Amanda Clegg and Victoria Byrne were driven by one question, as they worked on their book, Hope and Spice: Authentic recipes and stories of transformation from the slums of Delhi — what do these women cook to feed themselves and their families, while making the best of the resources they have? The UK-based authors met the subjects of their book through the volunteer work they do with Asha, an NGO working with an aim to empower and uplift the Capital’s slum communities. Clegg and Byre visited Delhi last week for the India launch of the book. Excerpts from an interview:
Could you talk about how the two of you wrote this book and selected the recipes?
Clegg: We came over in November 2017 and visited 12 different Asha communities. Over 100 women cooked for us, and we just filled our notebooks — every step, every ingredient — and, obviously, then tasted the finished dishes. We had to find a balance between making sure every community we visited is represented in the book, and that the recipes make sense to readers back home in the UK.
Byrne: And also, the ingredients had to be easy to buy. You can find Indian ingredients quite easily in city centres, but it’s harder for people who live far away.
The recipes in the book are familiar to most Indians. Is the book meant primarily for your readers in the
Clegg: That was certainly our starting point, but we also have an American edition now, and it’s also gone to Australia. We wanted to keep in mind the people who did not grow up eating or cooking Indian food. A lot of people we know back home love the book because they haven’t cooked a lot of Indian food, or they may have just one curry in their repertoire. And this has opened up their repertoire of easy, doable recipes.
So ‘easy’ was the guiding principle?
Clegg: One or two recipes, such as the Nargisi Kofta, are more celebratory, which the women make for special occasions. But that is a showstopper of a dish and we made sure to say so in the introduction. It’s the kind of dish you want to make if you want to have friends and family over on a Saturday and spend the day cooking together. It’s not a recipe for Tuesday night after work, when you’re tired and you have only 30 minutes to put dinner on the table. But otherwise, we made sure the recipes are doable, because people also believe that there’s going to be a complicated ingredient list and a very complicated method, but that isn’t the case.
What do you hope Indian readers will take from it?
Byrne: The stories about the food. The recipes have been shared by women who cook this food in the slums, with very limited resources and perhaps use a less complex version of the recipe than someone who has a bigger budget. But it’s all such tasty food. Indian readers probably don’t need these recipes, but they are not going to get the access to these women’s stories.
Clegg: Cooking is an outlet of creativity for them. That really comes through. The scope of their lives is really restricted. They live in tiny homes and it’s not easy for them to find creative outlets.
What are your personal favourite recipes from the book?
Clegg: I cook the mutton kofta — we call it lamb kofta in the book — because it’s amazing how something with such few ingredients tastes so delicious. And I can put it on the table in 30 minutes.
Byrne: I’ve several favourites. Today’s favourite is matar paneer. It’s colourful, with really simple ingredients, but super tasty.
Clegg: I should also mention the desserts, because for me, the whole area of Indian desserts is a new thing. Back home, we’re not familiar with these. The carrot halwa is so simple, but the milk and sugar and carrots transform into something luscious.
All sale proceeds from Hope and Spice will go to Asha