It is a bright sunny morning and I am sitting at Tara Deshpande’s sea-facing apartment in Mumbai. As we chat, she gets busy preparing breakfast in the kitchen. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe!” she tells me as she pours the batter into a waffle-maker. Once ready, we head to the balcony where a table has been laid for us. We sit down to eat our waffles from pretty blue plates and continue our conversation on food, travel, Mumbai and her latest cookbook.
Tara’s second book An Indian Sense of Salad – Eat Raw, Eat More is a “labour of love”, she says. It shows how to use local Indian ingredients to prepare salads from around the world. The book features 86 recipes and are “all tested” on her husband. “He now has a stomach of steel!” she laughs.
Tara’s earliest memory of eating salads was at home prepared by her mother. “In those days salad ingredients were hard to find, and varieties of lettuce were limited to iceberg, and on a really good day, she’d find romaine,” she says. A young Tara remembers her mother use the American dressing Thousand Island out of a bottle. Later she started making her own version, which she called Seven Island dressing. “Since it was a Bombay version!” she smiles.
Although Indian cooking draws a lot of influence from other cultures, we never really borrowed salads as such. Even today, it is treated as a side in most Indian homes. “We have so much vegetarian choice so why bother? However, I have concluded that in India raw food is either for sick people or associated with penance. In the Ramayana, being in exile meant eating berries, leaves and root vegetables. And who wants to eat something associated with misery? she opines.
But it is their versatility that made the former actress come up with a book dedicated to salads. “I believe that the natural flavour of fruits and vegetables can only be experienced eating them raw. It has tremendous beauty when prepared correctly, and it can be served as any meal—lunch, brunch, dinner or even as a palate cleanser,” she says adding how she always wanted to write a cookbook using local ingredients and spice palates so that the preparation of a salad would be both easy and cost effective for Indians. Expect Tara to deconstruct popular Indian recipes such as vindaloo, undhiyo, sarson da saag and dhansak in their raw form to create fun salads in this book. The reason being, “Indian recipes are ancient and complex. Their flavour combinations are tried and tested. So, if they taste good in their cooked form, I thought they would work well with some tweaking in their raw forms too.” The passionate cook and food writer admits that salads are America’s gift to the world. After all, the world’s most-loved salads come from the US—Caesar, Cobb or Waldorf, she says.
Tara’s interest in food history made for some interesting discoveries while writing the book. “Salad is a very continental term, and therefore remained on Gymkhana menus and big weddings. The salad bar was the saddest, loneliest part of the buffet. Never understood why people would eat cold potato glob when the stand next to it is serving hot bhaturas!” she wonders.
An Indian Sense of Salad also sums up Tara’s travels around the world and how she was inspired by varying tastes to whip up her own renditions back home. Be it Myanmar’s sheer variety of raw elements on the menu, the seven-layered salad from her husband’s hometown in Minnesota or the fatoush from the Middle East, the book is a treasure trove for anyone who loves a good salad. “But my favourite place to eat salads has to be at Nougatine at Jean-Georges in New York. “Their salads are served as appetisers, and their Tuna Tartare salad with raw tuna, avocado, spicy radish and a tangy vinaigrette is a classic,” she signs off.
An Indian Sense of Salad – Eat Raw, Eat More is available on Amazon, Flipkart and bookstores.