Once upon a time, a curly-haired girl slumped in her kitchen and sighed. Her worktop resembled the aftermath of Holi; a trail of spices that she’d toasted, roasted and ground to the recipe’s precise instructions. And the result? Yet another failure. Maybe she just didn’t have what it took. Dejected, she was about to reach for the takeaway menu, when a fairy godmother appeared. Tearing the menu before the girl could use it, the fairy godmother encouraged her not to give up. “You can do it, I promise.” So the girl tried once more, this time guided by the fairy godmother’s expertise, reassurance and passion. And everything changed.
That fairy godmother was Kaushy Patel, and to say that she’s transformed the way that this curly-haired girl feels about Indian cookery would be an understatement. She’s given me a confidence that I never thought I’d have; a confidence to not only succeed in creating Indian dishes that taste good, but to also make these dishes a staple in my weekly diet. A midweek curry, after work, made from scratch? No biggie, thanks to Kaushy and the wise words eloquently woven through her debut cookbook, Prashad.
Even if Kaushy’s name is new to you, Prashad’s probably isn’t. A brilliant Leeds success story, Prashad is a family-run Indian vegetarian restaurant that was propelled to infamy when it was crowned runner-up of Ramsay’s Best Restaurant 2010. But its story started nearly 25 years before, when Kaushy and her husband opened it as a small community deli dedicated to serving the vegetarian Gujurati food that she’d grown up with as a child in North India.
Part cookbook, part memoir, Prashad is the story of Kaushy’s relationship with Gujurati cuisine; a lifelong love affair that began when she moved to Pradi to live with her grandparents at the age of four. Mothers and grandmothers are often the source of a great cook’s inspiration and Kaushy is no different, recounting a happy childhood spent learning to cook under her grandmother’s expert tutelage. But amidst the usual bestowal of tips, tricks and skills, Kaushy’s grandmother taught her something else – an endearing approach to cookery that sets Prashad apart from many other cookbooks. She taught Kaushy to ‘cook with love’. A simple but powerful concept, ‘cooking with love’ articulates a way of viewing food as much more than just sustenance. It’s about using food to bring families and communities together. “The pleasure and sense of achievement in making wonderful meals for yourself, your family or your friends can bring a glow to the face and a smile to the heart.” Kaushy writes. “Love is the most important ingredient”.
That rare cookbook that you devour like a compelling novel, Kaushy’s Prashad is a poignant narrative of the impact that her grandmother’s approach to cookery has had on her life. She shares recipes like memories, letting the role that food plays in family occasions take centre stage. Sukhu Bataka are the staple of Patel family picnics; Makai is a tradition at a friend’s annual bonfire party; Ratalu is a dish that Kaushy loves to cook for her husband. More than just a cookbook, Prashad feels like a precious family heirloom; a scrapbook of the Patel family’s recipes and memories that’s ready to be passed onto the next generation.
And that next generation is you. Because that’s how Kaushy makes you feel as she shares the tips and skills that she inherited from her grandmother. So encouraging are her words that, at times, you forget you’re reading. You feel as if she’s in the kitchen with you, guiding you through your spice tin and demonstrating the different techniques of Gujurati cookery. She comprehensively describes unfamiliar spices, seasonings and ingredients in terms that those not of an Indian heritage can understand, along with suitable substitutions and pictures for those occasions when you pull a spice bag out of your cupboard with absolutely no recollection of what it is. (We’ve all been there, right?) As I read, I felt my confidence grow, encouraged by Kaushy’s words that I could master it. That Indian cookery isn’t a closely guarded secret for a chosen few, it’s something within everyone’s reach.
Since receiving Prashad earlier this year, I’ve tested a lot of its recipes and I’ve been amazed to find that they’ve all worked. All of them. They’re easy to follow, the language is uncomplicated, and they’re illustrated by beautiful photography so you understand exactly what the dish should look like when you’re done. And best of all, they’re simple. Really simple. Particular favourites are Paneer Masala, a butter-rich and spicy tomato-based curry; and Lasan Mushroom, a coriander-infused twist on my favourite comfort food, garlic mushrooms. That frustrated girl, slumped in a ravaged kitchen with nothing to show for her efforts but a pile of burnt pans? Gone. She just needed the right teacher.
I haven’t yet tried a Prashad recipe that I haven’t loved, but there is one recipe that’s become very special to me. It’s that recipe that you stumble upon in every cherished cookbook, that stand-out dish that makes your head grow a little bit bigger as you realise that these amazing flavours have been created by you. For Prashad, that recipe is Paneer Tikka.
There’s nothing overly complicated about the recipe itself. Combine the ingredients to make a marinade. Stir in the paneer and vegetables. Leave in the fridge overnight. Assemble the kebabs. Griddle. Serve. Indian cookery at its simplest, it’s the addition of Kaushy’s magic ingredient that makes these kebabs special; the dish I turn to when I really want to treat someone.
Cooking with love.
It starts with the careful selection of ingredients: the freshest peppers; the firmest paneer; the finest spices. It’s that slow assembly of the ingredients as I prepare the marinade; that careful measurement of each individual spice, that tender massage of paneer and vegetables to ensure that every slice and cube is generously coated. It’s that anticipation as the ingredients mingle overnight; that excitement as I retrieve them from the fridge 24 hours later and inhale the intoxicating, spicy aromas that have developed. It’s that sizzle as each skewer meets the searing griddle pan, that sensation as my fork taps the char that has swept across the paneer’s surface. And it’s that look on that special someone’s face as they devour my creation, that acknowledgement that this is more than just a meal. That this is cooking with love.
“Cooking is a gift that is within everyone’s reach” writes Kaushy, and in Prashad, she bestows that gift generously. A genuine fairy godmother of Indian cookery, Kaushy not only teaches you the skills you need to produce Gujurati cuisine that doesn’t resemble a pinterest fail board, she also changes your mindset to cooking altogether. She reminds you of cooking for pleasure; of cooking to relax; of cooking with love. I genuinely cannot recommend this cookbook enough, so I urge you – buy it, try it and cook with love.
Disclaimer: I was sent Prashad’s cookbook in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. As should be apparent, all opinions expressed are my own – I adored this cookbook.