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Meet the Expert: Mridula Baljekar

Meet the Expert

Tell us a little about yourself

I have written 27 cookbooks so far and book number 28 is in the pipeline. My first book.  The Complete Indian Cookbook, sold more than a million copies worldwide. My first big award was the ‘Best Asian Cookbook in the world’ for Great Indian Feasts in 2006 by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards; it also won Cookery Book of the Year Award in the same year.

I live in Windsor, Berkshire, and I am fully involved in the local community including one of Her Majesty’s charity fund raising

Mridula Baljekar

Why did you pursue a career in food?

I grew up in a foodie family and learned to cook from my mother and grandmother. By the age of 12, I was cooking simple family meals with my mother’s guidance. I loved the colourful jars of spices and lentils in my mother and grandmother’s kitchens and was fascinated by fresh vegetables and herbs grown in our back garden. 

What is your biggest achievement/lesson you have learnt?

My biggest achievement was getting my first cookbook published; I cried when a box of books with beautiful colour illustrations, arrived and I touched a book! It was hard to find a publisher as I was an unknown author. That book will always be my most treasured possession.

How do you use your favourite ingredient and why?

Cinnamon is my favourite ingredient. I love the sweet, spicy taste and the warming note.  It has so many important health benefits including lowering blook sugar levels and combating colds and coughs. I always have a cinnamon infused cup of tea in the morning and add it to my food every day. I love tarka daal with cinnamon and browned onion with turmeric.

How have you been spending your time during lockdown?

I was busy during lockdown. Since my cookery classes stopped and restaurants closed, I wanted to give the public some delicious Indian food to heat and eat at home. I developed a small range of ready meals and launched them in a high-end deli store in Eton which is just a short distance from my home in Windsor. The meals have been received extremely well and I am now trying to introduce them to the Royal Farm Shop in Old Windsor.

Could you share a favourite recipe?

One of my favourite recipes is cinnamon-scented basmati rice with orange juice.  I developed this recipe for one of my early books and fell in love with it. 

Cinnamon-scented basmati rice with orange juice

Serves 4

I love this rice because the refreshingly delicious taste of orange juice and zest, the warmth of cinnamon and the unique natural aroma of basmati rice create such magical flavours that touches all the senses.

  • 225g basmati rice
  • 1 large orange
  • 2 tbsps sunflower or light olive oil
  • 2x5cm pieces of cinnamon sticks halved
  • 4 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 400ml hot water
  • 1 tbsp seedless raisin
  • 25g toasted flaked almond

Wash the rice in several changes of water until it runs clear and soak it in cold water for 20 minutes.  Drain thoroughly.

Grate the orange rind finely and squeeze out the juice.  You need about 50ml.

In a heavy based pan, heat the oil gently over a low heat and add the cinnamon and cardamom.  Let them sizzle until cardamom pods have puffed up.

Add the rice and salt and sauté for a couple of minutes until the grains look dry and are coated with the spice infused oil.  Add the water, raisins and orange juice.  Bring it to the boil and allow to boil steadily for about 2 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan tightly and cook for 7-8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and keep the pan undisturbed for 5-6 minutes.

Add the orange rind and gently fluff the rice with a fork.  Serve garnished with the toasted and flaked almonds. 

GOLDEN RULES OF COOKING BASMATI RICE:

1.  Wash the rice until water runs clear. This removes most of the milling starch.

2.  Soak for 15-20 minutes and drain.  Soaking removes further milling starch and prepares the grains to absorb cooking liquid better resulting in dry and fluffy rice.

3.  After cooking, remove from the heat and keep the pan undisturbed for 6-8 minutes. Fluff up the rice with a fork and serve.

4.  Use a metal spoon to serve freshly cooked basmati rice, wooden ones will squash the delicate grains.

When is the new book out?

The new book is out this month. It is entitled Indian Vegetarian and Vegan

To view the full range of Mridula’s cook books please visit her website and to sample a few yummy recipes here.

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