Thinking about everything that the past couple of months has been makes me very anxious:

  • the COVID situation outside

  • fear for my near and dear ones

  • overworking because I want to avoid nasty thoughts

  • extreme tiredness owing to the second and the third points

For many many weeks, I just worked on weekends because I did not want to worry myself shitless (worse still 'doom scroll' - I do that around bedtime anyway, despite my NO SCREEN TIME 30-45 MINS BEFORE YOU SLEEP rule, so clearly that's going pretty well)


The one thing that helps keep my mind off things that stress me out is cooking. But because I was so tired (I still am, oh well), cooking almost took a backseat these past few weeks. It took some effort to snap out of it.


So, I'm back to this routine where I work pretty damn hard through the week (I take the odd evening through the week off, working on updating blog posts here or some such) and cook my heart out on weekends. Yes, work doesn't go away just like for me. So I still do my 2-3 hours, but I THINK I've gotten a hang of how to manage my time with this. I THINK.


Anyway, moving on to updates for February, March and April of 2021.


February 2021

February was a super fun month. We continued our little obsession with all things Asian and cooked out of Pippa Middlehurst's Dumplings and Noodles.


This just in from her post from a few hours ago - her book has been shortlisted in the First Cookbook category at The Guild of Food Writers Awards this year.


And to think about everything we picked from the book - dumplings, chilli oil, pork belly, buns, hand-pulled noodles, what not.


The book was an absolute joy to cook from and we'd keep exchanging messages with one another about what we had planned for the weekend to come.



Cooking from the book (or rather, picking the book at the beginning of the month) made me think about how often we've cooked Asian food (be it specific to a country NOT in the Indian subcontinent, but in Asia... or be it a mix of Asian foods). Given that I've been trying to do this month on month since the summer of 2017, I made a nerdy little graph.


There were 54 picks through the 4 years, 46 unique ones. By 54, I simply mean this

  • before the pandemic, we did city-wise potlucks and often 3 different cities in a month meant 3 different books

  • or then perhaps a book A was done in a particular month P in city X. Maybe it was done again for month Q in city Y.

And of the 46 books, 14 were Asian (country-specific or general) and 11 were Indian (regional or general) - that's about 30% and 22% respectively. If that's too much geeking out over stats for a 'mere' cookbook selection, I'd like to mention that I actually had a good amount of fun doing this. And I might do so again (make stats, that is) next year. Bear with me. *sheepish grin*


March 2021

Moving on, for March everyone was really enthusiastic about picking a book that involved dessert, along with savoury stuff. So two books for the month. However, I'm not really sure of how I'm going to manage two books on the Instagram account yet. So we stuck with one - Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet.


I was in luck. I managed to score cape gooseberries (those were the last of the season, my fruit vendor tells me). And jumped at the idea of making a cape gooseberry and yoghurt pavlova. Light. Just the right amount of tartness to cut through the sweetness of the meringue. And downright delicious.


Cheesecakes, tahini brownies, cookies, pannacottas (pannacottae?) - gosh. The dessert were so filling, I wonder how folks would've managed a sweet AND a savoury item from one (or two) cookbooks on the same day. Or else, they'd just have done one on one day and the other on another, heh.



April 2021

For April, we wanted to do something regional and Indian. Bengali food was the first thing that came to our minds. We thought of a couple of books we could cook out of - there were a couple of Chitrita Bannerjee cookbooks and Bong Mom's Cookbook. We went for the latter. But upon further snooping around on the internet I realized there were so many more options that we could have explored.

  • Many moons ago, the folks from Pune had cooked from The Calcutta Cookbook for a cookbook meetup one month.

  • Life and food in Bengal and Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals - both by Chitrita Banerji - I've heard these make for BEAUTIFUL reading and very very interesting cooking. A little bit of a regret here, that I have, for not picking either of these.

  • Oh! Calcutta has a cookbook. I remember eating at an Oh! Calcutta in Pune when I was much younger - late 902, early 2000s, if you ask me. The food was good. Pretty darn good. I believe this book would have been fun to cook out of, had it been picked. Alas, I guess we didn't give looking at more books too much of a thought when we picked this one (not that this one was bad, by any means).

  • A lady named Kankana Saxena had written to The Cookbook Nook many months ago (probably even a couple of years ago, come to think of it) asking if we'd like to cook from her book Taste of Eastern India. It's a pity this never even crossed my mind when we were discussing books to cook out of for April.

But, all that said, this book was pretty good too. Homely food, Bangla style. What's not to like.

