Meet The Magician of Fast Food

Oct 15, 2021, 17:23 IST

Magician


In her new book, Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian, UK-based bestselling author CHETNA MAKAN presents exemplary Indian food in just a half-hour. She tells Primrose Monteiro-D’Souza about what lights her fires

A collection of everyday family favourites that are quick to whip up with spectacular results – that’s Chetna Makan’s latest offering to the world at large.  The recipes also work for Indian cooks still grappling with desi khana, perhaps even with the idea that Indian food is complicated to cook up, or that quick cooking will rob dishes of their heartiness and flavour. Makan, who was a favourite on The Great British Bake Off in 2014 and is currently a YouTube sensation, began the lockdown by sharing recipes every single day with an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. “It kept me sane by giving me something worthwhile to focus on,” she writes in the introduction to the book. Things changed, however, as the lockdown seemed to stretch forever, and she realised that, however much we appreciate good food, not many of us want to spend time cooking elaborate meals. And so, never one to back down from a challenge, Makan took it upon herself to prove that quick and easy everyday recipes are part of the Indian culinary lexicon too. The result is a range of delicious Indian dishes that take just 30 minutes, though, as she warns us, “those 30 minutes will be challenging with lots of chopping, stirring and other activity, but the end will always be in sight when you can sit down and enjoy your meal.”

Excerpts from an interview:

From fashion to food: tell us about the progression. And how did you come to take part in The Great British Bake Off?
It was my ambition to become a fashion designer when I was 14 or 15 years old. I started doing my research about how and where I could study and train to be a designer. I loved every minute of it. When I moved to the UK, for various reasons, I could not continue to work in fashion and went into retail work instead. But, after I took my maternity break, I did not want to go back to retail as I didn’t really enjoy it much. I started watching The Great British Bake Off and became a big fan of the show. I love baking and have always enjoyed making cakes for friends. My friends suggested that I enter the show,and, after much thought, I decided to apply.
 
This is your fifth cookbook. Has it gotten easier?
I did think that the process would get easier as I did more books, but, to be honest, every single book has been the same amount of work and energy. It has not gotten easier; in fact, I now have to deliver as I know people will expect a certain kind of food from my books.
 
You write in the introduction to Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian of how its subject reflects a change in people’s attitude to food as the pandemic raged for longer than we had expected. Did you feel this progression – of being fatigued with long processes – within yourself as well?
For me, it was slightly different as I really do enjoy cooking, but, looking around me at my friends and the responses on my social media, I got the feeling that people had had enough of the long cooking processes and wanted the same delicious food but without putting in those many hours preparing it.
 
What is your own instinctive approach to cooking – jhatpat khaana or slow cooking?
I like the best of both worlds. When I have time or when I’m cooking for an occasion, I want to put in hours and effort into trying something that takes ages. Otherwise, it needs to be jhatpat khaana.
 
As with your first book The Cardamom Trail in 2016 that had Indian flavours in very Western bakes, Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian, too, has some very Indian flavours with interesting twists – using ready pastry in the Paneer Onion Masala Rolls, uplifting Alu Banda with a cheesy centre, even the Pulled Tandoori-Spiced Chicken. How do these adaptations come to you?
I am all about experimenting. When I moved to the UK, I found myself with limited ingredients as I live in a small town. There is still only one Asian shop in town but, thankfully, he stocks everything I need. Living here introduced me to different ways of cooking and to different cuisines. I have tried to incorporate new techniques and ideas with my everyday Indian cooking, and I love how it all turns out.
 
All the photos in the book are beautiful but not intimidating. It makes the food very approachable. What is your brief to the photographer?
KEEP IT SIMPLE! I am there for every single shot of the book. The food is cooked following the recipe to a T, nothing extra is added or no extra garnishes are used; it’s all real food. That is my main aim – to make cooking at home approachable. I want people to not be scared of cooking Indian food at home; it is such a beautiful cuisine and I want everyone to try their hand at it.
 
Really simple recipes with very simple ingredients. This is the average Indian kitchen we’re looking at, but do you find that, even in the UK, Indian ingredients are as ubiquitous?
When I moved here to the UK in 2004, they were not. I had to take a two-hour trip to the Indian market to stock my cupboards. But, now, it’s very different. I can’t even begin to tell you how things have changed in these years. Now, even the corner shops stock basic spices. All the big supermarkets stock a variety of spices and lentils and more; it’s amazing.

CHETNA’S FAVOURITE RECIPES
What is your favourite recipe from the book?
  • I love them all, but, if I had to tell someone which ones to try first, I would recommend the Masala Chicken, Tamarind Aubergine Curry, Pickled Spiced Chickpeas, and the Cheese And Chilli Naan.
The recipe you use for impromptu parties...
  • The Paneer Onion Masala Rolls, every single time. It’s the perfect snack or starter when entertaining.
The recipes that bring you comfort...
  • The Butter Chicken or the Chicken Potato Pulao