Meet the Expert: Monisha Bharadwaj

Meet the Expert

Monisha Bharadwaj is an award winning author, chef, food historian and a food writer based in London, UK. Many of her 16 books have been shortlisted for and won several prestigious international awards including the Guild of Food Writers ‘Cookery Writer of the Year’ 2003 and the World Gourmand Cookbook Award 2020 for ‘Indian in 7’.

Monisha runs one of the UK’s few bespoke Indian cookery schools, Cooking With Monisha, situated in West London, where she has been teaching her brand of simple, healthy Indian cooking since 2006.

She has cooked on TV many times, most recently on Inside the Factory (ITV) and been a guest chef at the Michelin starred restaurant Benaras. Monisha has been a guest on Radio 4’s Food Programme and their show on ‘Turmeric’ won the Fortnum and Mason Award in 2018.

She has created and taught Indian cookery courses at several top UK cookery schools Monisha also holds a BA in Indian History and is regularly invited to give talks on topics such as the history of India’s Vegetarian Culture, How the British Fell in Love with Curry, The Six Tastes of Ayurveda, at institutions such as Kew Gardens, SOAS, the British Council, Mumbai and on a Cookery Legends cruise in 2019.

Why did you pursue a career in food?

I trained to be a chef at the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai in the 80s. Soon after, I began working for the Taj Group of Hotels. A meeting with my publisher Kyle Cathie led me to writing books. TV, radio, teaching and guest speaking followed, so I think food chose me rather than me choosing a career in food! Having said that, 30 years on, I’m still as excited about it as I was when I first went into a kitchen in my teens. I often say that when spices cease to fascinate me is the day I’ll stop.

Biggest achievement / lesson learned

A food career is not always a stable one. I’m not the first person who has said this but I’ve learnt to keep an open mind and have taken opportunities as they presented themselves. Also, I’m grateful that I could work within the cuisine I know. I understand and enjoy the cultural, social, religious and historical aspect of Indian food like I do no other cuisine. As it is so vast and complex, I strive to  learn more and more about it from the inside.

Favourite ingredient

One of my favourite ingredients is turmeric. It goes into most Indian savoury dishes and I use it often for its healing properties and colour. I drink turmeric tea every day and sprinkle it into soups, mashed potatoes and even when cooking pasta.

How have I spent lockdown?

Our cookery school Cooking With Monisha went into hibernation in March 2020 and we pivoted to an online offering in May. I’ve been teaching online classes since then and believe that they’re here to stay although we are looking forward to opening our physical cookery school soon. I was fortunate to be commissioned to write my next book which will be published this autumn. I’ve never had the luxury of this amount of time to write, so my lockdown has been well spent!

Tarka Dal

Preparation time – 15 minutes

Cooking time – 40 minutes

Serves 4

  • 200g mung lentils
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger – garlic paste
  • 2 green chillies, slit
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ghee or oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  1. Put the lentils along with 400ml of water in a saucepan and cook on a high heat until they come to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until very soft, for about 25 minutes, adding more water to just cover them when they dry out. They should have a pouring consistency.
  2. Warm the oil in a frying pan on a high heat and add the cumin seeds.
  3. When they turn a couple of shades darker, add the onion and cook on a high heat until it starts to turn golden. Reduce heat and cook for 7-8 minutes until very soft.
  4. Add the ginger–garlic paste and chillies and cook for a minute. Add the tomato and soften.
  5. Stir in the spices (turmeric and garam masala). Add a splash of water and bring to a bubble. Cook for a couple of minutes on a high heat.
  6. Carefully pour in the cooked lentils and season with salt. Take off the heat.
  7. Warm the ghee or oil on a high heat and fry the garlic until golden. Pour this into the dal, scatter with coriander and serve with rice and a curry or a vegetable side dish.

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