But but. It also made me think about The Bangala Table. And some of the other folk suggested Parsi food. So, I reached out to Rhea Mitra Dalal (whom I follow on Instagram) and asked if we could purchase any of Katy Dalal's Parsi books from a site that she knows of (I had trouble finding it online). One thing led to another, she joined the cookbook club group that we have and we (unfortunately) moved Parsi food to another month (hopefully July, Anahita Dhondy has a new book coming out towards the end of June).


I'm still eying Chettinad cuisine book (The Bangala Table). And, as my luck will have it, it's out of stock on Amazon.


May was about "it's too hot, let's do cocktails," so I'm going to do a post about that too. And with that, I think we've mostly caught up. Finally.

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To say that the past 6 months have been nothing short of hell is an understatement.


I thank the heavens and the stars that my immediate family and I have been alright COVID-wise, while gruesome stories rage around us. But I've been overworked, like never before. Some time towards the end of last year, sending out my monthly newsletter began to feel like a chore and I gave up altogether. I hoped the good feelings would come back in about 3 months time. But need I tell you how they went. Heh.


Let me catch you guys up on everything we've been up to at The Cookbook Nook these past 6 months.


Nov 2020

Towards the end of October and in the beginning of November, I attended an extremely interesting series of 'classes' around the history of Mughal Food. A Whatsapp group with all the folks who attended was formed (we're still in touch and very prompt and helpful as and when required). But me, being me, the social aspect of it all has indeed taken its toll on me and I'm more of a silent observer than an active participant.


But, let's talk about November, shall we?


We went through Salma Husain's translation of Nuskha-e-Shahjahani - showcasing recipes from the kitchens of Shah Jahan. While the book focuses more on recipes from his times, she spoke about the food during the reign of the Mughal emperors, how it changed over generations and how it influenced what passes off as Mughlai food today (and how real Mughlai food is FAR from the medium spicy, orange gravies that folks wolf down at restaurants as delicacies). She speaks perfectly good English, but delivered her lectures to us in Hindi, heavily laced with Urdu. And, boy, oh boy, oh boy! That language is something else. It just always sounds so poetic and delicate and beautiful.


I will not lie, I WAS hoping more folk would cook and be a part of this whole cooking community - everybody seemed rather excited to buy her book. Somehow, not too many folk ended up cooking from the book that month. Some did, a few months later. And maybe hoping that they would have instead closer to the dates the lectures ended was an unwarranted expectation on my part, but that's how things go.


The book, as such, was strictly okay. I guess translated recipes don't do entirely well. Not only for me, but for many of the folk who DID follow recipes from the book, following them to the T didn't quite seem to be working out. So, we added our own little 'nuskhas' to them.


There were samosas and hand pies and pulaos and sweetened rice and so many other things. Trust me, when they have a fancy sounding name, you just end up feeling a little bummed out. I mean, you're thinking 'Khagina-e-Baize' and it's just an omelette - khagina means whipped eggs, baize means chestnut-coloured. Sigh.


Dec 2020

For December, we thought we'd try another Indian something. I, for one, had been eyeing Five Morsels of Love for months. But just needed a reason to cook Andhra food.


Truth be told, I'd seen colleagues be thrilled when they ordered in 'meals' for lunch back in 2011 and 2012 - watery 'pappu' (dal), the usual stir-fried veggies, and I'd thought, what's the big deal in that. I actually make much better 'home-style' food. Then, I ate Andhra food with a friend in Bangalore at a chain of restaurants called Nagarjuna, in 2013. I HATED it. It was needlessly spicy and that just killed the whole experience for me. And then, in 2015, a few colleagues insisted I eat the biryani at Kritunga - and they said I love how well-flavoured the biryani was. Unfortunately, again, needlessly spicy. So I just steered clear of Andhra food, in general, for many many many years.


Cut to now. We're thinking, hey, let's do something regional. Let's do something that's been talked about a whole bunch and appreciated. Let's do Five Morsels of Love.


People made sambar + rice, daals, chutneys, dosae, and weren't disappointed. I tried a sesame seed chutney - spicy - sigh, I used it slathered inside dosae when I made them for one of our regular dinners and called them 'my sore masala dosa.' Well, the pachadi wasn't half bad inside a dosa. I made some fish curry (because I was home alone and my husband doesn't eat fish and I took this as an opportunity to cook fish) and pretty much cried through dinner - it was that spicy (this is after HALVING the amount of spic the original recipe called for). The book wasn't all spicy though, I promise. I also made the Mamsam Biryani - now, over the past couple of years, I've been trying different styles of biryai just to see what making them is all about - there's my go-to quick one which I put together in an hour. The BEST one I've made in a Thalassery Biryani. And the Hyderabadi one comes next. Tender meat. Not too spicy. Not overly dry or too saucy. Pudgy, fluffed up rice. Fried onions. Heh, no reason to not like this one, yeah? That and kaima vada (keema cutlets, basically). Again, what's not to like if they're flavoured right, no?

