Let’s start with some history. How did you get interested in cooking and what makes you love it?
I grew up watching my grandmother, aunts and mother cook elaborate meals especially during festival times when family members came together to celebrate. As a teenager, I would lend them a helping hand doing preparatory work like chopping vegetables, rolling out puris, crushing spices in a mortar and pestle or grating fresh coconut.
I am passionate about Indian food, traditional recipes handed down by the elders of the family and have been documenting family recipes since my college years. When I gave up my government job to be a full time mother, I spent time in the kitchen like never before. I enjoy my visit to the farmer’s market to buy fresh vegetables, cooking with seasonal fresh ingredients and discovering new flavors especially regional Indian cuisines (thanks to the internet and cookbooks). My family enjoys good food and that motivates me to bring healthy and tasty food to the table each day.
According to you, what are the defining aspects of a good cook?
A good cook is one who is able to whip up a meal with the available ingredients on hand, using the freshest of ingredients, without compromising on cooking techniques and adds a lot of love to the dish.
Talking of your own cooking, what are some dishes that you love to prepare?
I love to prepare dishes that my family enjoys. Simple every day subzis that go with roti and rice. Our mid day meal is a typical Andhra thali, 5 days a week. I use fresh vegetables (from my local farmer’s market), a lot of greens, lentils and whole grains including millet, oats and barley in my everyday cooking. I enjoy baking, preparing tiffin items and quick healthy snacks for my son.
What is your idea of a good and complete meal?
You share a lot of Indian recipes on your blog. Which is your favourite non-Indian cuisine?
I have a lot of favorites and in recent past I have been relishing Mediterranean cuisine. My all time favorite non-Indian cuisines are Italian and Mexican.
I am sure you will be trying out recipes from cook books and from other bloggers; How much of experimenting do you do with these recipes? What is the sort of experimentation that you do with such recipes?
I do not experiment with traditional authentic recipes and I follow them the way they have been passed on by the elders in my family. I follow the same rule with authentic recipes of other cuisines too. I mostly try out baking recipes, cakes, cookies, chocolates, western desserts, salads and soups from cookbooks and other blogs. I follow the recipe to the T but sometimes deviate to give an Indian twist by using Indian flavours and herbs like coriander, mint, methi in place of thyme, rosemary or dill. There are many ingredients that are unavailable in our parts of the country which non-Indian cuisines call for and hence I substitute and experiment. Many a time they work out while sometimes it is a disaster!
Presentation of food is as important as the food itself. Can you share some tips on presenting food attractively?
My approach to presentation of food is simple. I love the simple garnish of fresh curry leaves or fresh coriander or topping a chutney with tempered spices and curry leaves (without mixing it) for visual appeal.
You seem to be doing food photography too. What are some of the things you focus on when capturing food through photographs?
Food photography is an ongoing learning process and I am still taking baby steps. I intend upgrading to a DSLR from a point and shoot that I presently use for my food photographs. I am working on improving my food photography skills. I take pictures only in natural light and never shoot after 3-4 pm.
There’s much talk about vegetarianism these days. What are your thoughts on vegetarianism?
90% of our family diet is vegetarian with an occasional bit of meat or fish thrown in. I believe that lean meat and fish when incorporated with a diet of fiber, grains, vegetables and fruits is good. It’s a personal lifestyle choice.
There are a huge number of food blogs on the Internet today. What do you feel sets you apart in this space?
I am an early entry to the food blogging space and that is the only thing that sets me apart from majority of the Indian food bloggers. I have been reasonably consistent in updating my blog on a regular basis. I try my best to meet the expectations of my loyal readers. They are the ones who keep me going and motivated.
Sailaja’s Food blog – http://www.sailusfood.com
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