Skip Takeout And Make Indian Food That’s Good For You At Home
Curry shouldn’t just be for treat night, says the cookbook author Chetna Makan.
10 February 2019
All Credits: PA
Chetna Makan gets to the point. And that goes for her recipes – which are brilliantly brief and require very few ingredients – as well as her conversation; there’s no faffing.
So with her new cookbook, Chetna’s Healthy Indian, the former Great British Bake Off contestant is immediately insistent that this is absolutely not a health book, and definitely not a diet book. Not at all.
“I am no expert,” says Makan, 40, over glasses of chai and bowls of crackly, spiced okra fries. “I don’t have the right knowledge for a health book.”
Rather, this recipe collection, her third, is a considered, flavour-fuelled response to a question she finds herself asked repeatedly: ‘If you bake so much, why are you not the size of a house?’
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Just recovering from last nights launch of #chetnashealthyindian I can’t put in words how much love and warmth was in that room at @greatgunssocial with some lovely & amazing people! Thank you so much for all who could join me!!! Here are some of the stunning shots taken by @kj4star who took these gorgeous pictures! . The book is out now and you can get yourself a copy from a book store or amazon, link in my profile!!!!
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Makan’s frank about having never dieted (“I just can’t deal with it”), and even when she was training to run the London Marathon last year, rather than tumbling into a pasta-only vortex of carb-loading, she “just carried on as normal” and continued to eat her usual quota of homemade cake. And yes, she did complete the 26.2-mile route: “I’m still here!”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian explores the “carried on as normal” part of her eating habits, and while she really does “love cake”, the India-born cook says with a laugh: “My everyday food is really, really good for me, and that kind of balances it out – otherwise, it would be disastrous.”
Dinner at Makan’s house features the likes of chana dal with roasted aubergine, black eyed beans with cavolo nero, tamarind fish curries, spicy chicken and chickpea curry bakes, fried rice loaded with green veggies, and zingy chutneys and pickles. They’re dishes that also neatly and tastily debunk the idea that the word ‘curry’ only accounts for what you order in on the weekend.
“That is a big problem,” says Makan of the perception held by some, that Indian is purely takeout food – and, as a result, delicious but probably bad for you. “People think, ‘Oh, let’s treat ourselves, have a curry on a Friday night’, which is absolutely ridiculous.”
“That’s not how it should be,” she adds, noting that when you’re making one from scratch, rather than relying on a delivery, curry can work any night of the week. And if you’re still itching to place an order come the weekend, look in the fridge instead. “It is the best part, having little Tupperwares of leftovers from the whole week,” buzzes Makan. “On Saturday, take everything out – it works perfectly.”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian then offers short, snappy meal ideas that rely on fresh produce (“You can find okra anywhere now”) and easy-to-procure spices (“If I can find it in Broadstairs [where Makan lives with her husband and two children], everyone can find it”).
Pats of butter, puddles of cream, slicks of oil and lengthy ingredient lists just aren’t her style. “I am in the kitchen with all the ingredients, but there are people who aren’t,” she explains. “I try and keep it to the minimum and don’t over-complicate.”
And there’s no need to huff at the idea of stocking up on brand new, obscure spices – you’re highly likely to have Makan’s staples tucked away somewhere in the cupboard, no matter their age. “I’ve got spices that are really old,” she admits. “I bought a massive, massive bag of really good cinnamon – I don’t know what I was thinking – and cardamom, I use a lot of cardamom, from a Delhi spice market three or four years ago, and they’re half gone, but they’re all right. Still strong and powerful.”
Not only is Makan’s food light on faff and effort, her recipes are also largely accessible for the whole family, kids included. And while it isn’t a cookbook aimed directly at vegans and vegetarians, by dint of it exploring Indian cuisine (and putting a twist on traditional dishes), many of the recipes – from red kidney bean curry and potato and coriander soup, to sprouted moong sabji – just happen to be entirely plant-based.
“If there’s no meat or fish in it, it’s usually vegan, because there’s no dairy [in a lot of Indian cooking], or you can take it out,” notes Makan.
She has considered going vegetarian herself – although is slightly held back by her “weakness for chilli chicken” – but says she’d struggle to switch wholly to veganism.
She is a baker, after all: “Eggs would be the biggest loss, I can’t do without eggs!”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian by Chetna Makan, photography by Nassima Rothacker, is published by Mitchell Beazley (octopusbooks.co.uk). Available now.