CHENNAI: She spent a lot of time in the kitchen during her childhood. No, not cooking but with her notebooks and pens. Her mother would help her with her homework while stirring the pans or cutting vegetables and the little girl would watch her cook.
Almost four decades later, Sreeja Jayaraman has launched her second cookbook Happiness is a stomach full, an honest-to-goodness Kerala cuisine. The book not only includes authentic recipes from god’s own country but also folk stories, meal suggestions and nutritional description to various spices and herbs. City Express got in touch with Sreeja to talk about her spicy journey. Excerpts…
I was in my early teens when I made fish for my father. Mum was away, dad knew nothing about cooking, and eating out in restaurants was not an option. That was my first experience with cooking and it wasn’t bad
Inspired by her mom
She made time enjoyable with little treats; simple delights like a handful of fresh coconut and jaggery, a few cashew nuts and raisins to nibble as she made payasam or a knob of freshly churned white butter. They were nothing fancy but that experience remains unforgettable. I’ve grown up watching my parents cultivate their own vegetables even in a city like Mumbai. Fresh brinjal, beans, gourds, amaranth and greens naturally influenced my diet. I was probably the only child who didn’t get biscuits in my snack box. Mum loved to cook and focused more on good nutrition than quick and ready solutions despite the fact that she was a working woman. Today when I cook, I am at my happiest because her food philosophy has had such a positive influence on me.
Chennai foodies, listen up!
My husband, who is originally from Palakkad, has many relatives in Chennai. To every foodie who hasn’t yet tried or isn’t very fond of Kerala cuisine, try some of these recipes. The theeyal is a tangy, sweet and spicy vegetable preparation; maampazham pulesheri is a spiced buttermilk with mangoes, inji puli, which is a sweet and fiery ginger sauce, and avial, are a must try for all vegetarians. Our sambar made without coconut is different because it uses vegetables like cluster beans and ash gourd. Fish in roasted coconut gravy, chemmeen kari or prawn curry, the meat stu and biryani are some unique and unforgettable preparations that sea food and meat lovers will relish.
It began with simply cooking every day and writing down the recipes in a journal. The pages filled with notes on idlis, sambar, fish curry, payasams and sweets. Food stories and proverbs from childhood followed thereafter. When all these beautiful stories and proverbs punctuated the recipes so fluidly, the idea transformed into my cookbook Happiness is a stomach full. The recipes in the book celebrate the wonderful tastes and flavours of home-cooked food. I wanted to showcase the wide varieties of vegetarian cooking that focus on incorporating seasonal produce along with the beautiful coastal and meat preparation made in most homes in Kerala.
Your future plans?
My blog www.happinessfoods.in is just evolving and will feature more of my food experiences and recipes. I am also working on launching my own restaurant, offering Kerala cuisine, which will take shape in the near future.