MISS MASALA: Mallika Basu on the eve of her book launch on Real Indian Cooking. (Bishwarup Dutta)
She can be mounted on Kurt Geiger heels and wrapped in an Austin Reed suit, but as she throws herself into the back of a black cab in a London street after sitting at her desk till eight in the evening, editing version 25 of a report, the bug in her brain just might crave only for roti. “Round, soft, fluffy rotis.” And she knows what to do about it.
Mallika Basu, eldest granddaughter of the late Jyoti Basu, is in town, though she was seen wearing chappals here. In her debut book she describes herself as a “30-something girl about town, corporate superbitch and keen Indian cook”.
While she is 32, and sweet-mannered, Calcutta will get some evidence on the third claim on Wednesday. Mallika will launch Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living at Oxford Bookstore hours after Mamata Banerjee holds her mega-July 21 rally in Esplanade.
Into her sixth month of pregnancy, Mallika, wearing a loose green top and black tights, looks quite as gorgeous as some of the dishes she describes, stopping men in their tracks, yes, literally, as she walks down Park Street. She doesn’t care much. She is on a bigger mission anyway: she is out to dispel myths, she says, about Indian food, setting her recipes within a narrative frame that is a “frank” description of her high-flying life in London as a director of a PR firm, wife of a half-British half-Peruvian fashion photographer and mother of a 16-month-old girl.
The book is based on Mallika’s blog www.quickindiancooking.com, which she started in 2006. It’s a kind of Sex and the City learns to tandoori, washed down with lots of vodka or wine. Is her lifestyle more exciting than her recipes?
In Miss Masala, Mallika teaches how to cook Jhalfrezi and “still head to the bar an hour later without reeking of eau de curry”. She also gives advice on how not to “make love” to a paste on the fire, but to “f*** it”.
While that may sound quite spicy, she also holds forth on how misrepresented Indian food has been as oily, unhealthy and requiring a long preparation time.
That someone like her, a young professional, a wife and a mother, is writing the recipes is as important as the recipes, says Mallika. When “people from all over the world logged in” to her blog, she got the idea of a book.
So what are Mallika’s recipes about? They are simple guidelines of stuff that is cooked in Indian homes, such as dal, chicken curry, raita, even boiled rice, as well as some more fancy items such as chicken pulao and chicken kathi rolls, written down without fuss and provided with the right measures of all the ingredients used.
If kasuri methi has to be used in the Matar Paneer, you will take 1 tsp of it and soak it in 2 tablespoons of hot water. The Matar Paneer for four shall be cooked in only 2 tbsp of oil. How can she be sinful in her recipes when she is as slim as that, she asks.
The granddaughter of the country’s longest-serving chief minister wants to be the “modern face of Indian cooking”.
But isn’t Miss Masala a bit of an Indian stereotype? She loves it, she says. It is “funny, irreverent and unusual”.