The Penguin Q&A

Meera Sodha

Get to know the author of Made in India and Fresh India, who reveals her hidden talents, favourite writing snacks and the time she set up a dating agency called 'Fancy an Indian'...

When did you know you wanted to write?

I have always loved writing. When I was a teenager I used to write endless letters to my friends and once sent 26 in single week. But it wasn’t until I was collared by someone I worked with at innocent drinks who suggested I try my hand at some copywriting that I thought of it as anything other than a hobby. Now, I am almost never without a notebook and a pen.
 

What did you do before you were an author?

I did many things because I never quite found my dream job, until I started writing cookbooks. After leaving university, I set up a dating agency called ‘Fancy an Indian’ which failed miserably. Then I worked at innocent drinks in their marketing team doing all sorts of things from organising campaigns to writing newsletters. Most recently, I was working in an arts organisation putting pianos and ping pong tables in cities in a bid to make them much friendlier places.
 

What is your earliest reading memory?

The book I really fell for was Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. As a child I was so captivated by the idea that you could climb a tree and there would be a different world to explore at the top of it each time. 

What inspires you?

The greatest inspiration for me, when it comes to food and stories, comes from elbowing my way into other peoples’ kitchens in India and looking at what they cook for themselves and for their families. Inevitably, each recipe has a story that unlocks a memory, a tradition or a piece of history.
 

Books and authors I’ve loved include:

Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking

Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food

The Cooking of the Maharajah’s by Shalini Devi Holkar
 

Who is your favourite fictional character and why?

He is called Herbert Badgery from Peter Carey’s Illywhacker. In some ways he doesn’t have a great character. He is a trickster and a liar but he creates the world around him using his storytelling abilities and gets into a lot of surreal and entertaining scrapes.  

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and what would you serve?

If it were a fantasy dinner party, I would invite a lot of my favourite people who have died recently like Prince, David Bowie and Muhammed Ali and ask them what they’d learned about life (and what the best things they’d ever eaten were.)  

I’d serve them a Keralan feast from my new book, Fresh India. There would be creamy beetroot pachadi, coconut dal and Keralan vegetable istoo with coiled flakey Malabar parathas to mop everything up with. 

 

 

Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…

Telling the time without wearing a watch.
 

What is your guilty pleasure?

Going to antiques markets like Kempton or Hemswell. I could wander around for hours marvelling at the strange and wonderful things we’ve chosen to make and keep.
 

How do you prefer to write?

I’m not a morning or an evening person, so I write all day and intermittently between creating recipes. Both of my books were written on the same spot on the right hand side of the sofa. When I don’t have anything to say I take my dog, Lola out for a walk.
 

Do you have any preferred writing snacks?

I am a great nibbler. I nibble on whatever I’m cooking but nibbles of choice are, pistachios, Bombay mix, really mature cheddar cheese and dates.

How did you celebrate finishing your book?

My husband and I flew to Sri Lanka and stayed in our favourite hotel at the top of a cinnamon plantation.

Your book celebrates vegetarian food. What do you love about meat-free cooking? 

It’s so liberating not to organise a meal around a piece of meat. When you have a limitation (i.e. not cooking with meat) it encourages creativity and opens up lots of possibilities. I think it’s a lot more exciting to cook with vegetables over meat because it is to much more colourful and seasonal and gives you much more variety when it comes to flavours and textures. 
 

How do your recipes adapt classic Indian dishes with British ingredients? 

I think it’s important to keep the integrity of a classic dish which to me means keeping the technique and / or the range of spices but changing Indian ingredients for ones which are local or in season.

 

Your family are from Gujarat. What's special about the food there? 

Gujarat is a small state which has had a big impact on Indian food culture and that’s because it is famously vegetarian. It has been this way for thousands of years. As a result a very innovative and resourceful way of cooking vegetables and pulses has evolved. Take the humble chickpea for example, in Gujarati hands has transformed into a fluffy breads called dhokla, a silken pasta called khandvi and even a beautiful fudge.  

 

Want to try some of Meera Sodha’s recipes? Check out The Happy Foodie’s collection from her books, Made in India and Fresh India.

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