Spice Up Your Life

When Anjum Anand decided to give up a steady career in business to become a full-time foodie, her parents weren't so sure.

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"They were horrified - they'd paid for my education, and they had encouraged me to make more of my life than be in the kitchen. They were supportive, but they weren't enthused by it," the cookery writer recalls.

After a few years' graft in professional kitchens, and the publication of a debut cookbook, Indian Every Day, when she was 25, Anand won her mum and dad over.

"They kept thinking, 'She'll come to her senses'. But then when my first book came out I think then they realised, 'Actually, this is great'," recalls Anand, now 45.

Anand's career change shouldn't have come as a big surprise though; the signs were there from early on that food was her true passion.

One of three children, growing up in London (her parents had emigrated there from India) and Switzerland, she was "the only one who ever volunteered to go to the kitchen".

There, Anand developed her love of Indian cuisine and learnt the basics under her mother's watchful eye.

"I loved cooking. I loved the craft of it, I loved the chemistry of it, how you take something which doesn't taste good and you add all these bits and you cook it and it tastes amazing," she says.

"I've always found it quite meditative, so I would go into the kitchen and do whatever I wanted to do, with friends or without friends."

After attending business school and working in a small company, Anand realised it didn't fulfil her - "I was only happy when I was cooking".

Since Indian Every Day was published in 2003, she's gone on to land regular TV appearances, hosting the BBC series Indian Food Made Easy, and launch her own food range, The Spice Tailor.

She's been compared to 'domestic goddess' and fellow glossy-haired TV cook Nigella Lawson, over the years - something she takes "with a pinch of salt".

"I know there are some similarities, because she was on the cover of a magazine and my daughter looked at it when she was about two and said, 'Oh, Mum!'" recalls Anand with a laugh.

"I think Nigella's so talented and articulate and a great TV presenter, she's fantastic. I have no problem being compared to her!"

Her eighth cookbook, I Love India, was recently published; Anand describes it as her "most personal" yet.

Inspired by her visits to India, the beautifully presented book has sections on street-side tiffin, coastal curries and comfort food.

"I travel to India a fair amount, and when I go, I try and taste new regional food - foods I haven't tasted before - or just get inspired to make a typical Indian dish but with British seasonal ingredients."

At home in London, Anand gets her daughter and son involved in the cooking process too, and makes sure they celebrate Indian traditions and festivals.

As for her parents? "Looking back on the last 15 years, they're really proud," she says with a smile. "And they're really happy for me that I am doing something I enjoy."

Here are three tasty recipes from I Love India to try at home...

SAVOURY COURGETTE, SEED AND CURRY LEAF CAKE

165g fine or medium-grain semolina

35g chickpea (or gram) flour (available from good supermarkets)

1tbsp milled flaxseed (available from good supermarkets)

120g plain yogurt

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

2tsp finely grated root ginger (peeled weight)

70g frozen peas, defrosted

1/2-1 Indian green finger chilli, finely chopped

1tsp salt, or to taste

1/2tsp ground turmeric

200ml water

1 courgette

3 1/2tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for the skillet or tin

1 1/2tsp brown mustard seeds

1 1/2tsp cumin seeds

Small fistful of curry leaves

2 1/2tbsp sesame seeds

1tbsp sunflower or pumpkin seeds

1/3tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mix together the semolina, chickpea flour, milled flaxseed, yogurt, onion, ginger, peas, chilli, salt, turmeric and most of the water. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Oil a 23cm springform baking tin and line the base with parchment paper.

Coarsely grate the courgette, squeeze out the excess liquid and add to the mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once the mustards seeds are popping, add the curry leaves, sesame seeds and sunflower or pumpkin seeds and cover the pan, as these will puff up and jump. Once the sesame seeds are golden, take off the heat and add two-thirds of the contents of the frying pan to the batter. Adjust the water if necessary until the batter has a thick pouring consistency. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until the batter is cooked through and a cocktail stick comes out dry. Take out of the oven. For a crispy top, brush and scatter over the remaining oil and seeds and place the cake on the upper oven shelf for a few minutes. It should be a lovely, deep golden colour.

Cool a little before slicing and serve as it is, or with a tangy chutney. If you are making this in advance, you can always toast the upper side in a frying pan until golden and crisp and scatter over the remaining seeds at that point.

DAD'S FISH CURRY

For the spice blend:

3/4tsp cumin seeds

1/3tsp black peppercorns

1 1/2tsp brown mustard seeds

1tbsp coriander seeds, or ground coriander

For the curry:

3 large tomatoes, quartered

15 large garlic cloves

1/2tsp chilli powder

3/4tsp ground turmeric

4tbsp vegetable oil

2 dried chillies

1/4tsp fenugreek seeds (available from good supermarkets)

1/4tsp brown mustard seeds

Salt

600g firm white fish, cut into steaks (Dad's favourite is rohu, or sea bream)

3 Indian green finger chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife

2 handfuls of coriander s talks and leaves, roughly chopped

Rice to serve

Grind together the cumin, peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds until fine.

Blend together the tomatoes and garlic until smooth, add the spice blend, chilli powder and turmeric and blend once again.

Heat two-and-a-half tablespoons of the oil in a large non-stick karahi, wok or saucepan. Add the dried chillies and the fenugreek and mustard seeds. Once the popping starts to die down, add the blended tomatoes and some salt. Cook over a high-ish flame, stirring often, until the paste releases oil, 10-12 minutes.

Move the paste to the side of the pan, or remove it entirely, and add the remaining oil. Add the fish and fry for one to two minutes on each side. Then add enough water to cover the fish (around 500ml), the green chillies and coriander and bring to the boil. Cook for four to five minutes or until the fish is cooked through. The sauce will continue to thicken as it sits, because the fish absorbs the liquid. In the end it should be only a little creamy but not thick.

Serve with rice.

SAFFRON YOGURT PHIRNI

40g basmati rice

1 litre whole milk

4tbsp sugar, or to taste

1/4tsp ground cardamom

Good pinch of saffron threads

2tbsp thick, set plain yogurt, not too sour

Chopped pistachios or almonds, to serve

Soak the basmati for one hour in plentiful water, then drain and dry it completely on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Pour 900ml of the milk into a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Add the saffron. Place over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and gently simmer until it has reduced to 600ml. You will need to stir the milk often, scraping the base of the pan to make sure the milk doesn't catch and burn. If the heat is too high, the milk will rise up in the pan and spill, so keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile, set aside one teaspoon of the dried rice and, using a spice grinder, grind the rest to a coarse powder. Set aside.

When the milk has reduced, add the ground rice to the reserved 100ml milk and stir well. Pour this straight into the reduced hot milk with the reserved whole rice, stirring so it does not form a clump. Keep cooking and stirring for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat.

Add the sugar and cardamom and keep stirring until the mixture has thickened, another five to seven minutes. It will measure around 450-500ml.

Cool, then stir in the yogurt. Adjust the sweetness to taste, bearing in mind that as it cools the sweetness will be less pronounced.

Pour into individual bowls or a large serving dish, cover with cling film and chill overnight in the fridge. Serve sprinkled with the nuts.

I Love India by Anjum Anand, photography by Martin Poole, is published by Quadrille, priced £20. Available now

THREE OF THE BEST... READY MADE CURRIES

Charlie Bigham's Chicken Tikka Masala, £7 for 805g, Tesco (www.tesco.com)

Mega Nom Nom's Indian Butter Chicken Tiffin, £4.99 for 380g, Ocado (www.ocado.com)

Indian Chicken Pathia, £2.59 for 400g, Iceland (www.iceland.co.uk)