Chef Tara Deshpande On Deconstructing Indian Dishes
Veteran British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood had once said, “Don’t just eat McDonald’s, get something a bit better. Eat a salad. That’s what fashion is. It’s something that is a bit better.” Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s book An Indian Sense of Salad: Eat Raw, Eat More, perhaps taps into that space of doing better and eating better as she deconstructs classic Indian dishes to their raw form, creating salads that on their own make for healthy and satisfying meals.
Tara recounts that both her grandmothers and mother were quite innovative in the kitchen. Having started her career as a model (she was a Miss India finalist) and an actor, she pursued her love for cooking by training at the French Culinary Institute in New York and at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and London. Currently based out of Boston, the author says that the one thing she always misses when she is in India is fresh, lightly dressed salads. Although in the last 5-6 years there has been a big improvement in the availability of different kinds of greens and the overall popularity of salads, a salad can be expensive if one uses important ingredients. Hence she wished to write a book that used ingredients that were easily and cheaply available in the marketplace.
“I wanted people to know that salads can be entire meals. They can be wholesome, satisfying and the best of all they can be easy to make.”
She says, “In the Indian culture, salad is a small side dish and has never made it beyond the speck of koshmibri or a katori of raita served in the corner of a thali. I wanted people to know that salads can be entire meals. They can be wholesome, satisfying and the best of all they can be easy to make. Raw food, vegan food can be quite sophisticated. But salads are not just diet food. They are exciting at so many levels because you get to taste the real flavour of vegetables and fruits and that’s very different from when they’ve been boiled to death.”
The author asserts that the obvious misconception against salads is they are raw so they can cause illnesses – “…But so can rotten meat, vegetables or spoiled boiled rice,” she exclaims.
The book began as one that used ingredients Indians throw away, to make salad. Beetroots are so popular but beet leaves are hardly used although they have more nutritional values than the beet itself. Same with radish – people toss the leaves. Horsegram is very healthy but it’s often fed to cattle. Cold pressed oils are much more flavourful (and cheaper) yet most Indian kitchens use refined oils. The real Eureka moment came for Tara when she realized that India has the greatest vegetarian heritage in the world. Why not be inspired by what has worked as a flavour for thousands of years?
“So, I took classic Indian recipes like Beetroot Thoran and Sarson Da Saag and used all the components of these dishes to make their raw versions. I replaced the method of hot tempering (tadka) that breaks oil down sometimes into unhealthy chemicals with cold fusion using the same oil and spices. Our vegan and vegetarian recipes have unbeatable flavour combinations already, I just put them together differently.”
Just like farmers are often asked to get rid of the middleman, the author informs that raw produce gets rid of many processed products we consume along the way. When one cooks at home, they know how much oil and salt they use and also control the freshness and quality of the food.
“This is not only a health book – I have meticulously focused on flavour that encourages you to revel in the true glory of nature’s best seeds, oils, grains, and vegetables.”
“Boiling and endless sauteing of food destroys many water-soluble minerals and vitamins which never get to your body. This is not only a health book – I have meticulously focused on flavour that encourages you to revel in the true glory of nature’s best seeds, oils, grains, and vegetables.”
Tara, who has also written the cookbook, A Sense for Spice: Recipes and Stories from a Konkan Kitchen, adds that her primary focus was to create something that looks good and tastes good – “people with their eyes first.”
The chef feels that in thinking out of the box and delving into age-old Indian culinary traditions, one can never go wrong. She soon plans to start working on another cookbook, start on food photography and cooking classes at her culinary studio.