It all started with a kuzhambu. By chance, a food critic happened to taste Vijee Krishnan’s karuveppilai kozhambu - a spicy gravy of curryleaf, dal and tamarind - reproduced by a maid whom she had shared the recipe with, and was so pleased that she convinced Krishnan to write a book. Though she took up cookery and baking classes for a year after college, it was not until she got married that Krishnan, an Iyengar herself, started learning to cook Iyengar food. “I decided to create something that anyone would be able to cook from and put together 60 recipes,” she says. And thus, with a little help from a friend and co-author Nandini Sivakumar, and seven months of hard work, Why Onions Cry was born.
Completed last November, the book has already bagged the Best Vegetarian Cookbook from India for 2011 and ranked among the top three, in the Best in the World category, by the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Paris this March. In addition to the 60 recipes, there’s information such as how vegetarian food is supposed to be served and other facts about traditional eating practices.
And in case you were wondering, yes, the book does not use onions (perfect for those with allergies), garlic, drumsticks and radish in accordance with Iyengar cooking traditions. Since the aim is to enable anyone to be able to cook Iyengar food, the book was made appealing to the ‘current generation’ and each recipe has a variation tip, nutrition facts and pointers on healthy substitutes for some ingredients. “There are pointers for using vegetables like bitter gourd as chips and vegetables like pidikarnai (a type of yam that is rarely used these days) as sandwich filling,” says Sivakumar who then shares a lesser known fact about Iyengar cuisine, “Using local produce is one of the rules of traditional Iyengar cooking, and every meal is had fresh - no reheating of food is allowed.”