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Sarah Todd claims she is “obsessed” with papdi chaat – so much so that she would pick it over champagne and caviar.
As a quick snack at home, she’ll put it together with store-bought papdis, boiled potatoes and canned chickpeas.
When she’s in India though, it is the street-side variety that she loves.
“Every time I’m in India, I have to taste as much street food as possible,” Sarah writes in her new book My Indian Kitchen. “Chaotic yet magical, traditional yet contemporary, overcrowded and bursting at the seams, India is known for its street food and its army of hawkers that help satiate all cravings.”
It’s where she learned to love pakodas with chai, street style bhutta (charred corn), momos, kathi rolls, the Mumbai toasted sandwich cooked on an open flame in a square toaster, and kulfi falooda (which she calls “an exotic sundae”).
Some of these have now made it into her second cookbook, launched in early March.
Also included, are home-style recipes she learned from families she met in her travels around India, and more sophisticated preparations she learned from professionals.
The stand-out recipes though, are the modern presentations in which Sarah brings in a contemporary feel with elements drawn from Indian cuisine – a beetroot salad with a cumin dressing; Indianised brussels sprouts; lemon pickle roast lamb; roast chicken with butter chicken gravy. (Well, what did you expect from a Masterchef Australia alumna, and a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef?)
And yet, the book is described as having “a simple approach” to Indian cuisine.
“The concept behind the book came out of realising just how light and incredible home food is in India,” Sarah told Indian Link. “I wanted to showcase everyday dishes that, if you wanted, you can eat every night of the week, not just butter chicken, which is a celebration dish. Also, the turnarounds of being able to make really delicious, Indian-inspired dishes in as little as 20 minutes. I wanted to make these curries more approachable, with spice mixes and masalas that you don’t have to toast up and grind fresh every single day.”
The “simple approach” refers also to the elegant lightness of the meals.
“My recipes are clean, healthy, nourishing. The other day, I posted a chickpea dal recipe on my social media. A friend who’s very much into health and fitness posted it to her group as well, because she thought it was high protein, nutritious, and filling. It’s great to see that people are starting to see Indian food as healthy. And again for the health of the environment, you couldn’t pick a better cuisine than Indian.”
Many dishes in the book also come with stories from Sarah’s experiences in India, showing her deep connections to her adopted home. (The connect with Goa was instant – having grown up by the ocean in Australia, and with the fresh seafood.) The snippets are warm and engaging, such as cooking chicken xacuti riverside, grinding the masala with mortar and pestle; making bajre ki roti in Rajasthan and then eating it with her fingers with butter and jaggery; watching chicken tikka being cooked over charcoal in a street-side stall.
From Kashmir and Rajasthan to Assam and beyond to Nagaland, and down south to Bangalore and Chennai and Kerala, Sarah claims she has seen more of India than many of her Indian friends.
“Nagaland was beautiful. I was there during the Football World Cup, and watched it on a tiny television with the entire village! It was just such an incredible energy and a beautiful place. The one place that I really want to explore now is Punjab – it’s on my bucket list for its food.”
Sarah’s initial exposure to India came via a former partner, with whom she now shares a son. And of course, that Aloo Gobhi she cooked on Masterchef 2014.
“When that episode aired in India it got me 50,000 people on my social media straightaway,” Sarah laughed. “So I had to go there and see what the fuss was all about. When I landed there, my series was airing, and I was blown away with how many people were recognising me. To be honest, I just fell in love with the place. I just had a feeling that something more was going to be happening there for sure.”
And so she went from someone who wanted to open an Indian restaurant in Australia, to someone who opened two Australian restaurants in India – Antares in Goa and Wine Rack in Mumbai. (The stories of these made it to our TV screens as the SBS shows My Restaurant in India and My Second Restaurant in India).
Antares in Goa went through its fair share of problems – with its difficulties launching and then a fire afterwards, but continues to rate highly today. The Wine Rack, described as an intimate wine bar, is intended to debunk the myth that Indian food doesn’t go with wine. The wine list here is 3000-strong, with labels coming from all over the world.
Today, at the end of six years in India, this chef and restaurateur has also played speaker and TV host – on Indian TV shows Serve It Like Sarah, Grilled and Awesome Assam With Sarah Todd, and Australian shows The Perfect Serve and Farm to Fork.
We couldn’t let Sarah go without asking her this: You have friends over for dinner at your Melbourne home, what would you cook as an Indian meal?
“A papdi chaat to start with, of course. Then, I’d probably cook a thali, just for the ability to have the tastings of many different things. For dessert, a new dish I’ve just invented – gulab jamun inspired by tiramisu. The gulab jamun soaks in a coffee syrup, and then I put a dollop of cream on top and some cocoa powder. Honestly, it is the most incredible flavour.”
Up close and personal with Sarah Todd
Favourite local dish?
Favourite Indian personality?
I would say Sanjeev Kapoor because he’s created such an incredible impact as a chef. He’s brought the celebrity chef to the forefront and made chefs the stars.
Seen a Bollywood movie?
Many. I was obsessed with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan?
Shahrukh, because he’s a massive foodie.
Deepika Padukone or Alia Bhatt?
Know any Hindi words?
Many. Kitne aadmi the?
Hindi film songs?
Oh gosh, a lot. My best friend got married just recently and I was bridesmaid. She wanted all of us to do a dance. And so my partner and I picked a Hindi song and did a Bollywood dance routine for her.
Figured out the head wobble?
Yes, I have! It’s almost always a ‘yes’.
Any advice for Aussies looking to go work in India?
Understand the culture a little; ask questions. Often some of the mannerisms that we take as a negative, are positive. The concept of Atithi devo bhava, that my guest is my god, is really beautiful – it’s such an integral part of the culture. People are welcoming, and they make you feel like you’re a very special guest in their country.
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