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CHEF ILONA DANIEL: UK celebrity chef Anjum Anand talks food, culture and entrepreneurship

Chef Ilona Daniel makes fan-like folds to create the Malabar paratha. - Stephen Brun
Chef Ilona Daniel makes fan-like folds to create a Malabar paratha. - Stephen Brun

When you were a kid, did you have big aspirations of becoming an astronaut or a unicorn rider perhaps? 

Did your aspirations include being the master of your destiny? 

When you hear the term entrepreneurship, does it inspire feelings of excitement and discovery, or does the term instill disdain of Herculean proportions? 

I sat down with Anjum Anand, U.K. celebrity chef, author of eight cookbooks, host of multiple cooking shows and creator of a newly launched robust line of her own authentic Indian curry sauces and ready-to-eat chana masala, to speak with her about her entrepreneurship journey and the cuisine of Kerala.

Anjum Anand, pictured, says Indian home-cooking is light, quick and easy in an interview with Saltwire chef Ilona Daniel.
Anjum Anand, pictured, says Indian home-cooking is light, quick and easy in an interview with Saltwire chef Ilona Daniel.

Becoming a part of the culinary world wasn’t Anjum’s goal at the outset. She studied business in university but really wasn’t enjoying herself. At around the same time, she started becoming interested in nutrition and weight-loss programs. She found experimenting with ingredients and health concepts for a healthy lifestyle really inspired her. It wasn’t long before she started cooking in innovative restaurants in New York, New Delhi and Los Angeles. 

Being of Indian heritage, she found it quite frustrating that the culinary narrative of India was incomplete. Anjum says most of the Indian food found in restaurants the world over are celebration dishes and are predominantly the dishes people can’t make at home; think tandoori oven-based dishes. These dishes find their roots in the 15th century when the Mughal Empire began rule over India. Butter, cream, nuts and spices are the cornerstones of Mughlai cuisine.

Anand’s first book was a revelation, as readers gained insights into Indian cuisine which revealed that Indian home cooking is quite healthy. Anjum says Indian home-cooking is light, quick and easy.

“Kerala is a beautiful, verdant coastal region, and its food is as abundant as the waters of the Arabian Sea that laps it. It is full of character, but it isn’t brash. (Think) coastal flavours (like) fish, curry leaves, coconut, even green chilis and other spices, but with nothing harsh about it. It is comforting enough for every day, but elegant enough to serve to friends.” 
-Anjum Anand

It disappointed Anjum for years that many people would shy away from Indian cooking because they were scared by the ingredient list. Her ambition was not to start a line of food products, but her career pushed her onto that path. Anjum candidly shared her experiences in entrepreneurship, including the hurdles in food product manufacturing. As a mother, she says, “there is a juggling act; women can’t do it all, but we seem to think we need to”. 

As our conversation ventured into food, Anjum began to describe Kerala. 

“Kerala is a beautiful, verdant coastal region, and its food is as abundant as the waters of the Arabian Sea that laps it. It is full of character, but it isn’t brash. (Think) coastal flavours (like) fish, curry leaves, coconut, even green chilis and other spices, but with nothing harsh about it. It is comforting enough for every day, but elegant enough to serve to friends.” 

I thought I could bring together Kerala and Prince Edward Island by swapping out the shrimp or fish in the Keralan version for lobster. Anjum was delighted with my idea and recommended I serve it with Malabar Paratha.

Chicken, shrimp, white fish, vegetables and paneer are suitable substitutes in this coconut curry if you want something other than lobster. I easily found the fresh curry leaves and black mustard seeds at an Asian grocer.

This picture show chef Ilona Daniel's Keralan coconut lobster curry and Anjum Anand's Malabar paratha. - Stephen Brun
This picture show chef Ilona Daniel's Keralan coconut lobster curry and Anjum Anand's Malabar paratha. - Stephen Brun

Keralan Coconut Lobster Curry

Created by Chef Ilona Daniel

Serves: 4 

The foundation:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves (20 leaves) or 1 tbsp dried (15 dried)
  • 1-2 green chilies, seeded if you want to tame the fire
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds

Over medium high heat, heat until fragrant and the mustard seeds just start to pop.

The sauce:

  • 1 small onion
  • 4 Tbsp ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil

In a food processor or food chopper turn veggies into a paste. If you don’t have a food processor, chop until onions begin to get pulpy and juicy. Add this aromatic vegetable base to the foundation immediately after the mustard seeds begin to pop. Sautee over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add in 2 ½ cups coconut milk; roughly about 1.5-2 cans. Allow the sauce to simmer for 10 minutes.

In the meantime: marinate 1 lb lobster meat in:

  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne (or if you have 2 tsp Indian chili powder) 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Once the sauce has thickened to your preference. Stir in lobster meat, and heat for a minute. Serve immediately with basmati rice and Malabar paratha. 

The paratha can be fired in a pan for 20-30 seconds or until they are golden and crisp. - Stephen Brun
The paratha can be fired in a pan for 20-30 seconds or until they are golden and crisp. - Stephen Brun

Malabar paratha

Created by Anjum Anand, from her book, "I Love India"

  • Makes 8 pieces
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Vegetable oil as needed

Mix the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and most of the milk. Mix well to form a slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a work surface and knead until you

Chef Ilona Daniel makes a recipe for Malabar paratha, created by Anjum Anand, from her book "I Love India." - Stephen Brun
Chef Ilona Daniel makes a recipe for Malabar paratha, created by Anjum Anand, from her book "I Love India." - Stephen Brun

have a soft, if a tiny bit sticky dough. Rub oil over the ball. Rest for 10 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 pieces and form each piece into a ball. Cover with oiled kitchen paper; rest for 30 minutes.

Lightly oil a work surface. Taking one piece of dough at a time, roll it out it as thinly as possible into a rectangular shape. It should be elastic and pliable and fairly; don’t worry about any little tears. Now loosen the edge from the work surface and gently pull it, to stretch a little more from each side. You should be able to stretch it out to a 28 cm rectangle.

Drizzle over around 1 tsp of oil, sprinkle with a light dusting of flour and salt. With a light hand, fold, fan-like, into thin pleats. Coil these strips around themselves, tucking the ends underneath. Pat down, set aside, covered, as you do the rest. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Now roll into a thin circle. Heat a tava or a frying pan. Place a piece of dough in the pan and cook for 20-30 seconds or until the underside looks dry. Turn the paratha over and drizzle 1 tsp of oil around and on top of the bread. Fry until the underside is golden and crisp, then flip and repeat, drizzling with a little more oil. Set aside.

Cook the remaining breads in the same way. Once two of them have been cooked, put one on top of the other. Place them on a piece of parchment paper and scrunch it up into a ball; this helps open the layers and makes them flaky. Keep warm and serve as soon as possible.

Chef Ilona Daniel's food column, Food Seductress, is featured in SaltWire newspapers monthly. She welcomes comments from readers by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com or on twitter: @chef_ilona.


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