This month saw Vidya Balachander being added to our little group (and also sooking out of the book). A lot of us have been fans of her writing and having her on the group made me so happy! It did.


Jan 2021

A lot of us LOVE all kinds of Asian food. The lockdown (and the covid-scare) seemed to be easing up in a lot of places (cut to April 2021 or May 2021 and maybe a bunch of folk should've just masked up and behaved then as well). Some of the folk from Dubai thought it might be a fun idea to do a little picnic (social-distancing and everything) and have banh mis. Now, we've done Vietnamese food in the past a few times before. The challenge was to pick a book that is good AND hasn't been done before.


What a fun month of cooking. Banh Mis (the tofu kind is still something I will not eat), pho, meat/seafood skewered using sugarcane sticks or lemongrass - it was really a fun month.


The highlight was the food that all of us loved, of course. But, we had a wonderful lady join the group - she goes by @squibsters on Instagram and she loves joking about how she's made of 70% noodles - she makes her own noodles from time to time. So, making Asian food is something she absolutely loves.




We've been doing 12-15 recipes every month (across some 3-4 usual suspects) and the odd new person who enthusiastically joins in. And it makes me a little happy, y'know.


It's nice to have people who are geographically hundreds of km apart, but get together over informal discussions about food - only when needed. I like that these folks somehow almost seem to respect the fact, that's it's okay to have an update only once a week. It feels very comfortable. It takes the (unsaid) pressure of not having to participate off my chest (and this, I admit, is completely on me - I'm just one of those people that has to be the better person in whatever I do or else, I'd rather not partake at all - I've failed before, and it's hurt a helluva lot and sometimes it's affected me so bad, I'd rather just be the way I am, sigh).


Anyway, I mustn't ramble on. There's three more months to go before I fill everyone in on the details of what's been going on here. Updates for the next few months coming up in the next post, y'all. Peace.


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What's it like to cook regional?

What's it like to cook recipes from history?


October and November, both, have had us cook very tasty food yet food quite different from what we'd normally think the cuisines are about.


Take Rare Gems by Aditya Mehendale that we cooked from in October. You think Maharashtrian food and maybe you think Misal Pav or Kaala Rassa or Bharlela Paaplet. Not to say that the book didn't have recipes for Kaala Rassa or Bharlela Paaplet. But it also had recipes for 'rare gems' (now you see why the book is called what it is) like Shahlyatle Maase (literally, seafood in tender coconut) and Baroda Pulao (a smoked, mild-but-packed-with-flavour mutton pulao)


The book is expensive (yes, come at me with the Rare Gems jokes). But it is so totally worth it.


But then, you know me. I like most books I cook out of.

I have not stopped gushing about a series of sessions by Salma Husain I attended recently. @historywali conducted them, with proceeds going to Kalap Trust. Salma Apa spoke to us in Urdu more poetic than you've ever known it to be and walked us through the years of the Mughal rule and the way various food were introduced by the ruling emperors.


And after every session, we were so charged - spending the week ending up cooking varieties of something we'd heard about in her session, discussing many other related (and unrelated) things we'd read online. One thing lead to another and we thought that cooking out of The Mughal Feast all through the month would be the best way we could thank her for everything those 4 sessions had been! The book is a thing of beauty - glossy pages, prints of art, recipes with gorgeous borders, it's un-put-down-able! Really!


We've known Mughlai food to be qormas, koftas, kebabs, biryanis and yakhnis. Then come the niharis, the haleems and the pasandas. But what about layered naans, numerous lamb (qaliya) preparations, a curry using sheep's head and even 'nargisi' recipes beyond the usual nargisi kofte that we've heard of.


I tried cooking a couple of recipes from the book. They're delicious. Though, what I made wasn't entirely pretty. Maybe I screwed up the technique a little bit on them, but it got me thinking, had this been made in the kitchens of yore, the emperor would have said a 'takhliya' for sure. That said, that's not too much reason to not cook out of the book again. And anyway, we've got all month to do so.



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