My fascination with laying complete meals and in the right combination on the table somewhere stems from my growing-up years. Introduction to regional food from various parts of India as well as from other countries at an early age was a gift from the partly nomadic life we led with my father being in the Navy. The official mess night menus which I would hear of would fascinate me as there was great emphasis laid on each course and the right combination of dishes. When I finally got down to running my own household and entertaining I decided to keep a notebook with details of what I serve on these occasions and attempt to not repeat dishes with the same guests!

The communities we lived in were a great source of learning about different food habits of people and my mother constantly made an effort to learn from them. I often use her recipe book which has the Remington typewriter script and has yellowed with time. The inspiration of collating recipes is from there.

The African philosophy of Ubuntu – “I am because you are” – literally meaning that a person is a person through other people, holds true in most aspects of my life including this book. All through its pages there is an outpouring of recipes from mothers, aunts, friends, teachers, house staff and sometimes even people I haven’t met but whose recipes have been recommended and I have tried. My task with most of their recipes was to quantify the ingredients as most people cook by instinct.

In hotel management school many a session is spent on menu planning. The very basis of what will be on your table during a meal. Balance of colour, flavour, texture, consistency and the process of creating the perfect synergy between dishes depending on the heaviness or lightness of them. More often than not I have come across meals served which are a complete mismatch of regions or flavours, leaving the palette confused. Though my right may not be yours and food is very personal, yet using some basic guidelines can be beneficial.

Travel adds to our gastronomic journey as well – I always come back with vivid memories of what I enjoyed eating on my trips. Sometimes recreating dishes where the recipes were parted with by chefs and locals of the place or using ingredients from the region to recollect the flavours, and in the process create a new dish, is all part of that enriching experience. Some sections in this book are dedicated to those joyful times.

The pages ahead attempt at answering that one question each waking day: “What should I cook today?” Open a section in this book and the answer lies there. There are menu options created at the end of each main course section where the courses are mentioned with the ideal combinations from different sections of the book. The options are for daily cooking as well as for larger gatherings.

The pandemic and the first lockdown was the beginning of this process. What began as passing on recipes to friends who wanted to try something new became an exchange of ideas. There are some pictures here which were my first ever food shots and many which I retook when I corrected or refined the dish, often making changes to the recipe. It is an iPhone book, the “Apple of my eye”!

Typing the recipes and write-ups on the Notes of my phone since that was the quickest way to WhatsApp the same, and also using the phone to click and save the picture was all a part of this fun activity. However, the improved pictures during the subsequent retest of recipes were on a mini iPad, with photography flat lays, props and a little more thought. It has been a learning experience and the profusion of food photographers, bloggers, stylists and their pictures online is inspirational.

Not a day goes by without my acknowledging the people who helped me learn – my mother for all her strictness and life lessons on running a kitchen and dining area, my father who at a very young age introduced me to the joy of reading and the important aspect of being meticulous, the teachers at my alma mater IHMCTAN (Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition) in Kolkata who taught with passion each day, ensuring each of us learnt the techniques and nuances of food production and planning, friends who shared and cared enough to support the process and nudged me to go ahead with the idea, our house staff who like family tolerated and stood by me through all my attempts, sometimes twice and thrice, with a smile, occasionally witnessing my frustration at a high decibel and above all else my husband and son who bravely ate and encouraged me each day!

“Don’t die with the music in you” – a guiding thought for me in the conception and completion of this book, something I had wanted to do for over twenty years. The need to never stop learning no matter your age is a belief that has helped a home cook reach out and be a part of your table.

Chaitra’s Goli Bajje (Serves 4)

• All-purpose flour: 80 gm
• Gram flour: 40 gm
• Baking powder: 1⁄2 tbsp
• Thick yoghurt: 50 ml
• Fresh coconut: 3 tbsp diced
• Ginger: 2 tsp chopped

• Green chillies: 2 chopped
• Curry leaves: 2 sprigs chopped
• Water: 75–80 ml
• Salt: 3⁄4 tsp
• Refined oil: to deep fry

1. Sieve flour, gram flour and baking powder together.
2. Add yoghurt and whisk together.
3. Add fresh coconut, ginger, green chillies and curry leaves. Gradually add water and whisk to aerate batter.
4. Add salt. Check seasoning and let the batter rest at room temperature for an hour.
5. Heat oil in a wok/ kadai for deep frying.
6. Shape batter into balls with your fingers, and drop into hot oil.
7. Deep fry 5–6 balls at a time until golden in colour. This will take 3–4 minutes.
8. Remove and drain excess oil on a paper towel.
9. Serve immediately with a coconut chutney of your choice.
5. Keep the flame low, otherwise the spices will burn and will taste bitter.
6. Add the boiled eggs.
7. Coat eggs with the masala.
8. Cook till the eggs are golden.

Darjeeling masala chai cake

• All-purpose flour: 150 gm
• Baking powder: 1 tsp
• Eggs: 2 large (room temperature)
• Powdered sugar: 120 gm
• Brown sugar: 50 gm
• Butter: 110 gm
• Tea leaves: 2 tsp
• Tea dust: 1 tsp
• All spice powder: 1⁄4 tsp
• Dried ginger powder: 1⁄2 tsp
• Green cardamom powder: 1⁄2 tsp
• Vanilla/Cardamom essence: 1⁄2 tsp
• Milk: 60 ml
• Water: 75 ml

1. Ensure eggs and butter are at room temperature. Sieve flour and baking powder together.
2. Boil tea leaves and tea dust in 75 ml water for 4 –5 minutes.
3. Strain and add 60 ml milk. Let it cool.
4. Preheat oven to to 175 ̊C for 8–10 minutes.
5. Measure 80 ml of the milk tea and keep aside, discarding the rest.
6. Whisk butter and both the sugars together until creamy.
7. Add eggs and whisk further. Add all the spice powders.
8. Add vanilla/cardamom essence and milk tea. Add sieved flour.
9. Fold flour mixture into the batter.and transfer into a 9 inch parchment-lined pan.
10. Bake for 30–35 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the centre it should comes out clean.
11. Cool in the pan and tranfer to a wire rack. Remove parchment from cake.
12. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Excerpted with permission from Servings: Simple Yet Exotic, Roopali Mohanti, Rupa Publications.