Mira Manek hosts supper clubs, holds Soulful Retreats and authored Saffron Soul – a cookbook that aims to challenge misconceptions about Indian cuisine with its collection of healthy recipes that have been given a modern twist. Here, we chat more about these dishes and her culinary journey...
What inspired your passion for cooking and eating healthy Indian dishes?
I was brought up eating healthy, balanced Gujarati meals such as home-made curries packed with greens, beans and dhal. It really was as good as any vegetarian diet can get in terms of variety. But later on, I moved abroad and sort of lost my way in food and health. I started snacking on low-fat and low-calorie foods, I had digestive and gut issues, I would yo-yo in terms of my weight and diet and my hair even started falling out. It dawned on me one day that the food I grew up eating was what I needed. All along, I had thought Indian food was too oily, too calorific, but in retrospect, it was nutritious. I realised this was also a universal perception and I wanted to change that.
Who taught you about Indian – and specifically Gujarati – cuisine?
My grandmother, mother and aunts. It was really a joy to be able to learn from my family and to discover from a point of fascination.
What defines your recipes and cooking style?
I combine Indian heritage recipes with modern flavours – so traditional foods that I transform by adding elements and experimenting with different ingredients.
Which recipes in Saffron Soul best represent your cooking style?
My masala grilled aubergine is a take on one of my grandmother’s signature dishes, where she would combine seven or eight spices with nuts and jaggary – a wholesome, natural sweetener – to make a mixture that she’d use to stuff aubergines used in a curry. Rather than doing that, I layer already-cooked aubergines with her mix, grill them further and top them with dill yoghurt, a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and coriander. The dish is one of contrasts – it’s soft and crisp, sweet and spicy. Shrikhand is a thick, rich and creamy yoghurt infused with saffron and cardamom, which is traditional to Gujarati cuisine. I loved to eat this as a child. I use this on top of a date and nut base to make a vegetarian mango cheesecake. It’s customary to top the yoghurt with pistachios or pomegranates, but I use mango purée and, instead of using sugar, use honey to sweeten the dish.
What’s your favourite spice?
Turmeric – even though everyone goes on about it. This healing and necessary spice is powerful and good for you. I also love cinnamon and sprinkle it everywhere.
Is there a second book on the cards?
Yes! And it will be out in September this year. It’s called Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals For Happiness, and it offers a lifestyle reboot, things you can practice and do daily to live life with more zest.