How a novice cook became one of India’s most popular food bloggers and a published author

Nandita Iyer’s blog, Saffron Trail, began as a place for her to document her own food journey.

Though Dr Nandita Iyer did not cook much when she was younger, she has always appreciated good food. As a 16-year-old in Mumbai, Iyer attended coaching classes for science and mathematics for which she needed to leave home at 5.15 am. As the morning wore on, she would (understandably) be famished and her attention was always drawn to another student who used to bring koki – a kind of flat spicy bread typically made in Sindhi households – for lunch. “How good it would smell in that closed classroom,” Iyer recalled in an interview last month.

Cooking is now a huge part of the 40-year-old’s life. Since 2006, she has been writing about healthy vegetarian food and crafting her own recipes on her popular blog, Saffron Trail. And next month, her first book of recipes, titled The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian will be published by Hachette India.

Delicious, and healthy

When Iyer started Saffron Trail, it was still the early days of food blogging in India and only a handful of websites existed, including Sailu’s Food and Finely Chopped, she said. But these days, it is almost impossible to scroll through Facebook without coming across a three-minute video on making a quick chicken dinner or a beginner’s guide to frosting a cupcake.

After a year of blogging – during which time Saffron Trail’s audience continued to grow – Iyer was made an offer to create a cookbook. At the time, she decided against it but, in 2015, the opportunity to write a book came up again and this time she was ready. “I thought the time is right. I’ve been a food blogger for long enough and I wanted to add something else with my bio.”

Healthy living is a huge part of Iyer’s cooking. Though studying medicine in Mumbai left time for little else – “I barely knew how to make tea” – Iyer soon turned her attention to understanding food and how it can be used to help maintain good health. She focused on creating vegetarian dishes using seasonal produce with high nutritional value.

Photo credit: Nandita Iyer.
Photo credit: Nandita Iyer.

When Iyer started working on her book, she actively avoided refined sugar, and made an effort to choose the healthiest ingredients she could find. Those ingredients are now divided into four sections of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian: Good Carbs, Eat the Rainbow, Protein Punch and Healthy Fats. Iyer also made sure to include nutritional notes in her recipes, such as the anti-oxidant properties of betel leaves or the presence of thymol, which prevents tooth decay, in tulsi. “People [can] understand why this is good for you, instead of [me] just saying, ‘yes, this is good for you,’” she said.

Recipes in Iyer’s book include a mix of familiar vegetables and others that home cooks might not use every day, like ash gourd or sweet potato. Her recipes almost always use seasonal vegetables, but she shies away from catering to holiday seasons, including Diwali or Thanksgiving for her large audience in the United States. “During Halloween, everyone’s doing pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin,” she said. “It’s just boring for me.”

One of Iyer’s favourite recipes in the book was inspired by her grandmother’s coconut-based molaga podi. Made with desiccated coconut, dried chilli, sesame seeds and various dals, each ingredient is slowly toasted to a golden brown and coarsely powdered together. Another favourite is a quick pasta sauce that uses ripe avocado, sundried tomatoes, black olives and walnuts.

“I need to inspire [readers] with some new ideas that they can interpret in their own kitchens,” she said.

Iyer’s recipes also come from her rooftop garden at her home in Bengaluru. Photo credit: Nikhita Venugopal
Iyer’s recipes also come from her rooftop garden at her home in Bengaluru. Photo credit: Nikhita Venugopal

A personal journey

A self-described impulsive cook, Saffron Trail started out as “my own diary of what I’m trying out”. The blog, she said, was a way to record her experiments in the kitchen, to note down the ingredients and quantities for spur-of-the-moment dishes, or save interesting recipes she found along the way in magazines or newspapers. “I wasn’t even checking things like Google Analytics,” she said. “I was just doing it entirely for myself.”

After moving to Bengaluru in 2011, Iyer started to pay more attention to the traffic that her site drew. Recipes with the most views tended to be simple ones that beginner cooks were eager to learn – filter coffee, phulkas and aloo parathas, for example. But for her, her blog remains first and foremost “a reflection of what I cook at home”.

Inspiration for Iyer’s recipes now also comes from her rooftop garden at her home in Bengaluru, where she grows chillis, tomatoes and a range of other vegetables. For example, one time, she had a surplus of sweet potatoes and taking advantage of her “problem of plenty”, Iyer came up with several new sweet potato recipes, from cakes and muffins to bread and stuffed paratha. And years later, inspired by the memory of her classmate’s delicious lunch, Iyer eventually made her own version of koki – “I’m so impulsive in my cooking. I rarely ever want to follow the rules.”

From The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian

Black-Eyed Pea Burgers
In Indian cuisine, black-eyed peas or lobia are usually made into a spicy curry served with parathas or rice. However, these hearty beans can be used in a lot more dishes such as soups, salads and burgers. This burger recipe makes a good meatless option for vegetarians and vegans.

1⁄2 cup Black-eyed peas (lobia), soaked overnight
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs of choice
1⁄2 cup dry breadcrumbs (whole-wheat bread)
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1⁄2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 Drain the black-eyed peas and rinse thoroughly.
2 Place them in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water.
3 Close the pressure cooker with the lid and the pressure weight plugged in.
4 Cook the peas for 3-4 minutes over low heat after the cooker reaches full pressure (first whistle).
5 Open the cooker after the pressure subsides.
6 Drain the cooked beans through a sieve and transfer them to a bowl.
7 Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.
8 Mash the mixture well.
9 Divide into 2 portions and shape into burgers.
10 Keep them on a plate, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

2 tbsp oil

1 Heat the oil in a frying pan.
2 Remove the patties from the refrigerator and shallow-fry them on both sides for approximately 7-8 minutes on each side till golden-brown.

Serve with a salad or inside a burger bun with all the other trimmings of a burger.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.