My Mother, T Krishna Kumari is a delightful book written by Dipika V Maiya on the life and times of her 83-year-old mother Krishna Kumari Khaitan, a famous Telugu actress for three decades from the 60s. The book contains some of the former actresses’ recipes and anecdotes of the family’s food habits and experiments in the kitchen. “We collected about 550 recipes and filtered them down to 300 and then to 30 recipes,” says Dipika. All recipes were tried at least four times using exact measurements of ingredients. “My ammi (mother) never had exact measurements, so it was a painstaking process to come up with proper proportions. When she was an actress, she did not know how to make a cup of tea.”
Krishna Kumari is a self-proclaimed foodie, and has spent a good deal of time perfecting dishes. “To cook well, you should be a connoisseur of good food and not be too fussy. I am open to different kinds of cuisines and styles of cooking, Indian and global,” she says. It was only after marriage that she took to activities such as gardening and cooking. “My mother was an excellent cook and I developed a taste for good food from a young age,” says Krishna Kumari. “My father studied in the UK and he encouraged us to eat eggs, which were quite unheard of in those times.”
Being married to a Marwari businessman, she has a vast repertoire of north Indian and Marwari dishes. Krishna Kumari’s mother-in-law taught her how to make Marwari-style daal, whose recipe is in the book. “My late husband was fond of daals and vegetables,” she says. In spite of coming from an orthodox vegetarian family, Krishna Kumari developed a taste for chicken and fish, and has her own tandoori chicken recipe. Being Telugu, however, she always tried out lots of typical Andhra dishes such as Gongura pachadi, mirapalla karram (red chilli chutney) eaten with hot rice and ghee, and avakai pickle (raw mango), which are in the book.
Every recipe has its own tips. Krishna Kumari says that before transferring the pickle into a storage jar, rub its base with two tablespoons of sesame oil and one tablespoons of salt. This will serve as an additional preservative.
Recipes in the Illustrated Weekly inspired her. The Rajesh Khanna Omelette is one such, with flavoured tomato paste and grated cheese. She also cooked dishes she ate while travelling the world. “I loved French onion soup, and through trial and error I came up with a simple recipe,” she says. Her caramel custard recipe is simple and well explained in the book: while caramelising the sugar, add one tablespoon orange/lemon marmalade and mix in for a tangy summer flavour.
Krishna Kumari believes there are too many cookery shows on TV and plenty of recipes on the Internet. “It’s become easy to learn for everyone and anyone, which is a good thing,” she says. Her bisibele bhaath and sambar recipes are her own. “I am careful when I cook and don’t like to take unneccessary risks,” she explains. “I am allergic to salty food and always use a less salt. It’s easy to add salt later, but nothing can be done if the dish is already too salty.”
Her son-in-law Vikram Maiya relishes her cooking. Says Dipika, “He loves ammi’s kheema bally curry, appam and stew and Burmese bhel. I remember having to stop him after his twelveth appam once. Ammi learnt the recipe for Burmese bhel from her friend Rosalie, who had lived in Burma.”
The book is published by Maiya Publishing and is priced at Rs 3,000.