When IT professional Bhavna Kalra moved to Perth from India in 2010, she missed all the comforts of home, including fresh nutritious home-cooked food.
“I was shocked at how expensive and terrible Indian food was over here,” she recalls. “There was no option either to order a meal from someone without burning a hole in my pocket.”
The food that she ate the first few months lacked fibre and the basic nutrients that she was so used to – her typical diet growing up had consisted of vegetables, roti or rice, lentils, salad, and yogurt, and meat perhaps once a week.
“In Australia I just stopped eating all that, and I guess my body rebelled in ways that were not pleasant.”
Diagnosed with symptoms of listlessness and lack of energy, her doctor advised to “eat the food you grew up eating”, thus setting her on a culinary journey.
“So I started to cook, learn, document, and feed others, and in that process, found a newfound love and respect for Indian food. I have not looked back since.”
Soon, with the right diet, she found her health returning to normal. “And this somehow set me on a path to discovering my roots, my food, and my culture.”
A blog was the natural next step.
“It was originally intended merely to document recipes, but when I started to learn more about where the recipes were coming from, I began to share my memories about them.”
An early MA in English literature no doubt came in handy, as readers began to respond favourably.
Today Sydney-based Kalra’s passion project is much more than a blog. Reinvented as The Modern Desi Co, it is an e-commerce site where people can book experiences with her. These take the form of pop-up dinners and, quite successfully, cooking classes.
“In these experiences, I’m trying to break the stereotypes and show Australians that Indian food is more than Butter Chicken and Naan.”
As a desi girl at heart, Bhavna Kalra’s recipes are Indian but with a substantial local Aussie influence, such as Kali Gajar Ka Halwa reinvented as Black Carrot Fudge, or the recipe she shares with us here.
Bhavna Kalra’s Beetroot and Ricotta Burfi
2 large beetroots
250 g fresh ricotta
1-litre full-fat milk
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cardamom powder
A few almond flakes, pistachio dust, and extra ghee for garnishing
Boil or roast the beetroot and then peel off the skin and grate.
Heat ghee in a pan and add the beetroot. Let it cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Turn off the heat.
Heat milk in a big pan on a low flame. Once it comes to a boil, add the ricotta and stir gently. Simmer this for 10 minutes.
Add the beetroot and let the mixture cook till the milk has completely evaporated.
Keep stirring to ensure the mixture doesn’t burn and stick to the pan.
Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add the cardamom powder and mix well.
Grease a pan with a little bit of ghee and pour the beetroot mixture in. Generously sprinkle the almond flakes and pistachio dust on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into squares when serving or break it into big chunks and serve it in dessert glasses sprinkled with pistachio dust and fairy floss.