Nita Mehta: bringing you recipes that work
When we talk about Indian cookbooks, what name comes to your mind instantly? Probably, it is Nita Mehta, the famous cookbook author who has sold over 3.5 million cookbooks over a span of few years. What inspires the famous author to write, how she thinks of her recipes, what makes her cookbooks sell…let’s find out more. Nita Mehta is a home science graduate from Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi and a Gold Medalist in M.Sc. (Food & Nutrition). She has authored more than 350 books on various topics including more than 250 best selling cookery books. Her book Flavours of Indian Cooking won the Best Asian Cookbook Award at the Versailles (Paris) World Cookbook Fair. Three of her other books have also won international awards like Zero Oil Cookbook, awarded as Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook; Chocolate Cookbook, awarded as Best Chocolate Cookbook and Cooking for Growing Children, awarded as Best Cookbook for Children & Family. The publisher of her books is SNAB Publishers. The secret of success is her thorough and meticulous approach towards her books, as she shares in an interview with Varsha Verma. Excerpts.
AABP: When and how did you become interested in cooking?
Nita MehtaNita Mehta: Cooking started at a very young age. As far as I remember, I started cooking when I was 12-13 years old. That time, I used to bake cakes and cookies with my mom, aunts and neighbours. When my parents saw my interest in cooking, they let me do my graduation in home science from Lady Irwin College and then I did my postgraduation in food and nutrition. I enjoyed studying throughout my college life.
AABP: What made you decide to write cookbooks?
Nita Mehta: After my college, I got married and became busy with children. After 10 years of my marriage, when my children grew up, I started taking classes for ice-cream making, which were very well-received by the girls. It was the time when there were not too many flavours available for ice-creams and I created and developed some new ones. After 2-3 years, the same girls and their friends and relatives, asked me to give classes for cuisine like Italian, Chinese and Mughlai. I continued taking classes for another 10 years and it was at this time that I realized that I need to pen down my recipes in the form of a book.
My first book was released in the year 1993 titled Vegetarian Wonders which was a large sized book with coloured pictures. The book was beautifully photographed and was well received. Readers had said that the recipes were written very carefully and there was no margin for error. Infact, some of them even remarked that they felt that their mother is standing beside them and guiding them when they cook a dish. I have authored 350 cookbooks as of now.
AABP: How do you write a recipe?
Nita Mehta: Whenever I write a recipe (even if it is an old recipe), I try to give it a twist to a different flavour. A little change goes a long way in creating a mouth-watering delicious dish.
AABP: How do you organize your recipes in your own kitchen and then in the form of a book?
Nita Mehta: I always try to create an unusual recipe. I first cook in my mind and then put it onto paper. My operator sets it in the page format. Then, once it is done, I think how much quantity of each ingredient should go. Then, either my staff or I cook the recipe. We exact the recipes when we work along. We correct the recipe for any changes in ingredients or process. Infact, each recipe is tried 2-3 times before it is put in a book. We also try to add visuals of each recipe so that people know how an end product looks like.
AABP: What are your favourite cooking gadgets and foods?
Nita Mehta: I do not believe in commercial cooking gadgets. I try to use the minimal gadgets which are ordinarily available in our Indian households. I particularly like a good pair of knives and a chopping board, besides a food processor. Since my books are aimed at general people, I like to use the gadgets which everyone has so that they can actually start instantly with my cookbooks. Infact, I feel proud when readers say that they learnt cooking with my cookbooks.
Though I like all kinds of foods but I like Thai, Chinese and Italian, besides Mughlai. I particularly enjoy Thai food as it is very close to Indian cooking and even the spices used are more or less the same.
AABP: What is your best cooking tip for beginners?
Nita Mehta: When you are reading a cookbook, have faith in it. Read the recipe carefully, collect the ingredients and then start cooking. Better still, work it out in your mind first and then do the actual cooking. Also, always cook with a good mood and with love as food is the expression of love. That’s why mother’s food is different than the staff’s food.
AABP: Do you have an amusing kitchen incident to share?
Nita Mehta: I still remember a kitchen disaster I landed in. Soon after my marriage, I had organized a dinner party. It was a hot day and since I was not very quick at cooking, I started it early. I was so naïve that I forgot to put the dishes made with curd and tomatoes in the refrigerator. By evening, most of the food was spoiled and I had to order food from outside.
Today, when I take my cooking classes, I tell the girls to organize their work and the things which need to be served last should be cooked last. With my hit and trial method, I have amazing tips to share with them as to what can be cooked before and what needs to be cooked last.
AABP: Tell us something about yourself?
Nita Mehta: I am a family person and always like to maintain a work-life balance. I want to work but not at the cost of my family. Whenever I am out the whole day, I make it a point to be home before my grandson’s sleep time so that I can spend some quality time with him.
AABP: What inspires you to go on and on?
Nita Mehta: My family has been very supportive all through my life. Besides, I have travelled a lot in India as well as abroad which has given me an insight into different cuisines around the world. I am very passionate about cooking and when I cook a recipe in my mind, I can actually feel the aroma and taste the flavour of the food I am cooking. Then, I see how to create a twist to a normal dish to make it an exotic one.
AABP: What can the readers expect next?
Nita Mehta: I am coming up with a book on Indian sweets and a Festival Cookbook. The latter will contain information on what to do and what to cook on festivals like Lohri, Dussehra, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Id, and many more South Indian festivals, etc. I really enjoyed working on this book.
Then, there is a book on Rajasthani Cuisine, including both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Coffee table cookbooks are also on the cards.