The winning cook is all smiles in a bustling kitchen
Q&A with panfusine
It’s midnight and you’re hungry. Do you reach for something savory or sweet?
Definitely something savory, my favorite is usually a piece of cheese.
An ideal dinner party includes a) 2 people, b) 4 – 6 people, or c) 8 or more.
About 4-6 guests, this way, there is enough of a quorum that I can cook comfortably and still spend quality time with every one of them.
How did you first become interested in cooking?
My dad's influence. He was a passionate foodie, way before it became the "in" thing. I have a long way to go before I can get anywhere near his knack for perfectly reverse-engineering food. He could recreate most dishes that were served in restaurants to a T. I inherited his passion and learned techniques from my mom.
If you were reincarnated as a single dish, what would you be?
Yogurt rice, a classic south Indian comfort food. It’s the proverbial vanilla of the cuisine, but one can never go wrong with it!
Describe your weekend cooking style.
I spend it cooking for the family -- traditional dishes, cooked at a relaxed, easygoing pace. New dishes for my blog, I usually tackle during the week when the kids are at school.
Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
Oh boy, I still cringe when I think about it. I had invited a friend from my lab over for dinner during my graduate school days. I knew that she could not tolerate spicy food, so I made some yogurt rice as part of the menu. I popped out to the neighborhood grocery to pick up some jalapeños for the dish (just a teensy bit for the aroma, which I knew was within my guest's tolerance limit). They were out of jalapeños, so I had to make do with this light green, delicate-looking pepper that kind of resembled a miniature bell pepper. I happily added the pepper, made the dish, and shoved a large spoon into my mouth to taste for seasoning. Two seconds later I felt my head EXPLODE. Those cute looking things were Scotch bonnet peppers!! That’s the last time I ever bought one!
What music (if any) do you listen to in the kitchen?
It depends upon my mood, but it ranges from ABBA to Bach and Mozart, with a smattering of Neil Diamond in between!
Which cookbook(s) do you reach for most often?
I have this notebook of recipes that my mom dictated to me before she passed away. I cling to it, absolutely refusing to memorize the dishes. As for the cookbooks I reach out for most often, these are the ones I use the most. They're great not just for the recipes, but also for the sheer pleasure of reading about food: Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts by Ammini Ramachandran, Modern Spice by Monica Bhide, The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, and Masala Farm by Suvir Saran.
What is your most cherished food tradition?
Friday evenings are reserved for dishes from other cuisines of the world -- French, Italian, Thai, Mexican. On Saturday mornings, it’s usually traditional south Indian brunch with the family. Dosai (rice and lentil crepes) and idli (the steamed version of the same dosai batter) with coconut chutney and sambhar (a stew made with pigeon peas) -- just like it was when I was a child.