Mallika Basu: Food writer and cookbook author, Evening Standard columnist.
We are delighted that Mallika Basu – Indian Cook, food writer and author – is attending this year’s Ginger and Spice Festival 2019. Mallika regularly writes a food column in the Evening Standard Newspaper in which she shares simple yet delicious simply spiced recipes for modern living which she enjoys while leading a busy life in London. Mallika has a YouTube channel on which she also shares her latest creations and recipes. We caught up with Mallika to find out what she loves most about spice and Indian food.
Who or what has influenced your style of cooking?
My style of cooking is very much inspired by my busy everyday life and how my family ate. I am forever rushing around, working, looking after my children, enjoying the company of my friends and I am health conscious without being militant. I also reflect the way we were brought up in Kolkata, West Bengal, where our bustling household would have to prepare several course meals catering for many dietary preferences. The food was always simple, wholesome and packed with flavour. Of course, I was also very influenced by chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson when I first started cooking. I loved how they demystified ingredients and made cooking so accessible – it inspires me to this day.
Why are spices important to your cuisine?
India is the home of spices with a rich history and heritage dating back thousands of years. I grew up with them and they are always at the heart of the meals I cook. I love how they can transform something so simple into something completely nuanced, and how altering quantities can give you an entirely different result – even when you’re cooking with the same collection of spices. To me, they are the quickest way to inject flavour into food.
Do you have a favourite spice for cooking with?
This is a tough call. I ran out of chilli powder once, and it was briefly traumatic. But the one I love to use is Hing, or asafoetida. It infuses dishes with a wonderful buttery flavour and can be used as a substitute for onions saving time and tears.
Tell us how traditional Bengali Food differs from the recipes you develop today?
How long have we got! Bengali cooking is wonderfully subtle and fresh. There are a small handful of ingredients that play a big role – like our five-spice mix called Panch Phoron. It comprises equal parts of nigella seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and brown mustard seeds. It features in curried chicken and fish, sautéed vegetables as well as spicy sweet chutneys. Ginger, mustard as a paste and oil, whole green chillies and whole spices also feature widely. But there is a method to recipes and we Bengalis are particular about what is and isn’t accepted. The recipes I develop for my Simply Spiced column are more about texture, flavour and putting your spice cupboard to excellent use. They are inspired by the food of different nations but not authentic to a culture or a specific cuisine.
How does Bengali food differ from the ‘curry’ we have come to love in the U.K.?
It’s a whole different cuisine and there is very little similarity to be honest. The gravies in Bengali food are a lot lighter and even with the richer dishes, there is a lightness of spicing. In our famous Chingri Malai Kari, prawn and coconut milk curry, there are only three whole spices and three ground spices used. And this is a celebratory dish with a lavish way about it!
What do you like most about traditional British cuisine?
I find traditional British food very comforting and it’s a brilliant way to get the family involved in cooking. A Sunday Roast is enormously satisfying and we love a “full English” breakfast at home. When I first arrived in England, my mother-in-law taught me how to make all the classics and we enjoy them to this day.
What is your favourite Anglo/Indian dish?
This is hands down a kedgeree. I make it all the time – for fancy brunches with friends and family lunches.
Desert Island: Which spice, cook book and cooking utensil would you take with you?
I would probably take chilli powder, my cookbook Masala and a pot for cooking. I am assuming the Desert Island will have salt and something that can be vaguely fashioned into a wooden spoon…
Ginger and Spice Festival 2019
You can see Mallika Basu demonstrating in the Live Cookery Theatre at this year’s Ginger and Spice Festival on Saturday 28th September 2019 from 1pm.
Her cookbook Masala is available on Amazon and she will be signing copies after her demo.
For timings and all information about the Ginger and Spice Festival including the events, please visit the what’s on section of the website: www.gingerandspicefest.co.uk