Sabrina Gidda has appeared on BBC’s Great British Menu, Celebrity Masterchef and Saturday Kitchen. Her recipes draw from her experience in modern European kitchens, as well as her Punjabi heritage. She believes that flavour and enjoyment are imperative to every meal.
In her book Modern South Asian Kitchen, she creates snacks and small plates for entertaining, quick and light meals for midweek meals and encourages the mixing and matching of recipes for feasting and friends – teaching us not to be fearful of our spice cupboard. In her words, she is ‘creating new traditions as well as honouring old’.
Modern South Asian Kitchen by Sabrina Gidda (Quadrille, £27), Photography by Maria Bell.
What will surprise people in your book?
I think people will be surprised to see such eclectic dishes! This is an accessible, exciting book, that shares some of the dishes I grew up eating – along with some that I have created through my career. It’s the food I like to eat at home, which pays homage to my own culture whilst acknowledging how modern European cookery has also inspired me! They are super original recipes, achievable and big on flavour.
So, what’s the one dish that will make everyone fall in love?
I think coconut curry dauphinoise or the ox cheek masala with coriander sauce vierge are pretty strong contenders in the running! I really wanted to create a book that was accessible, achievable and also representative of the big bold flavours that I love so much. I would have to add cauliflower cheese parantha to this list too – they are such a perfect mix of a classic flavour combination, but amped up with a little South Asian flair.
How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?
Having spent my formative years in modern European kitchens – there are many classic French techniques that have shaped my more traditional Punjabi cookery practices – and vice versa.
I feel like the most exciting part about being a chef is to create. For me this is mostly led by ingredients and then what mood or flavour profile I am craving at the time – but I think it is important and exciting to cook without restriction. Having spent my formative years in modern European kitchens – there are many classic French techniques that have shaped my more traditional Punjabi cookery practices – and vice versa. To operate without restriction and rules and enjoy all facets of my culinary repertoire is tremendously liberating. In my book I say “creating new traditions as well as honouring old” and I think this is a perfect summary.
What Ingredients do you always have to hand?
Without fail, excellent quality extra virgin olive oil, fennel seeds, my homemade crispy curry leaf chilli oil, sherry vinegar, an assortment of pasta and noodles and a jar of my Mother’s garam masala blend
I admit to being a little bit of a magpie when it comes to my shopping, I love to pick up items as I find them, in particular, pastes, spices, pickles or anchovies and stock up my cupboards. I always have moments where I will wonder what to cook – and its quite exciting to look through the cupboard and have a new ingredient to add to a dish.
And, what are the components of a fantastic meal for you?
Delicious food, great wine, wonderful company and no time constraints. Many of my fantastic meals have been focused around great fresh produce, cooked simply and eaten slowly. There is much to be said for slowing down and taking time over meals.
What is one kitchen tip everyone should know?
I am a huge stickler for acidity in my food, so a great many dishes I cook, will be finished with a rasp of zest, squeeze of lemon, splash of vinegar or a pickle of some sort. A little jar of sliced pickled shallots in the fridge will lift everything up a notch. Even when I cook Punjabi food, there will always be Amchoor (dried mango powder) if I need a tang or don’t have a lime. Amchoor with fish, meat kebabs or even vegetables – game changer.
How did you decide what recipes you were going to include - and which to exclude?
I wanted to capture in print some of my absolute favourite dishes that my Mother would cook – so it was clear immediately that these would be featured. And the rest were about manageable, confidence building dishes, to suit any occasion that would make people reach for their spices. I set out to provide enough support through the recipes to win when you make them, but enough flex that you can tweak them to your own palette. I also felt it was imperative to make the recipes fun! The only one that takes a little while is the masala bouillabase, but that calls for a good bottle of wine and a leisurely day of cooking!
And which do you think is the biggest crowd-pleaser?
I think the onion bhaji babka with green chilli cheese butter has to be a big crowd pleaser. I don’t know of anyone who can resist a freshly baked loaf of bread, especially when it comes with an amazing green chilli cheese butter. Also, the prawn pancakes with crispy curry leaf chilli oil – so delicious!
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. Travel is a huge part of this, and allows you to really experience the beauty of other cultures. It is also great to look back at classical dishes and see how they might evolve when you use ingredients from different cultures and cuisines. There hasn’t been a trip I have taken where I haven’t come back and recreated something!
I always love to buy oils, tinned fish, pickled items and grains on holiday or on travels – they last well and mean I can recreate moments from my travels when I return home.
How do you source your ingredients and what do you look for when selecting them?
Quality ingredients are hugely important. I think its important to note that this doesn’t always mean super expensive ingredients! I love shopping in the South Asian shops in Tooting for my spices, vegetables and dry store items. The shops are so inviting and you cant help but buy things! I buy great fish and meat from my restaurant supply chain or local butcher – but I really like to meet people who work in food so love to shop at independent stores wherever possible – I find it fascinating to see how people curate their products. I always love to buy oils, tinned fish, pickled items and grains on holiday or on travels – they last well and mean I can recreate moments from my travels when I return home.