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A new cookbook documents lesser-known heirloom recipes

‘A Kitchen of One’s Own', a community cookbook by the Goya Journal and Nivaala, features recipes that were once a part of oral traditions but have never been documented in print before

This self-published and crowdfunded cookbook features 40-plus recipes
This self-published and crowdfunded cookbook features 40-plus recipes

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From halasina kadabu, or steamed jackfruit dumplings from Chikmagalur and namkeen chai from Dehradun made with mutton fat, yak milk and salt to bhareli vangi, or shrimp stuffed with aubergine from the coastal town of Harnai, a new book tells compelling stories of traditions and practices from different corners of India. Titled A Kitchen of One’s Own, this community cookbook, featuring 40-plus recipes, is a collaboration between the Goya Journal, a food and culture publication, and Nivaala, a designer of heirloom recipe journals.

Each recipe comes from within the Goya family, contributed by readers from around the country. These heirloom recipes have been handed down through generations and represent the staggering diversity of India’s culinary landscape. Many of these recipes have been preserved only in oral tradition, and are being documented for the first time in print. This part-cookbook, part-recipe journal allows the readers to celebrate their own private recipes as it offers a space for jotting down thoughts and adding their own culinary heirlooms to the collection.

This is not the first time that Goya Journal and Nivaala have come together. In 2021, they published a digital cookbook featuring eight recipes from celebrity chefs such as Pooja Dhingra, Vinesh Johny and Ritu Dalmia to raise money for charity during the peak of the covid-19 second wave. However, A Kitchen of One’s Own is the first print cookbook by the team and it is entirely self-published and crowdfunded. “Over the last six years of running Goya, we have collected incredible recipes from across the country and from communities and regions that we earlier knew little about. It has been utterly fascinating,” state the Goya Journal founders Aysha Tanya and Anisha Oommen in an email interview.

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The focus of the publication has always been on archiving those recipes and stories through the richness of storytelling. The duo has been asked innumerable times: “When will we have a copy of Goya to hold in our hands?” “So, when Shruti Taneja of Nivaala suggested putting together a part-cookbook, part-recipe journal, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make that physical edition a reality, and give our community a tangible, beautiful edition to keep in their homes,” they add.

The cookbook seems to be a natural extension of Goya Journal's inherent philosophy, which is to celebrate indigenous ingredients, familial stories and the complexity of India’s culinary culture. In fact, heirloom recipes have a special place in the publication with the series #1000Kitchens. “And with A Kitchen of One’s Own, we’ve included some of our favourite recipes; the ones that really stretch the borders of what ‘Indian cuisine’ means today. We’ve included communities and cuisines that are rarely represented in mainstream conversations on food, ingredients that remain on the fringes on how we cook, and more,” they say.

From the very outset, Oommen and Tanya were clear they wanted to collaborate with Taneja for this special project because of the “heart and soul” that she brings to every project. However the process of choosing the recipes was a challenge. In the last six years, the Goya Journal has published over 600 stories on food and culture, more than 300 recipes and worked with nearly 500 writers, photographers and home cooks. It was hard to choose just 40 odd recipes from this vast selection. “We wanted recipes that represented the culinary diversity of India, to be representative of communities that often get left out of food media coverage,” reiterate Oommen and Tanya. So, you will find recipes for fish head and mutton chops, from Assamese lokri to Rajasthani kanji vada, the stews of Nagaland to comfort foods from the diaspora.

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The Goya Journal founders Anisha Oommen and Aysha Tanya  
The Goya Journal founders Anisha Oommen and Aysha Tanya  

One of the highlights is the sobai jwng dau, a recipe from the Bodo community about chicken cooked with roasted split black gram. Oommen and Tanya explain that the unique flavour comes from khardwi, an alkaline liquid made from the peel of a local banana in Assam called bhim kol. “The community truly loves this dish. The author tells us that they greet each other not with ‘How are you?’ but with, ‘What curry did you eat today?’; and if the response is, ‘sobai jwng dau jwng’, what they are really saying is, ‘Better than ever before!’,” the two explain.

Then there is Tasneem Mama’s recipe for lasan, a winter Bohri Sunday lunch meal. The dish celebrates green garlic, which makes a very brief appearance in the Mumbai markets. It is finely chopped and sprinkled generously on a bed of keema, over which several eggs have been cracked. The dish is finished with sizzling hot ghee, which cooks the eggs to a gentle runny consistency.

Also interesting is the layered pudding recipe by Koakkie T.K. Paulose. This is a dessert from the Latin Catholic Community of Kochi, and is reminiscent of the incredible banquets that the community would feast on. The recipe brings together the ingredients and techniques brought by the Portuguese with local traditions of that time. Cake is used as a base and layered with cashew and pineapple—both Portuguese imports—to create something decadent and unique.

“Then, we have thakkadi, a 200-year-old-recipe from the Tamil Muslims of Tirunelveli, and bijora, a recipe that celebrates the fast-disappearing tradition of sun-dried sesame nuggets from Madhya Pradesh. Many of the recipes have surprised us, and made us fall in love with food and its power to carry our culture all over again,” state Oommen and Tanya.

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