Chetna Makan: People think Indian food is just like takeaways but it’s really not – The Irish News

By on June 27, 2020

CHETNA Makan is not the kind of host who’d sling a bowl of chopped iceberg lettuce at you and consider it a salad. Oh no. In fact, the food writer and former Great British Bake Off contestant has very strong views on salad.

“I can’t deal with just leaves,” she explains firmly, a slight laugh in her voice. “This just is not for me. I want something to bite into,” she clarifies, and “a bit of substance” is paramount, which is arguably what makes her the ideal recipe writer to turn her attention to veg.

So often, plant-based options are lacklustre and under seasoned, watery and limp, or feeble imitations of meatier dishes. Vegetarians have long been fobbed off with plates of leaves; a few croutons thrown on top, or flavourless mushroom risottos and goat’s cheese tartlets. Things are undoubtedly improving, but vegetables are still criminally underestimated.

But in her new cookbook, Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian, Makan emboldens greens and intensifies their flavour – “adding punch”, providing recipes that robustly push everything from pea shoots and tomatoes to mangetout and cabbage, to work harder.

So no, you won’t find a plethora of leafy salads gracing the pages, but you will find a grated beetroot and carrot concoction zingy from lime and crunchy with peanuts, a lentil and mango salad, a toothsome mix of grilled corn and red onion, as well as a rasam (a soup-like stew) of garlic and tamarind, and yoghurt sandwiches, stuffed with slivers of carrot, chilli and coriander.

The premise is the same as the prequel, Chetna’s Healthy India, in that the recipes are designed to be swift, straightforward and “happen to be good for you” – but vegetarian this time as well.

“People think Indian food will take forever to cook – ‘I’ll have to soak this, I’ll have to make this and then I’ll have to marinate this’ – actually, everyday Indian food is not like that,” says Makan (41), explaining that you might have deep fried pakoras and puri on the weekend, but day-in, day-out? Not so much. “That’s a picture created just because of the takeaway industry,” she says with a sigh.

“People think it’s really heavy and it’s only supposed to be a treat, and it’s only supposed to be Friday. All those things are just wrong, because we eat [everyday Indian food] every single day!”

The dishes featured are ones that are widely eaten in homes in India and include recipes that busy, working Indian women shared with Makan on a research trip to Delhi (“In India, mostly women cook at home still”) – and the book is a chance provide a balance to ubiquitous korma and masala curries.

“I have tried to share really varied types of curries,” she says. “Not what people think are curries, but how they really are.”

Just like those yoghurt sandwiches, which are “a very popular sandwich in India” says Makan, who was born in Jabalpur. “It’s like a ham and cheese sandwich over here.”

The book also reflects her mother’s cooking, which has become her own. “All my inspiration comes from her,” says Makan, adding: “She doesn’t use anything ready-made. Even the tomato puree, she purees herself.

“The generation she is and in India, there were no such things available,” she explains. “The only thing we actually bought from outside was ready-made paneer.”

She describes her mother’s cooking as “quite simple” and always made from scratch, daily. “She still makes a dish for lunch separately and then makes a dish for dinner separately, and when she comes and visits, she can’t understand if I make a big pot of dhal that we eat it for two or three days. She just doesn’t get it! Because to her, to eat the same food for three days is too much.

“She makes it fresh every day, so she just makes enough that my mum and dad can eat and there is not anything left.”

Makan has a real love of, and interest, in how people – be it her mother, or the women she met in Delhi – cook at home in their own kitchens. “Some of them had these utensils which were their grandmother’s and they just had worn out, but they were still solid,” she says, recalling her trip. “I compare it to myself – [there were] no kitchen gadgets at all, just basic – a stone to grind and just no big machinery and mixers and blenders, nothing.

“It’s just so interesting,” she adds, “watching people cook in their element.”

And the cooking itself she finds transformative. “It still just makes me so happy. There’s something about the end result, where even if you’re not cooking for anyone, even if you’re just cooking for yourself, to sit down and enjoy that meal is just amazing.”

:: Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian by Chetna Makan, photography by Nassima Rothacker, is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £20 (octopusbooks.co.uk). Below are two recipes from the book for you to try.

CHEESE AND POTATO CHAPATTI SANDWICH

(Makes 4)

For the chapattis:

200g chapatti flour, plus extra for dusting

1/4tsp salt

140ml water

For the filling:

100g paneer, grated

50g Cheddar cheese, grated

1 small potato, boiled and grated

1/4tsp salt

1/4tsp chilli powder

1/2tsp amchoor (mango powder)

1 small green chilli, finely chopped

10g fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

For toasting the sandwiches:

Sunflower oil

Black mustard seeds

Method:

To make the chapattis, put the flour and salt into a bowl and gradually add just enough of the water (or a little more, if necessary) to form a soft dough. Knead for two minutes, then cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into eight equal portions. Roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface to a circle 15-18cm across. Heat a skillet until hot, and cook each chapatti for one minute each side on a low-to-medium heat, until slightly golden. To make the filling, combine the ingredients in a bowl.

To toast the sandwiches, use the same skillet you used to cook the chapattis. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil and, once hot, add a pinch of mustard seeds. When they start to sizzle, lay a chapatti in the pan and spread with a quarter of the filling. Place another chapatti on top and cook for a minute on a low-to-medium heat, until the underside is golden. Turn and cook for a minute on the other side, then remove to a plate.

BEETROOT SALAD WITH CARROT AND PEANUT

(Serves 4)

For the salad:

50g roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed

4 raw beetroot, about 400g, grated

1 red onion, finely chopped

20g fresh coriander, finely chopped

1 carrot, grated

2tbsp lime juice

1/2tsp salt

For the tadka:

1tbsp groundnut oil

1tsp cumin seeds

2 green chillies, finely chopped

Use a pestle and mortar to coarsely crush the peanuts, then put them into a bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients.

To make the tadka, heat the oil in a small pan and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add the green chillies, give them a stir, then take the pan off the heat.

Pour the tadka over the salad, toss well and serve. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

JACKFRUIT RICE KHICHDI

(Serves 4)

For the rice:

100g green lentils

250g basmati rice

For the jackfruit:

2tbsp sunflower oil

1 x 400g tin of jackfruit in water, drained and thinly sliced

2 red onions, thinly sliced

2 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 red pepper, sliced 2.5cm thick

11/2tsp salt

1tsp garam masala

1/2tsp chilli powder

Method:

Bring 2.2 litres of water to the boil in a deep pan and add the lentils. Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes, until the lentils begin to soften. Add the rice to the same pan and continue cooking on low-to-medium heat for eight minutes, until the rice is tender. Drain the lot and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a wide pan and add the jackfruit. Cook on a low-to-medium heat for 10 minutes, until the jackfruit turns golden. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the onions and cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes, until golden.

Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper and cook for five minutes, until the tomatoes have softened. Add the salt, garam masala and chilli powder and mix well.

Source Article from http://www.irishnews.com/lifestyle/2020/06/27/news/chetna-makan-people-think-indian-food-is-just-like-takeaways-but-it-s-really-not-1984338/
Chetna Makan: People think Indian food is just like takeaways but it’s really not – The Irish News
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