Conversations with chef Ritu Dalmia about her new book Diva Green: A Vegetarian Cookbook (Hachette India,Rs 699) are peppered with surprises. Her award-winning restaurant Diva,successful television shows and two bestselling cookbooks are stuffed with meat,yet Dalmia was born in a vegetarian household and ate only vegetarian food while growing up. Though she,a Marwari,has crossed over to the other side,her mother remains a staunch vegetarian. My mother wouldnt look at or even cook anything out of my previous books,Italian Khana and Travelling Diva, says Dalmia. Two years ago,she began to work on a book of vegetarian recipes that her mother to whom Diva Green is dedicated could finally use. The book was launched in Delhi recently.
Dalmias effervescent attitude charges up the air around her when she talks about food. Diva Green reflects the same attitude the heady excitement of rustling up a culinary delight. The glossy pages have images of Dalmia laughing in the kitchen,personal anecdotes with each dish,and food photographs (by Anshika Verma) that make the recipes seem fun rather than formidable. Since this is a vegetarian book,I wanted my heroes to be vegetables,and not fancy vegetables at that, says Dalmia.
Among the heroes of each chapter are the potato,tomato,pumpkin,eggplant and mushroom. Recipes for soups,salads,risottos,pies,tarts and pizzas share space with that of begun bhaja (fried eggplant from Bengal) and papaya curry. Most recipes are inspired by people,food Ive eaten or a memory, says Dalmia.
In the Potato section,she introduces the reader to her favourite pick-me up,Warm Caramelised Potato and Onion Salad,a mix of baby potatoes,baby onions,spring onions,toasted walnuts and raisins. Pumpkins,which Dalmia is besotted with,are present as Pumpkin and Coconut Soup,Pumpkin Salad with Parmesan Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Dressing,and Pumpkin Röesti.
Apart from recipes,Dalmia shares stories about eggplants and Sultans,films and pies and how the secret to cooking risotto is patience and paying attention. Her own recipe for Risotto with Sweet Potato and Mushroom,she says,is easy if you put on a playlist of good music and get ready for 20 minutes of stirring.
A section with miscellaneous ingredients is titled Everything Else,and readers can learn to cook Roasted Asparagus Soup with Tomato Sprinklings and Corncakes with Mozzarella and Avocado Salsa besides the Easiest Chickpeas in the World.
The recipes that have been tried out by Dalmia and her friends before making it to the book have been kept easy for a reason. This book is aimed at young people,who love to cook but have no time or energy. So,the dishes had to be quick and quirky, she says.