What are some of your first memories or experiences with food?
I was brought up in a house where food was such an integral part of everything we did. Not just the eating aspect of it – but the shopping and sourcing of local ingredients.
“From a young age I used to watch her, and fisherwoman gut and scale the fish, and I learnt these skills which I am so lucky to now have. The food wasn’t clinically laid out for us now like how it is in supermarkets, so you learnt from scratch. At the age of seven or eight I learnt how to do all of that. It’s like osmosis because at the time I didn’t know that these were the skills I would be using as life skills, but now I am so lucky that I have the opportunity of doing that and using these skills that I learnt from these trips with her. I moved to London in my 20s and missed this dearly, so I think this is where the whole evolution of learning how to replicate those flavours came from.”
Does your interest in food stem from your love of community and family?
"I have been working as a private chef and cookbook author for 18 years and I regularly make trips back to India, not just to Mumbai but I go everywhere. It is the other pockets of India that you really want to explore. Whenever I go to these places, the main aspect is going to these homes and I see what they’re cooking but also how they’re eating, there is always a communal gathering of family coming together, sharing food, sharing stories of how family members do things. This plays into how I write the recipes and how I know people eat the recipes."
There is no doubt when you talk about Indian food and people, it’s always best to be able to share. I am such a sharer, although I enjoy eating it is, more than that I enjoy cooking and serving people, for me that’s where it stems from.
"A lot of my love for Indian cooking has come from family but I can’t deny the fact that having spent nearly 20 years doing this it has become less about sharing family recipes and more about looking at how as a community and as a subcontinent what is it that we really offer and how I can be a catalyst to sharing that with the world."
Where does the inspiration come from for your dishes?
Although some dishes have been inspired by the flavours and dishes that Maunika grew up on, she notes that it can’t just be from her family – there is only so many dishes that her family cooks, and even her mother uses her books now.
“My job is to travel length and breadth of Indian subcontinent and identify the different regions we can find recipes from to champion and celebrate those. My inspiration comes from the regions of India, the families and communities and the fact that there is a diversity in a country like this. Being a subcontinent almost the size of Europe, it’s hard to pin down what Indian food is, so I feel like trying to be able to understand that can only come from writing more books and recipes."
People live vicariously through cookbooks, you look at images and think wow this looks amazing, or the flavours sounds good, and you want to try it, it is about giving people a glimpse of that.
What top tips do you have for someone who is trying to cook Indian cuisine for the first time?
“Start slow, with a simple outlook, recipes which are easily accessible with a small list of ingredients. I usually say to stock up on five ingredients – turmeric, a good chilli powder, cumin seeds (not powder- you can crush the seeds and use them as a powder as well as the whole seed), a good garam masala, green cardamon.”
“I wrote a cookbook a few years ago called Tahli. The idea with this was to not just make recipes that shine but also how to make them more accessible”.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Even with experience sometimes you just want to cook something simple.
Maunika notes that some of her favourites only have 5 ingredients. For example, her Spicy Potato Stir-fry, which is a mixture of cumin, hot oil, curry leaves, garlic, turmeric, and potatoes in a pan, which are then stirred together and seasoned with salt. Or her Fish Kebabs, from her new book Tandoori Home Cooking, which consists of marinading the fish in a mixture of basil, garlic, garam masala, and greek yogurt.
What was it that inspired your most recent book?“There are lot of cookbooks out there, but most only touch on chicken tikka here and fish tikka there, but they don’t give a context to where these dishes are from. Regionality is so important to me so an understanding the history of tandoors was important for me to share, and when I was thinking about it there never really has been a cookbook out there for the best part of 50 years that focuses solely on Tandoori cooking.”
“There is so much to it, stemming from the Indus Valley Civilisation, and it’s incredible to see how recipes have made their way from the North to the South and the West of India. A tandoor is a clay oven but was initially held together by straw, and traditionally tandoors where not made for cooking food, only flat breads. Breads are always layered on the side and stuck there to give a charred smoky flavour."
“How do you replicate this in your own home? I appreciated that not everyone will have a large gardens or BBQs, so being able to do it even in your apartment I think is extremely important, so that was the reason to write the book. It also touches on how to get those flavours into your food – secret tips + hacks, how to marinade your food to get that amazing smoky flavour. Half the book is vegetarian also, breaking the myth that Tandoori cooking is just chicken and lamb.”
If you had to pick one, what is your favourite recipe from the book?
“It’s like trying to choose between your favourite children,” Maunika jokes, “so I will have to choose two."
"My first choice would be my whole roasted cauliflower, which was influenced by the Mowgli community. Essentially make a marinade of coconut milk, saffron, garam masala and cardamom. You put the entire cauliflower in the marinade and roast it. Crushed almonds and more coconut cream on top to finish."
"Or for anyone who really likes meat I would recommend my spicy lamb chops – Champ Masala, one of my favourites and they only require a small list of ingredients. My mother use to cook these when she had a dinner party, and we use to joke that they were her ‘impress guest’ lamb chops. I thought previously about adding these to my other books, but I thought finally I’m doing the Tandoori book and can include the lamb chops."
Both dishes are warming and hearty, and celebratory for the coming Winter months.
If like us you are feeling inspired to get cooking some of Maunika’s incredible recipes, her new book Tandoori Home Cooking is now available to buy online and at all major retailers. Or you can currently sample her food at the deli counter in Fortnum and Mason until mid-November 2023, which is currently stocking 15 recipes from her new book. We can’t wait to try them!
You can follow Maunika on Instagram or discover more amazing recipes on her website here. We’d love to hear what you think!
***All images are a curated selection from Maunika’s book, Tandoori Home Cooking by Maunika Gowardhan (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography ©Pankaj Anand or @cookingacurry on Instagram.