CHENNAI: Gujarat’s rich history traces its roots to the Indus Valley Civilization and boasts of a rich historical connection with various dynasties such as Chalukyas, Sultans, Mughals, and Marathas. A significant port state, it’s also had a fair share of global interactions and trade exchanges.
And surely, their cuisine has been influenced by all these factors. However, like all regional cuisines, Gujarati cuisine has received skewed representation in the media. Ask a novice to list a few food items from Gujarati cuisine and they are most likely to say “Thepla, khandvi, khakhra and dhokla”.
But turn a few pages of Parul Bhatt’s coffee table cookbook, Parul’s Magic - Everyday Delicious easy-to-cook Gujarati dishes, and you’ll be introduced to a myriad of dishes. The book takes us on a delectable journey into the nitty-gritties of the Gujarati palate — particularly the Bhatt community.
After four years of putting her heart and soul into her passion project, the home chef and director of Prism PR released her book on her social media accounts and official website in early August. The book has found its way to people in different pockets of the country.
Her phone’s been buzzing with drool-worthy images sent by readers who tried their hand at the delicacies. “Given the pandemic, I never expected an overwhelming response. A common feedback I received was that people from the Jain community were happy to find a good number of items without onion and garlic.
The accuracy of the recipe reflects from the pictures of the dish they shared with me. I’m glad that it struck a chord with people from all communities and regions,” shares Parul.
A native touch
The cover of the book wears a Bandhani design, representing the local tie-dye textile; and an image of the traditional Gujarati thali. The book is a compilation of 145 recipes — across soups, drinks, salads, raita, chutney, rice, khichdi, Indian bread, dal, kadhi, sabji, snacks, one-pot meal, sweets, festive recipes, namkeen, and masalas — and 45 attractive images.
Parul hopes the easy recipes helps to push first-timers into cooking. “There isn’t a book exclusively for Gujarati cuisine except for the one by Tarla Dalal, at least to my knowledge. Years ago, I had to jot down a few Gujarati recipes and pass it on to my elder daughter Priyanka, who moved abroad after marriage.
Likewise, I had to motivate my younger one, Pooja, to whip up a few easy recipes to manage the kitchen in my absence. I curated about 40 recipes by 2014 and that grew to 70 by 2016. Then began the journey to complete the book,” shares Parul.
Cooking up diversity
The four pillars of Gujarati food culture are Kathiyawadi cuisine of Saurashtra, Surti cuisine of Surat, Amdavadi cuisine of Ahmedabad and Kutchi cuisine of Kutch. Each is said to have its unique flavours, depending on the topography.
Parul has restricted to delicacies from Ahmedabad and central Gujarat. “Since Kutch is a desert area, people prepare dry items, depending on the vegetables available. Surat is known as the dairy hub; so, they like their curries creamy and rich.
People in Saurashtra like it spicy and oily. I have documented the Bhatt family’s way of cooking. Every recipe was cooked by me in our kitchen and photographed at our home during the lockdown,” elaborates Parul, who has been doling out a variety of healthy pickle and snack options to patrons.
Growing up, Parul picked up most of her cooking skills peering into pots and pans, watching as spices were thrown in with familiar hands. “There’s a misconception that Gujarati cuisine is generally sweet. There’s a scientific reason behind how we balance our flavours.
We always add a tinge of jaggery to the final output for its rich iron content. Likewise, tadka, or tempering, also brings out the distinct taste in every item. We prepare it with mustard, fenugreek, asafoetida, cumin seeds — add it to hot oil and allow it to simmer. The vessel you cook in also matters. To date, I use cast iron and brass. I stick to the slow-cooking method,” explains Parul.
Beyond the staples
“Gujarati cuisine serves a pop of colours on your plate. You’ll find plenty of chutneys, juicy syrups, and other accompaniments, even with chaat and snacks, to accentuate its flavours. It’s unfortunate that there are very few Gujarati dishes that are popular in our city. I’ve ensured that I don’t repeat the popular ones. You’ll find some hidden gems from our household such as jamfal nu shaak using guava, kacha kera na raviya (stuffed raw banana), methi na gota (fenugreek fritters),” she adds.
As the book aims to motivate the newer generation to appreciate the rich legacy and variety the cuisine offers, Parul suggests that it makes for an ideal gifting option for festivities, celebrations, and marriage. She’s also looking for collaborations with corporates. “I also want copies of the book to be kept at libraries and culinary institutions. Young and aspiring chefs can look up to it for inspiration and interpret it according to their skills. I will be documenting more recipes,” she says.
‘Parul’s Magic’ is priced at Rs 3,000. For details, visit: parulsmagic. com or call: 9841014925
A WORD OF GRAT ITUDE
The book starts with her gratitude note to the women of the earlier generations of her family and all the neighbourhood ladies, who taught her the nuances of the ingredients and its usage in cooking at
a very early age. She’s grateful to late historian S Muthiah, who instilled in her the confidence to pursue writing a cookbook, and food writer Chandra Padmanabhan, who guided her