Chef Asha Khatau wants to save your soul with veggie-ism

Chef Asha Khatau wants to save your soul with veggie-ism

In this crisp Q&A, Mumbai chef Asha Khatau gets into the art, science and philosophy behind her vegetarian cooking and the ingredients of her success

With cooking classes appropriately called Epicure, Asha Khatau's been taking vegetarian cuisine to anyone from college students to chefs to homemakers. Anyone willing to be taught, basically.

In fact she's got so many recipes to share -- genre-blenders like 'creamed corn fondue, 'lentil waffles' and 'grape quiche' -- she's authored six cookbooks, and a couple more are on the way.

Industrialist Mukesh Ambani's wife and owner of the Mumbai Indians IPL cricket team Nita Ambani has endorsed Khatau at a book launch, and then there's that "Best Vegetarian Book in the World" award she picked up -- the first Indian to win that one -- at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2002.

Cook, author, teacher, and mom, Khatau also squeezes in workshops around the world where she shares her gourmet recipes to "dazzle the eye, excite the mind, delight the palate, satisfy the craving and transport you to heaven!" How's that for a tag line?

CNNGo has 20 quick questions for Asha Khatau who attempts to refine our concept of vegetarianism in the 21st century.   

Ashau KhatauCNNGo: What is 'gourmet' vegetarian cooking?

Asha Khatau: It is vegetarian food of high quality, accurate preparation and artistic presentation.

CNNGo: There are many types and definitions of the word ‘vegetarian’ -- what kind do your books and classes reflect?

Khatau: Lacto-ovo vegetarians (who eat dairy products as well as eggs and all plant-based foods).

CNNGo: You have described your vegetarian cooking as an art as well as a science. Could you explain?

Khatau: It's an art because you have to present the food artistically and a science because it has to be cooked systematically and methodically to get the best results.

CNNGo: What are the advantages of being a vegetarian?

Khatau: Vegetarian food is lighter and easy to digest. Vegetables provide the fiber, vitamins and minerals that your body requires. Also vegetarian food comes under the satvik category of Ayurvedic food classification, which ultimately affects your thoughts, behavior and deeds. Good food leads to good thoughts and good deeds. 

CNNGo: Does a vegetarian diet lack anything as compared to a non-vegetarian one?

Khatau: A vegetarian diet requires extra attention to be paid to proteins.

CNNGo: Do you have any tips for someone who loves meat but wants to go vegetarian?

Khatau: Eat soy chunks or granules to fulfill your protein requirement. Smoked or grilled vegetables and paneer dishes have flavors similar to grilled meats. Include various vegetables like mushrooms or yellow yam, which have meat-like textures and flavors.

CNNGo: Where do you like to shop for your ingredients in Mumbai?

Khatau: Mahatma Fule or Crawford Market.

CNNGo: What’s the most expensive ingredient you’ve ever used?

Khatau: White Truffle oil at Rs 2,000 for a 2-oz bottle, to dribble in soups, or over pizza and pasta. Grapeseed oil at Rs 900 for a 1/2 litre bottle used in a special salad dressing with Dijon mustard.

CNNGo: Do you have any all-time favorite recipes?

Khatau: Yes, a seven-layered Mexican dip with taco chips.

CNNGo: Out of all the cuisines in the world do you have any faves?

Khatau: To cook -- Mexican cuisine. To eat -- Oriental.

CNNGo: The easiest cuisine to be a vegetarian in besides Indian?

Khatau: Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Mexican, Italian, continental English.

CNNGo: Do you have recipes that are entirely an invention of your imagination?

Khatau: A vegetarian shawarma, vegetarian gyros, an appetizer torte and a three-layered Toblerone mousse.

CNNGo: Tell us about winning the Best Vegetarian Book in the World award.

Khatau: There's an interesting story. A distributor in London got my book after it was published, he really liked it and sent it to the Gourmand International World Cookbook fair in Paris for display. It was not just a book fair, it was also a competition where books from 40 different countries in 60 different languages and in 30 different categories were displayed. When my book was chosen for the award, an email was sent to the book distributor, which he sent to my publisher, and by the time I received that email, the award ceremony was over! I never went for the function but they mailed me the certificate on my request. 

The night I saw the mail, I couldn't sleep at all! I was told that I was the first person in India to receive such an award. The media didn't recognize it so it was low-key. But I was on top of the world, it was an achievement for me.

CNNGo: What’s the best compliment you have received from any of your cookbook readers? Or other chefs?

Khatau: Oh, it's difficult to say because I've made dishes and people have said it's the best they’ve ever had, but I suppose when my students call me up and tell me that they followed my recipe, it turned out excellent and that their family or husband loves them more because of me!

CNNGo: What’s your philosophy on fat?

Khatau: Well, if you like to eat all that good food you can't remain skinny for sure. So it's important to remain healthy by eating in moderation and working out.

CNNGo: What's your personal philosophy for food?

Khatau: One, you are what you eat. And two, whatever you do, put your heart and soul into it. I feed my family, friends and students the highest quality made with much love and care, which they all can taste in the food. I used to like my mother's cooking, which was made with love. She passed away.

CNNGo: The coolest gadget in your kitchen?

Khatau: A salad spinner and garlic press.

CNNGo: Do you prefer to measure exactly or just go with the flow?

Khatau: Always measure exactly. I've worked hard to create fool-proof recipes.

CNNGo: Between teaching, workshops and writing your cookbooks, what else do you do?

Khatau: I run a consultancy with some eminent caterers in Mumbai. Setting exotic menus, training their chefs and introducing new techniques. I have also been associated with SPJ Sadhna School in Mumbai in their catering and hospitality department, working part-time, teaching mentally challenged children all the little secrets and joys of cooking. They so sincerely follow my instructions and create the same recipe as part of their class work. I really enjoy teaching them. 

CNNGo: What’s next?

Khatau: I'm working on two more books -- "Vegetarian Cuisines of the World Part II", and "Eat Your Way to Good Health".

CNNGo: Will either contain any secret recipes to look younger?

Khatau: The secret recipe to look younger is be content with what you get and always hope to work and achieve your goals. Work satisfaction makes you glow!

Asha Khatau lives in Mumbai where she holds her Epicure classes. Her The Best of Epicure’s series of books "Vegetarian Cuisines of the World", "Vegetarian Chinese Cuisine", "Vegetarian Italian Cuisine", "Appetisers, Mocktails & Cocktails", "Vegetarian Cuisines of India" and "Delectable Desserts of the World" are available in bookstores. For classes, call +91 (0) 22 23636767.

Mrinalini Harchandrai keeps trying to escape Mumbai to spacious green pastures but a mysteriously unscientific yo-yo effect, similar but different to a black hole effect, tows her back.
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