Cooking up a feast of culinary traditions Nostalgic Flavours: Sanjana Modha
SANJANA MODHA ON GOOD FOOD AND HER CROWDFUNDED BOOK
Social media has become a special space to share great recipes, cooking ideas and healthy eating advice.
A popular online British expert providing top tips to prepare sumptuous meals is Sanjana Modha. She has gone from writing an unknown food blog in 2009 to sharing top home cooking tips and recipes, with more than 143,000 Instagram followers. Her Sanjana Feasts brand has also expanded into a thriving website and a successful YouTube channel.
A recent sign of her popularity has been crowd-funding her cookbook on Unbound, which flew past the target for publication and is still seeing the number of supporters grow. By sharing delicious dishes, she is bringing people together by connecting different cultures and generations.
Eastern Eye caught up with the culinary queen to discuss cooking, top tips she would give and her forthcoming book, powered by the people.
Who inspired you to cook?
My mum. I spent much of my childhood watching and learning while she prepared our family meals. Her father was a confectioner, so seeing the joy in her demeanour as she prepared sweets was like watching an artist paint, or a musician play. It was her art and mode of expression. It was very inspiring to watch. Both my grandfathers were cooks, so feeding people is part of our DNA.
Did you imagine becoming so popular?
Never. For a long time, my mum was the first (and sometimes only person) to comment on my recipe posts. Now she’s quite often the 100th. And she’s pretty active on Instagram.
How do you come up with recipes where you’ve put your own twist on them?
Much of what I cook is inspired by simple comfort food I ate growing up. As a first generation British Indian with an East African family background, our home cooking was a mishmash of traditional Indian (mostly Gujarati) vegetarian food, and dishes inspired by available and affordable ingredients. Like many British Asians, we were incredibly proud of our masala baked beans, Indian-style pasta, and leftover curry toasties. They were (and still are) testament to our ability to adapt and assimilate in a way that champions our roots. There’s always a place for it at my table.
You are inspiring the younger generation to embrace their roots through cooking. Is that a conscious decision?
It’s an honour to know that this is a result of the work I do. I love to showcase traditional dishes because in many cases, their recipes were never properly recorded. Our ancestors cooked from the soul. They knew how things should taste, and so a pinch of this and a fistful of that was more than sufficient for people who cooked and ate these dishes often. I, too, learned to cook from the soul – by watching, practising, and tasting, every single day. I wanted people to experience those traditional flavours too.
Tell us more about that?
I decided very early on that I would continue to cook the traditional way, but to also record the exact measurements as I did it. This was to share flavour-first recipes in a way that others could replicate them at home. It was indeed a conscious decision on my part and warms my heart to know that it inspires a global community.
Did you see the popularity of cooking increase during the pandemic?
Absolutely! Hundreds of followers making and sending me pictures of the aloo paratha they had made using my recipe really brought the message home. I marvelled at their puffy parathas every day for weeks during the first lockdown. In all seriousness, during times of
hardship and isolation, there really is no balm that soothes better than a warming meal. It’s no wonder people spent their time connecting with comfort food via social media.
What are some of the common mistakes people make when cooking?
It would be not having a top-quality playlist on in the background.
What made you want to crowdfund your book?
I am over the moon to have crowdfunded the book. I had many rejections from publishers, for my food being too far from what is traditionally expected from an Indian cookbook. ‘Too niche’, was the general feedback. For me, there’s more to Indian cuisine than curry, daal, roti, and rice. I chose crowdfunding because I knew that there was an appetite for the respectful of roots, yet modern and global style of Indian food we cook. The book reached and exceeded its crowdfunding target in less than four weeks.
What can we expect from your book?
The unexpected! Familiar Indian flavours dressed rather differently. Nostalgic stories and Indian grandma-like tips. My cooking style grew out of my early days as a corner shop kid in West Yorkshire. As the only Indian girl in the village, this has framed much of what and how I cook it.
What top cooking tip would you give?
Cook things you love to eat and cook them often. If you like to follow recipes, a food scale is your friend. If you don’t like to follow recipes, follow flavour.
Would you give a tip for a beginner?
When it comes to cooking, whole spices usually go into a dish at the beginning, and ground spices and spice blends later on. And taste your food as you go along, as it’s the best way to learn how to build a great dish.
Is there anything new in cooking you would love to master?
I may be 33 years old but I’m still my mother’s young apprentice when it comes to mastering Indian sweets. With their sugar syrups, hot fats, and bicep-building techniques, they’re notoriously difficult to nail, but the challenge has been accepted. You’ll find some delicious ones in my book. Sticky toffee gulab jamun and white chocolate rasmalai, to name a few.
Why do you love cooking?
It’s the bridge that connects the past and the future. When you cook, you are truly living in the present moment. These days, that’s a hard thing to practise.
Instagram: @sanjanafeasts; www.sanjanafeasts.co.uk & Unbound: Sanjana Feasts