‘Although I’ve travelled a lot, family has been my root, and I’m now back living near my grandmother, parents, uncles and aunts in north-west London. Food has always been where everyone came together.
‘My grandmother and mother taught me how to cook. Their recipes were classic Gujarati dishes, and the flavours so traditional that when I had moved away from eating Indian food as a teenager, travelling to India as an adult and eating it again was like coming home.
‘I lost my passion for Indian food at about age 16, when I put on weight and stopped eating what I saw as unhealthy food. But when, at age 30, I was living abroad and travelling to India, it dawned on me that I needed to return to healthy Indian food. And that’s become my mission: to tell the world that Indian food doesn’t just have to be heavy and indulgent.
‘My style of cooking now is adapting the recipes I’ve grown up eating into my own takes. I try and focus on healthy versions of classic Gujarati food — fewer fried snacks and more freshness. A bhel, for instance, is a traditional Indian snack, usually a medley of potatoes, chutneys and chick peas. I add chopped spinach and coriander to my version to boost the freshness, and use sweet potato instead of white potato. My absolute favourite dessert is shrikhand, which is a thick, strained yogurt with sugar, saffron and cardamom. I do a variation in cheesecake form, with a blended mango topping, which makes it more flavoursome.
‘When we get together as a family, sometimes I cook, but it’s more likely to be my grandmother, mother or aunts who make the traditional dishes. We still eat the same ones — they’re timeless. For a celebration, we would probably have a thali, which is a combination of different curries, with a dahl, salad and roti. And always something sweet. (For Diwali, it’s mainly sweets!) If it’s a big event, we would go for four curries instead of just two, with some fried snacks on the side. My grandmother would probably make her whole stuffed green chilli curry. It’s her signature dish.
‘For Diwali [4 November this year], we go all-out and start cooking the week before. This is usually a big celebration in our family, but this will be the first year without my grandfather, who passed away at the age of 95. He taught us the significance of Diwali and brought us all together. Circumstances permitting, we normally spend the morning visiting elders, and from 3pm have friends and family popping in to our house for food. I love it — it’s a real celebration of culture, tradition, food and family.’ @miramanek
Indian summers salad (V) (GF)
‘This salad is one of those dishes that never stops receiving compliments, especially since people expect kale to taste a little bitter and chewy. For me, the sweet dates and strawberries work in perfect harmony with the lime-infused coriander dressing. Then, of course, you have that necessary crunch from the flaked almonds’
Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish • Ready in 15 mins, plus soaking
- 70g kale, finely chopped, thick stalks removed
- 150g Co-op British red cabbage, finely chopped
- 5 pitted dates, chopped
- 150g Co-op strawberries, chopped, plus a few extra
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- Handful Co-op flaked almonds
FOR THE DRESSING
- 40g Co-op cashew nuts
- 3 tbsp Co-op low fat natural yogurt
- Handful coriander
- Juice of ¼ lime
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- 80ml coconut water
- ¼ green chilli
- First, mix together all the dressing ingredients and leave to soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible.
- In a large bowl, mix together the kale, cabbage, dates, strawberries and sesame seeds. You can do this just before serving, or make a few hours in advance and keep in the fridge until ready to dress and serve.
- Blend the dressing in a food processor and season to taste, adding extra lime or chilli if you like. When ready to eat, drizzle the dressing over the salad. Quarter the extra strawberries and sprinkle them over the salad along with the flaked almonds.
Coriander & ginger chhaas (V) (GF)
‘Chhaas is a slightly more refreshing version of lassi, and is less heavy as the yogurt is mixed with water. It is naturally cooling, which is why there are so many variations in the hotter climates — chhaas and lassi in India, ayran in Turkey and laban in the Middle East. There are many ways to serve chhaas, but the one thing that remains constant for the Indian version is the ground cumin’
Serves 2 Ready in 5 mins, plus chilling
- 400g Co-op low fat natural yogurt
- 1½ tsp ground cumin
- 3 tbsp chopped coriander, plus extra to serve
- 2.5cm ginger, peeled and grated
- Put all the ingredients in a food processor with 400ml water, and blend until smooth. Pour into a jug and leave in the fridge for about an hour to chill.
- Serve with extra chopped coriander leaves sprinkled into each glass.
Rajma (Simple kidney bean curry) (VG) (GF)
‘There’s something about kidney beans that really reminds me of my childhood — coming home from school raring to eat, and always being so excited when it was kidney bean and potato curry with hot roti. My mother would balance the plate with one green curry, whether we liked it or not, which is why I still love eating greens. So here it is, a simple kidney bean curry, but without the potato’
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side • Ready in 25 mins
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp mustard seeds (optional)
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 5cm ginger, peeled and grated
- 4 garlic cloves, grated
- 1–2 green chillies, finely chopped
- 1½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 3–4 tomatoes, chopped
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 x 400g cans Co-op red kidney beans, drained
- 4 tbsp passata or tomato purée
- Squeeze of lime
- Handful coriander, chopped
- Melt the rapeseed oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, then add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, if using. When they start to pop, add the onions. Cook for 2-3 mins, until lightly browned, then add the ginger, garlic and chilli, and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add all the remaining ingredients except the chopped coriander, plus 200ml water, and cook over a low heat for at least 10 mins, stirring regularly. Stir the chopped coriander into the curry to serve.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Find the recipe that Mira serves as a welcome drink to Diwali visitors on coop.co.uk/recipes — search ‘badaam doodh masala almond milk’
Saffron Soul by Mira Manek (Jacqui Small LLP) is available now. miramanek.com