The winning cook at her table; her fabulous (Almost) Spiceless Eggplant Bharta
Q&A with panfusine
It’s midnight and you’re hungry. Do you reach for something savory or sweet?
Definitely something savory. My favorite is usually a piece of cheese or a cup of plain home made yogurt with a sprinkle of toasted cumin flavored salt.
An ideal dinner party includes a) 2 people, b) 4 – 6 people, or c) 8 or more.
About 4 to 6 guests -- this way there is enough of a quorum that I can cook comfortably for all of them and still spend quality time with each one.
How did you first become interested in cooking?
It was my dad's influence. He was a passionate foodie, way before it became the "in" thing. I have a long way to go before I can get anywhere near his knack for perfectly reverse-engineering food. He could recreate most dishes that were served in restaurants to a T. I inherited his passion and learned techniques from my mom.
If you were reincarnated as a single dish, what would you be?
Yogurt rice -- it’s a classic South Indian comfort food. It is the proverbial vanilla of the cuisine, but one can never go wrong with it!
Describe your weekend cooking style.
I spend it cooking for the family; traditional dishes, cooked at a relaxed, easy going pace. I usually tackle new dishes for my blog during the week when the kids are at school. This summer it has been a fabulous season of making jams from fresh fruits and berries.
Just a small selection of the winning cook’s spice collection; panfusine’s silky-smooth dessert, Mango Shrikhand
Is there one ingredient you can’t live without?
The last time I did an inventory I had about 60 different bottles of spices and spice blends, each one of which I've used multiple times, but I'd definitely list chile peppers as crucial to my culinary life.
Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
Oh boy, I still cringe when I think about it. It was from by graduate school days. I had invited a friend from my lab over for dinner. I knew that she could not tolerate spicy food, so made some yogurt rice as part of the menu. I popped out to the neighborhood grocery to pick up some jalapenos for the dish (just a teensy bit for the aroma which I knew, was within my guest's tolerance limit). They were out of jalapenos so I had to make do with this light green delicate looking pepper that kind resembled a miniature bell pepper. I happily added it, made the dish, and then shoved a large spoon into my mouth to taste for seasoning. Two seconds later I felt my head explode. Those cute looking things were Scotch bonnet peppers!! That was the last time I ever bought one!
What music (if any) do you listen to in the kitchen?
It depends upon my mood, but it ranges from Abba to Bach and Mozart, with a smattering of Neil Diamond in between!
Which cookbook(s) do you reach for most often?
I have a notebook of recipes that my mom dictated to me before she passed away. I cling to it, absolutely refusing to memorize the dishes. Another book that I rely on is Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts: Recipes and Remembrances of a Vegetarian Legacy by Ammini Ramachandran. My most recent favorites are Indian Cooking Unfolded: A Master Class in Indian Cooking, with 100 Easy Recipes Using 10 Ingredients or Less by Raghavan Iyer and Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
What is your most cherished food tradition?
Friday evenings are reserved for dishes from other cuisines of the world -- French, Italian, Thai, Mexican. On Saturday mornings, it’s usually traditional South Indian brunch with the family. Dosai (rice and lentil crepes) and idli (a steamed version of the dosai batter) with coconut chutney and sambhar (a stew made with pigeon peas) just like it was when I was a child.
To learn more about panfusine and view her recipes, check out her profile.