As I write this, it is a beautifully sunny and breezy Sunday in Mombasa and I am eating a sweet corn, coconut and red pepper soup as part of the on-going recipe testing for the Cook2Jhoom book. This recipe started out very differently. It was inspired by my mum’s corn in coconut and peanut sauce, which is a very tasty way to enjoy corn. It is, however, alarmingly high in fat and not very well balanced. So I adapted it with low fat coconut milk and without the peanuts for the cookbook. The first time I made it a couple of months ago, it was pleasant enough, but it didn’t quite light up my taste buds so it went into the ‘Needs Work’ pile (folder in My Documents, rather). I came back to it this week, and tweaked it by adding sweet red pepper, more ginger, garlic, lime, fresh coriander and a little lemon grass. I know, lemon grass is not traditionally an Indian ingredient; however, this recipe has now morphed into a fusion recipe, or an Indian recipe with a Thai twist, if you like. Yes, I think I prefer the latter description because it is more accurate and sounds a little sexier.
It also started out as a curry to be eaten with rice, but because of the light, broth like consistency of the gravy, it works much better as a soup or a vegetarian shorba. The sweetness of the corn and red pepper, the tartness of the lime, the gentle heat of the ginger, the bold heat of the chilli and the je ne sais quoiof the lemon grass, all combine to make a very tasty soup. The balance of sweet, sour, and hot, which I simply adore and am very grateful to Thai cuisine for, is what this soup is all about. Moreover, it can be turned into a blended soup with a pleasantly chunky texture. I took photos of both versions. When you make it for yourself I hope you will be as happy with the recipe as I am!
I have a few other recipes which fall into the ‘Indian with a twist’ category. Among them, there is a curried couscous salad, grilled aubergines, and a lentil and spinach salad. Some may argue that the couscous salad is Moroccan with an Indian twist or that the aubergines are Italian with an Indian twist (guaranteed to strike fear and scepticism into the heart of purists) and they may have a point. I have 2 things to say here. Firstly, as you may recall from my previous post when I talked about the foodie delights of London, I cannot help but be inspired by all the different cuisines that I have experienced and I always name and shame (give full credit to the source of my inspiration). Secondly, these flavour combinations not only work, they taste jolly good. Like Just Jhoom, which is a blend of Indian dance, Yoga and contemporary dance and strengthening exercises, some of my recipes are blends of seemingly diverse flavours and cooking methods that reflect not only my own, but also your cosmopolitan food experiences and interests. Having said all that, I have created healthy versions of several of the classics. They’re classics for good reasons and far be it from me to mess around too much with a classic. As with the chicken curry that I talked about last week, my aim has been to retain the essential flavours of the classic but to use less fat and more herbs, lime/lemon, garlic, ginger and vegetables wherever possible. I made the healthy chicken curry for my dad this past week, sprinkling on some freshly roasted and ground cumin (jeera) at the very end, and he said he hadn’t noticed the absence of butter or ghee that is often used in the frying of the onions. I was hoping to give some of the left overs to my cat (yes, Poppy loves curry and deserves only the best) but my dad had already put them away for his lunch the next day. The following day I made a steamed masala fish. Instead of adding the usual ground fennel powder, I added some thinly sliced fresh fennel on top before steaming it – lovely! All the flavour, more freshness, varied textures, and better nutritional value.
I have learnt a lot about how to make food healthier without compromising on the flavours these past few months. Working on this book and all that is involved (writing, cooking, tasting, tweaking, changing and changing back, photographing) has been my saving grace really. I had previously stated that the cookbook was a slow starter in practice. After a brief spurt of activity in the form of recipes and testing in December last year, the following six weeks were made up of series of long and drawn out goodbyes to my friends, family and to London. When I arrived in Mombasa in February of this year, there followed a long emotional and practical adjustment to life in this little city (can’t believe it’s called a city – there is like one main road). The cookbook took a back seat while I took my time to face up to the reality of life here and started to look for a job and begin a career in academia or in the international public sector. After 2 months there was still no job but I slowly started to shift my focus back to my enduring love – food and cooking. I completed the first drafts of the recipes, shared them with Shalini and my brother Ronnie for feedback, roped them in to test several of the recipes and then set about testing and retesting them myself. I am happy, rejuvenated, and excited. Even when I’m watching TV, I’m thinking about how I’m going to plate and photograph my recipe the next day. And this always happens when I am in the kitchen and involved in the preparation and sharing of food. I hope that this creative energy will come through in the Cook2Jhoom book; I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you all. See you next week and thank you for reading!