When Shalini approached me to write a cookbook of healthy Indian food for Just Jhoom!we were at one of her instructor training workshops. I said yes immediately, without thinking it through. What was there to think about? I love Indian food, I love cooking and I quite enjoy writing. Furthermore, I already had a collection of recipes, mostly my mum’s, that were begging to be tidied up, compiled and shared with the rest of the world, secret ingredients and all (yes Mum, you read it right). Most importantly, however, I was very enthusiastic about Just Jhoom! and where it was going and I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to be a part of it in a way that would enable me to further explore and share my passion for all things food. Before I launch into the story of the Cook to Jhoom book as it has unfolded thus far, I’ll tell you a little about how I came to be a part of Just Jhoom! It all started almost 18 years ago in a little village in the Swiss Alps called Bluche…
Shalini and I were at college in Switzerland together. Hotel management school, not finishing school – naturally, neither of us needed finishing school! There was a Cultural Night every year where students would represent their countries, usually with a dance performance and/or a food stall. Being Indian Kenyan, I represented India in a dance performance my first year, and cooked food for a Kenyan stall in my second year. In my final year I was just a guest, happily eating and drinking my way through every stall. Shalini choreographed the first year dance performance as she was a trained Bharat Natyam dancer but also adept at Bhangra and Bollywood dancing, which we did that evening. It was such a fun night and our performance had everyone on their feet. The following year, the Kenyan food stall, comprising mostly Kenyan-Indian food like meat samosas and chicken pillao was also a big success. We didn’t know it then, but the seeds had been sown for our present day collaboration. Of course, it is a rather different sort of collaboration this time round. I’m dancing to her Just Jhoom! workouts on DVD here in Kenya and she’s testing my recipes for the Cook to Jhoom book in England. Dance and food are still involved, albeit in new, surprising and more meaningful ways!
After Switzerland, Shalini and I went in different directions, geographically and vocationally, before I moved to England in 2003. Still in different careers, we continued to develop our individual passions. Shalini began with teaching Bollywood and Indian dance exercise classes in her spare time, before setting up her SB Dance company as a full time enterprise which did a range of things including school workshops, party events, projects for the city of London and Asmakam, a moving, original dance drama which played at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. I attended several of these events, as an observer and friend. I also watched as Shalini’s interest in dance and fitness developed gradually and intensively, culminating in the birth of the fabulous Just Jhoom!
All the while, I developed my own interest in food and cooking, primarily as a home cook in my spare time with a penchant for entertaining my closest friends. Is there anything more joyful than good food, drink, and company all at the same time? With good music and dancing involved too? I think not! Shalini was part of the good company more than a few times and always generous in her appreciation for the food! I was also very fortunate
to be in London where you can buy absolutely every ingredient under the sun, from bitter gourd (Karela) to pomegranate molasses to kaffir lime leaves. In London I learnt so much about different cooking traditions and they have all influenced my Indian cooking to some degree. Now I will be the first to admit that the health aspect of food never used to be my main consideration when it came to cooking and eating. I was and am still not willing to compromise on the tastiness of food which, for me, means strong flavours that make your palate sing. It could be as simple as a fine piece of cheese or as complex as a traditional biryani. So when Shalini asked me to write a healthy Indian cookbook, in my eagerness and enthusiasm, I did not hear the ‘healthy’ as loudly as I heard the ‘Indian’ and ‘cookbook’. Well, I’ve had plenty of time to think about healthy AND tasty Indian food as I have written, practiced and photographed several recipes over the past few months since moving back home to Kenya. In my next post, I will tell you more about those early experiments in the kitchen for Cook to Jhoom.