought it all back (forgive my Proust), that reminded me of the excitement of choosing to do what you love for the rest of your life.

My partner loves comic books and I am in love with food. So every holiday he tries to give me presents that are a combination of the two. It’s special and complicated, for a host of reasons as most things related to relationships and food are. A story for another time, perhaps.

This winter he gave me three books, out of which one had recipes surrounding the illustrated memories of the author’s life. I instantly connected to it. Cake by Maira Kalman was a delightful read. I identified with it because just I had found another person who equated memories with the food it was associated.

In her case, it was all cake and it was brilliant.

honey cake recipe by maira kalman and barbara scott-goodman
Of course I make write-in changes to my cookbooks! © Sulagna Maitra, 2019

Of all the recipes I read, written by Barbara Scott-Goodman for the book, the Honey Cake stood out to me. It was so compelling that I immediately wanted to try it. So simple yet something I felt like I must try out (and I don’t even like honey that much)!


While measuring the ingredients however, I started to realise how although deceptively simple at first read, the flavour profile of the cake was vast. With the addition of honey, espresso, whiskey, and orange juice (not to mention, the spices) it would make for a very interesting array of possibly competing tastes and I was curious about how it would turn out.

Funnily enough, I ran out of honey while making it, so instead I put in some gur* because it is one of my favourite sugars and winter is when it is in season so why the hell not! I also ended up tinkering with the ratio of the white and brown sugars. After that, I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Honey Cake Recipe Ingredients
All set. © Sulagna Maitra, 2019

Another alteration I made was removing the allspice in the recipe and adding the same amount of chai spice instead. I didn’t have allspice and it made sense as an alternative given the flavour notes in the one I was changing.

Although it was a lot of ingredients, the mixing and baking process was fairly simple. The baking time however was somewhat long but made sense given that the batter was so thin. Tasting the batter (don’t recommend it but do it all the time) was when I became emotionally invested in the cake. I knew in my gut that something magical was about to happen to me and I couldn’t wait!

You know that instance when you know that everything you’ve done in life has been leading you to a specific moment? That was how I felt when my mum (it’s usually her job) took the cake out of the oven. Immediately the whole house smelt of what I assume Christmas smells like for people in the west. The spices with a hint of the whiskey and the caramelised sugars was something made out of Strawberry Shortcake’s wet dream. If I could bottle up that warm fragrance I would.

On closer inspection though, it did smell a tad eggy, and although my heart sank a little I held out hope waiting for it to be cooler and let the insides settle. I stayed in my room and avoided walking around it for the longest half hour of my life! And then, finally, I experienced what will probably be a memory and recipe I shall cherish forever!

What is the softest surface you have ever touched? Take a moment and imagine it. That times two was this cake. It was moist and almost bounced back when poked. It was so very satisfying! I kept playing with it much to my family’s irritation.

Because of the long baking time, the outside was a dark rich brown, almost black in places. You’d think it was burnt, but it’s actually the sugars and the dark gur (that was giving it the colour. It was harder than you’d think, like a very thin crust had been formed by the caramel on the outside, protecting the soft inside while also giving the cake texture.

The inside was the colour of wet sand, but speckled from the spices in the mix. It was very inviting. To my utter delight, the cake tasted breathtakingly beautiful. The flavours married so well and nothing was overpowering. It was such a delicate profile and so very very good, like a work of art that actually moved you!

Way better than just any madeleine, if you ask me.

© Sulagna Maitra, 2019

I almost cried, there were tears in my eyes at any rate. This was special. I remember giving my partner updates every few seconds! It was such a warm feeling, a hug from someone you loved on a cold lonely day. My parents felt the same way and that somehow made it more exceptionally so.

A piece of cake that takes you back to your first baking memories. It is almost like it’s straight out of an anime. It brings back the excitement you felt the first time you were in the kitchen. Donaghy’s vomit moment. (On second thoughts, maybe that’s not something you’d want to think about.)

It’s important because it reminded me of why I like to cook and brought back the feeling of unadulterated excitement and joy, the kind I hadn’t felt in a long time while making something. It’s the perfect surprise to myself and I am better for it, inspired and prepared for the future! Everyone needs a reminder of why they choose to do what they do once in a while, and this is one that served the same purpose for me.

It is among my very first attempts at Jewish recipes. (I also have a killer Baklava recipe I might post in the future.) But this is one that is making me consider looking into more of the simple middle eastern recipes out there that are so comforting yet so simple.

I’d recommend having it warm and fresh out of the oven if you ever decide to make it and you should make it. In case you make it in advance, give it a day outside. The outer surfaces of the cut pieces of the cake start to crystallise and taste a different kind of amazing. It’s the perfect present as well, a gift that is affordable and keeps on giving.

Happiness, distilled. © Sulagna Maitra, 2019

If you dislike fruit cake (I have a whole rant, wait for it) and are looking for something new but familiar, give this a try and let us know if you thought it was as life changing as it was for me!

You can always buy the book online (or from the friendly neighbourhood bookstore)  and try other recipes in it as well! Look forward to hearing from you.

Sulagna.

*Gur or jaggery is a concentrate form of date, palm, or cane sap without the separation of the molasses and crystals. It varies in colour from golden to dark brown and is used in sweets and cooking around India and south Asia.