So pleased to be working with the wonderful Mira Manek, author of her debut coobook Saffron Soul which is out now. Combining her Indian heritage and healthy eating, she has created a wonderful book of light dishes full of flavour.
Our interview below.
What is your earliest memory of spice?
My cookbook Saffron Soul actually begins with a little funny anecdote from when I was a teenager and came home from Covent Garden with a small £3 pack of fenugreek seeds and showed it to my grandmother – apparently it’s good for cholesterol and you should put it in your curries, I told her. She pulled out a large jar laughing away. My first truly revelationary memory of a spice, long before I really understood anything about the goodness and health benefits of spices and all our Indian cupboard ingredients.
Managing spices can be intimidating to the uninitiated — do you have any tips to demystify this gorgeous art?
The first thing I would say about spices is using them in the right, and usually very small, quantities. Hence having them in a round tin or masala dabba is quite important. Spices in different jars might look lovely but is somewhat impractical, especially when you’re cooking a curry and you need to add a few spices in different quantities. If you spend time opening and closing each jar, one of the spices might burn while you’re reaching for the next and you may end up spilling some. The round masala box, on the other hand, is much easier to use. You can use one spoon for all the spices and just add the quantities you want.
If there was a cooking explosion in your kitchen, what would be the one spice you would salvage?
Your passionate about healthy eating. Can you tell us what this means for you?
Healthy eating is a lifestyle, and the only way to make it a daily habit is to ensure everything has ample flavour. This doesn’t mean excessive salt, but if you have bland boiled broccoli as an option in the fridge, you’ll get tired of it. So it’s all about having options handy and adding a little spice, whether it’s a cumin flavoured dressing, a yoghurt coriander sauce or adding some maple chilli seeds and nuts as a garnish. Indian food lends itself really well to healthy eating that is full of flavour because different amounts of spices and different combinations of spices result in very different flavours, making the dishes more interesting and varied.
Who inspires you?
I take inspiration from so many restaurants I visit, beautiful creations and food art that I come across on social media and in magazines, but ultimately the journey began with my grandmother and the way she makes a home-cooked Indian Gujarati meal still inspires me. She still rules the kitchen!
How often to you chuck out your old fusty spices. Are there are good tips you can give our readers for managing and maintaining their own spice kitchens?
The best thing about spices is that they don’t have a quick expiry date. They usually stay good for over a year, unless you live in a very hot country.
Experimentation is part of the beauty of Indian food. But experimentation generally leads to disaster for us mere mortals, are their any guidelines you can give?
Many of my creations have come about from experimenting with spices and ingredients, trying things that I can imagine tasting good and then getting very excited when it works out! I only started experimenting once I understood how to use the spices, learning a few curries from my mother and grandmother, but that’s really all it takes. Trying out a few recipes from maybe a few different chefs and cookbooks (mine included, of course) and then thinking about how, for example, a little ground coriander and ground cumin might take in say a quinoa and tofu stir fry. That’s just an example, but start off by adding just a little of something, then build it (once it’s in, you can’t remove it, so always start with a pinch).
Today seems to be the age of the Instagram chef, how do you use social media as a chef, and how can our readers connect more and learn more online?
I love instagram and post at least once a day. It’s a brilliant way of connecting with other chefs, finding inspiration and gaining more interest. Pinterest is also great for creating boards of inspiration and twitter as another tool for connecting and promoting. Lastly, I know that Facebook is really important and need to start using it more. Of all these, I definitely think instagram is the most important.