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Makan brings Indian food to life in cookbook

PUBLISHED: 15:10 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:10 16 August 2017

Chetna Makan

Chetna Makan

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The Bake Off star tells all about tackling the colourful and tasty world of Indian food at home...

Don’t expect to find your standard chicken tikka masala and bhaji recipes in Chetna Makan’s new cookbook, because Chetna doesn’t do the expected.

In her first cookbook, The Cardamom Trail, the 2014 Great British Bake Off contestant explored how to use Indian spices in baking, and now her second recipe collection, Chai, Chaat & Chutney, takes an even more interesting tack.

It’s crowded with dishes best eaten with your hands; dishes that Chetna couldn’t get enough of while munching her way around India for research.

She, said: “People think Indian street food is limited to the three or four dishes, like panipuri, and I wanted to show there’s more.”

But with a country the size of India, how do you go about distilling such an incredible cacophony of foodie goodness?

“I actually didn’t know where to start because there’s so much,” admits Chetna, who lives in Broadstairs, with her husband and two children. “It’s a massive country - different cuisine everywhere - so I thought, ‘OK, I’m just going to pick the four big cities and focus on that’.”

The big four - Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata - each have their own signature foods and flavours. Mumbai “is a very metropolitan city, so takes food from everywhere in the country, but it’s got its own really distinctive dishes, like vada pav and dabeli”. Chennai is “very big on South Indian food, there’s lots of coconut, lentils, rice, and the typical dosas”. In Delhi, people “eat very heavy, they really specialise in flatbreads”, while in Kolkata you can expect “lots of fish”.

Chetna studied fashion design in Mumbai before moving to the UK in 2003, so the food she encountered on her return wasn’t “such a surprise”.

“I was like, ‘That tastes delicious, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve eaten that hundreds of times’, but in Kolkata it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing’.”

What all four cities do have in common though, is how kaleidoscopic their street food stalls and markets are compared to Britain’s.

“They’re very, very different,” says Chetna with a laugh. “There’s more colour and life, it’s all haphazard. Here, the street food stalls you go to are so organised! Everything is like clockwork”.

Chetna started cooking as a child, following her mum around the kitchen, helping to chop and stir, before confecting birthday cakes for her own children got her addicted to baking. She’s decided she’ll give the new Bake Off on Channel 4 “a go” but admits, “If I don’t like it, I won’t continue”.

Chetna’s counsel for this year’s baking hopefuls is: “You have to find your strengths and stick with it. That’s what I did. I didn’t think I had to do things a certain way, I knew my spices, and I just stuck with that.”

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