The daughter of India’s bestselling cookbook author and legendary chef Tarla Dalal, Renu, inherited her mother’s passion for cooking and experimenting with recipes. From being a spectator of her mother’s cooking shows, which were shot at home, eating delicious vegetarian food, to being an author and culinarian in her own right, Renu Dalal’s journey in the world of cooking has been inspired by vegetarianism and foundational values.
Edited excerpts from an interview with Renu Dalal.
Q: How has your mother’s culinary legacy shaped you? Tell us about your memories of her in the kitchen.
A: As a child growing up fabulous food was a constant presence in our house. My mother used to hold cooking classes, and the highlight of my day used to be tasting all of the dishes she had prepared after coming home from school. Our house also used to play host to shooting sessions for each new cookbook, which was something I always looked forward to. My mother always encouraged an interest in cooking, so much so that I even took a cooking class when I was young under her supervision.
All of these memories have had an enormous influence on my relationship with food and shaped my decision to follow in my mother’s footsteps in my own way. My most enduring memory of my mother is the smile on her face whenever she was in the kitchen. Cooking was her passion and joy e- nothing could have been more apparent. And it’s the love she poured into everything she cooked that made each and every dish so special.
Q: What are her most precious nuggets of advice to you?
A: My mother taught me many wonderful lessons on life and the world, but there are three pieces of advice that I’ve always valued the most. First, the importance of being independent and self-sufficient. She wanted me to grow up to be a strong, self-assured woman with a career of my own. Following this piece of advice has allowed me to build a career and a life that are entirely my own, and for that, I will remain forever grateful.
Second, the importance of working with sincerity and honesty. These traits are the truest judges of a person’s character, and will always serve you well no matter what you choose to do with your life. Third, always try and bring happiness to people’s lives, and that’s what I hope to achieve through my recipes. I’ve tried to follow these pieces of advice my entire life, and I know I’ve turned out to be a better person for it.
Q: Vegetarian food has come to be considered as somewhat bland over the years. Tell us about your association with vegetarian recipes, cookbooks and how you see this trend?
A: Although that may well have been the case once upon a time, it definitely doesn’t hold true today. Vegetarian and vegan food today is dynamic, exciting, and growing faster than ever before, both in India and globally. There used to be a time when travelling abroad meant hunting for the lone vegetarian restaurant in a city. Today, dedicated vegetarian restaurants can be found just about anywhere in the world.
Many of these changes are due to the growing knowledge of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. My mother was one of the earliest pioneers of vegetarianism and introduced millions to its benefits through the fabulous dishes in her books. She brought so many options to the table and really showcased the range and depth of vegetarian cuisine. I’ve always been a vegetarian, and the desire to showcase the full potential of vegetarian cuisine is one of the reasons that drove me to author two cookbooks e- ‘Modern Vegetarian Recipes’ and ‘Simple and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes.’ All of the recipes included are egg-less while being simple, inventive, and easy-to-follow. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as hearing from a reader who enjoyed one of my recipes.
Q: Your thoughts on Indian cuisine and its popularity worldwide.
A: There’s no denying that Indian cuisine has always been popular around the world. After all, Indian food is very famous in the UK! But the last couple of years have definitely seen it surge to new heights of popularity. A lot of different factors have contributed to this. We’ve had some fantastic Indian chefs set up their restaurants abroad and introduce many people to Indian food for the first time. People in other countries are also becoming more adventurous with their palates, and eager to try new dishes and ingredients.
The depth and variety of Indian food have also played a big role in its popularisation. India has so many regional cuisines, each with their own distinct flavours and unique spices, that there really is something to cater to every taste. Even Indian bread like rotis and naans have become very popular e- many restaurants have even installed tandoors to ensure that the flavours are authentic! Personally, my favourite regional cuisines are Gujarati, Punjabi, and South Indian.
Q: What has been keeping you busy during a lockdown?
A: It’s important to keep yourself active during this lockdown, so I’ve devised a daily routine that keeps me engaged and occupied. The majority of my day is spent working from home, experimenting with new recipes and flavours, and doing my workouts. The upcoming launch of my new book has also kept me very busy, and I can’t wait to see it released! I’ve also tried to approach the lockdown with a positive frame of mind and look at the bright side. Spending so much time at home has given me the chance to spend plenty of quality time with my family. We’ve been able to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company with no distractions or deadlines. It’s important to remember that, as with everything else, these hard times shall pass. Until then, I plan on making the most of it.
Q: About your upcoming projects?
A: The success of my first two books and the outpouring of love and support I’ve received from my friends, my family, and my readers, has inspired me to pen my third book, ‘Vegetarian Recipes From my Kitchen to Yours’. It’s currently in the finalisation stage. I am penning and creating new recipes on a continuous basis.