Mistress of spices

Mistress of spices

In conversation

Mistress of spices

It could be a dish of slow roast lamb shoulder fresh from the oven, or a platter of Goan-style chorizo mussels grilled to perfection, or just a gently stirred semolina halwa that celebrity chef Anjum Anand serves up, but it is always met sighs of satisfaction and deep appreciation.

And when she takes her genius to a new level, by serving paani puri with avocado and salmon roe as a filling, or a yoghurt dessert with a dash of saffron to an international audience, they are always amazed at the burst of flavours on the tongue, and are quite convinced that they are in culinary heaven.

Anjum has just launched a brand new 12-part series called Anjum’s Spice Stories on TLC that puts the spotlight back on Indian food. This time, however, besides offering a fresh, healthy and international twist to Indian flavours, Anjum will take her viewers on a unique spice trail, as she travels through Australia, exploring its culinary scene.

In an interview with Anjum, it’s evident that her passion lies in cooking Indian food by using the healthiest and the most flavoursome methods possible. “When I was asked to do a show on Indian food in Australia I was delighted because I love the place,” she says. “So I worked with what Australians love, like barbecues and seafood, and showed them the kind of range that Indian food can offer.”

Indian fusion 

Anjum fondly recollects three instances where her dishes were a big hit. “The first instance was my take on the Goan meat pie,” she explains. “I know that Australians love meat pies, so I decided to create a Goan pork pie in a different way. Instead of using sugar in the pie and deep frying it as they often do in Goa, I decided to bake it instead. It was a successful recipe and they loved it.”

The other Indian dishes that the Australians loved were the paani puri created out of fish eggs, and her puran poli. “In my puran poli, I used lentil paste as the filling, so much so that it looked like mille-feuille sandwich,” she says. “Everyone enjoyed it so much that they kept going back for seconds.”

According to Anjum, the world has begun to appreciate Indian food because of the flavours that India has to offer. “It is mostly about the flavour,” she explains. “But many foreigners also find that Indian meals are very balanced, as we always offer a portion of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. There is also the casual element of Indian food that people love, as they can share the food and eat their meals in a relaxed manner.”

Anjum grew up in London but studied in Geneva, Paris and Madrid. She used to own a business, which involved importing flat-pack furniture from Eastern Europe, but the job did not give her any satisfaction. “I would go to the office every day, but when I came home I found myself depleted,” she remembers. “I started cooking in the evenings and I soon realised that I really loved those moments in the kitchen. Soon, I started calling my friends home on weekends for meals, and they enjoyed the food so much that they asked me to open a restaurant.”

Their words planted a seed in Anjum’s head and some months later, she decided to follow her heart. “I started by working in cafés and restaurants to learn all about the food industry,” she recalls. “But as time went on, I realised that I also wanted to teach people about Indian food and how healthy it can be, if made in the right way.”

Some years down the line, Anjum became a regular guest on UKTV’s Great Food Live and featured in the BBC series Indian Food Made Easy. She also became a columnist and consultant chef and went on to bring out her first book, titled Indian Every Day: Light Healthy Indian Food.

According to Anjum, Indian food requires the most techniques and skills. “A good Indian cook has to know about the different stages of cooking and the many techniques involved in creating good food. They need to know how much to fry the spices, how to use yogurt without curdling it, how to source the best ingredients, and so much more. Besides Indian food, I also find Lebanese food to be quite sophisticated, and the preparation of this cuisine also requires the mastery of a lot of techniques.”

Health quotient

As to why food and food shows are so popular today, Anjum says it is because food is so functional. “Everyone has memories and experiences related to food,” she explains. “Each country has different ways of cooking and has something to convey through it. But as disposable incomes became higher, people started eating out and trying other cuisines. Then they started watching food shows on TV, and soon TV chefs took on their own personalities. Viewers found that there was a lot of passion involved in the cooking shows that were being aired on television. They started saying — ‘if those chefs can do it, so can we’.”

Indian food always gets the rap for being unhealthy, but Anjum believes that Indian food can offer plenty of flavour while being healthy too. “One way to make healthy Indian food is to reduce the amount of oil we use,” she says. “You should use spices like ginger, curry leaves or mustard to enhance the flavour instead of oil.”

When Anjum is not working, she loves to spend time with her two children. “I also love to go out for a drink in the evenings, but I don’t eat at night as I have been working with food all day,” she says. “I also enjoy doing yoga, reading books and pursuing outdoor sports like skiing in winter and long walks and hikes in the summer.”

Anjum is all set to bring out a new book next year and she also plans to expand her spice brand called Spice Tailor that she hopes she can bring to India some day.When it comes to creating excellent Indian food, Anjum has a few tips to offer. “Always make sure you find the right balance of spices,” she says. “Don’t buy old spices that are available in the stores. Learn to make fresh spices in your kitchen. Also, it is important to be patient and wait till the vegetables, meats and spices are cooked or fried perfectly at each step. Good cooking always takes time and skill.”Anjum’s Spice Stories airs on weekdays at 8 pm, on TLC.

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