Key Takeaways:

Nandita shares a recipe she created by combining flavors from across India.

Nandita is driven by art and cooking. Her brilliant recipes derive flavors from around the world to create delicious dishes that leave guests in awe.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I completed my PhD. in economics and worked as a professor at St. Xavier's College in the US. Then I moved to India, got married, and decided to do something different for a career. I've always been creative, which led me to work at the Taj Mahal in management. My creative streak pointed me towards food and art, my two passions.

Tell us about how you became interested in cooking.

I was 14 years old, and I loved to eat. My mother wasn't a great cook, and she told me that if I wanted to eat more, I could cook for myself. Thus, my cooking journey began.

Who taught you to cook, or are you self-taught?

Initially, I learned all by myself. Nobody in my family was enthusiastic about cooking. I also learned cooking from my friends’ mothers and restaurants. Whenever I went out to eat, I would go to the kitchens and ask the chefs for tips. Since I was a child, I have tried to learn the local cuisine wherever I travel. I've also always enjoyed reading cookbooks from the library. I take all of the recipes I like and innovate to make them healthy.

Tell us a little about the dish you submitted. What are the origins of this recipe? Is this recipe your own or passed down in the family?

My interest in cooking has always been non-conventional. For example, I like a unique recipe from Lonavala, India, called Indrani sticky rice. It is unpolished and healthy. This dish inspired the green nut rice I will make in class. It is a one-pot meal balanced with carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins.

Since I am an artist, I incorporate a variety of colors in my dish because you eat with your eyes first. Since cooking is my passion, I cook a lot for parties. The tomato saar in the recipe I'm making comes from my friend who is from the Pathani Prabhu community (Maharashtrian community). They always had saar in their house. Saar is like a tomato curry, but I will be taking out the coconut milk to make it lighter and adding a bit of tamarind and jaggery for a change in flavor. I am also pairing this dish with tzatziki to compliment the earthy flavors in the rice, nuts, and greens.

What makes this recipe special to you?

This recipe is special because it is balanced and can be vegetarian or contain meat if you want more protein.

Who is your cooking inspiration, and why?

I love watching https://www.getsetup.io/classes/cookbook-project-green-nut-rice-indian-tzatziki-with-nandita-desai/BpRuzMTiJ, and learning from chefs like Massimo Bottura, Ferran Adrià. Among Indian chefs, I like Ranveer Brar and Asma Khan. Khan started as a cook, not a chef, and now she has a restaurant where she explores flavors and employs lots of women to cook.

What is one spice/ingredient you can't do without, and why?

My favorite herb is coriander. But the spice that excites me the most is red chili powder. Paprika, smoked paprika, mathania mirchi, kashmiri mirchi - love the variations. I can cook it the way I like. The flavor is very Indian and very close to my heart. 

Do you have any favorite dishes or any favorite food memories from childhood?

I love dodi, a kheer made out of almonds that my grandmother used to cook for me when I was young.

What is the one cooking tip you have received and from whom you will never forget? 

One tip that I received and would like to pass on is to follow your instincts. Think about how flavors will complement each other. And then experiment. We learn new things through experimentation.

What's the most memorable meal that you've made?

I went on a Lebanese journey and traveled through Dubai. I collected Lebanese ingredients all along the way, and when I came home, I created a meal using them. The dish contained chicken and apricots; then, I made rice with saffron raisins, walnuts, and shrimp which I grilled on my little Japanese grill. To top it off, I cooked an eggplant curry. My husband still talks about that meal and asks me to cook it again.

Is there a type of food that intrigues you and that you'd like to learn to prepare?

I want to prepare the butter naan that stretches like the kind you order in restaurants. And a perfect biryani. I am yet to eat a perfect biryani at a restaurant anywhere in the world. Apart from coming from a Muslim household, I have never had perfect biryani. I want to learn to perfect this dish.

What do you enjoy apart from cooking?

Painting, handmade jewelry, mixed media art, photography, print, writing poetry, am writing a poetry book now. I love to teach and travel. 

What's the importance of sharing a meal around the table?

I hate eating alone. Twenty-five percent of my joy is from eating my dish, and 75% is from sharing with somebody. I love to eat with people, especially my husband. Most of the time, he is my guinea pig since my son lives abroad. If my friends can't come over, I like to send them food. It's like spreading joy. They also give me feedback, and I feel socially connected.

What is one kitchen gadget or appliance you can't do without?

My Japanese knives. They are way lighter and sharper than normal knives. They do the job perfectly. So much of cooking lies in prep. I feel that the dish's taste also depends on how you cut the vegetables and meat in it, so my knives are essential to me.

Who would it be if you could cook for or dine with anyone?

I would love to cook with Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià because they are very innovative chefs. The food that Adria cooks in Barcelona will blow your socks off. The way he extracts every possible taste out of every possible ingredient is just amazing. When I watch their videos, I am in awe of how they put things together. It's an art. The level of skill they have is commendable. The way they present their food is art in its purest form. For me, cooking that balances and mixes art and food inspires me. It is my ultimate passion. It's like poetry in motion

Jun 13, 2022
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