Roopa Nabar On Her Cookbook, Maharashtrian Kitchens And More

Growing up in a joint family in Mumbai, Roopa Nabar would often accompany her mother and grandmother in the kitchen. Even though she studied to be a paramedic and started working at the mere age of 21, Roopa never stopped cooking and collecting recipes from everywhere she travelled. During the Covid 19 pandemic when the world came to a standstill, she decided to pen a cookbook, her first ever. In ‘From Varan Bhaat to Biryani, My Romance With Food’, Roopa Nabar documents traditional Maharashtrian recipes she learned from her home kitchen, some that you may not have even heard about, along with her personal cooking experiences, making for a riveting read. We caught up with the cookbook author. Excerpts.  

1. How did you plan to document these recipes?

I had a collection of recipes from my grandmothers, mother, mother-in-law and also some from my native villages. These ladies had greatly inspired me. Many recipes were long forgotten and hardly replicated. I compiled these traditional family recipes, and recreated them in my kitchen. While doing them I revisited all my favourite, sights, smells and sounds. While documenting them I felt like giving credit to those ladies and their kitchens, hence I grouped them in sections dedicated to them.

2. You speak very fondly of your family's influence in shaping your early years as a foodie. Can you talk about that?  

I grew up in a joint family where my grandmother held the keys to the kitchen and my mother and aunts worked on preserving the family’s culinary heritage. There always used to be group activities in the kitchen and I liked to spend my time in the kitchen watching them curiously though not actively taking part in cooking activity. I used to often accompany my father and my uncles who were on the lookout for local and seasonal indigenous ingredients like dragon stalk yams (shevala) or akur (tender ferns), alambi (wild mushrooms), all found during monsoon. The annual ritual of making a ‘Karwari Kairi Pickle’ was a laborious and community job where all the ladies of the house contributed. It was my mother’s secret recipe as she hailed from Karwar. As a child, I loved the job of deseeding the tender mangoes and preparing them for pickling.

3. The book comprises many offbeat Maharashtrian recipes and they are very nicely categorized too. Speak to us about the notion of 'balance' and 'complimentary elements' in a Maharashtrian meal.

Maharashtrian meal is balanced in terms of nutrition, flavour and texture. We do have our accompaniments like a ‘Panchamrut’ – tangy, spicy sweetish dry fruit chutney, in a vegetarian thali, a ‘Kishmoor’ – dry shrimp salad, a palate changer in a fish thali. All our curries are coconutty, lightly spiced with different types of dry red chillis. We always end our meal with a favourite ‘Sol Kadhi’ a tangy kokum beverage with digestive properties.

Image credits @roopanabar

4. You also introduced us to many things Like the traditional Maharashtrian 'pop kitchen', can you explain that briefly for our readers.  

‘Pop-up kitchen’ might be a new word to the world, but the concept is an old one at least in GSB community in the coastal region from where I come and is called ‘Khanawal.’ The lady of the house hosts a full course sit down meal for the guests. The seats are limited and the menu is fixed. It is usually a staple fish thali comprising of rice, fish curry, fried fish, a sukke (stir fry preparation of clams or tisrya, crabs or kurli, kalwa or oyster), Kishmoor and sol kadhi. Vegetarian thali is also available.

5. Talk to us about your journey into the world of food, who are your favourite chefs and who inspired you to take this up professionally despite having a 'stable' career already.

Though my educational background is that of a paramedic and practices as a clinical pathologist for 15 years, my heart was always in the kitchen. The turning point was when I participated in the ‘Food Food Mahachallenge’ and decided to take my passion to a higher level. I got the opportunity to showcase my culinary skills on youtube under the banner ‘Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana’ and ‘My Coastal Kitchen’ on India Food Network. I started compiling recipes, doing permutations and combinations in my kitchen and eventually got it shaped into this book ‘My Romance with Food’

My favourite Chefs:

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, my mentor who inspired me to do wonders in my kitchen and gave me a platform to showcase my recipes on Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana.

Chef Ranveer Brar down to earth and humble whose recipes are very easy to follow and has an amazing way of talking as he demonstrates.

Chef Gordon Ramsay, I love his fiery temper and he makes a very challenging and difficult recipe look very simple in his demonstrations.

6. What is your comfort food? 

‘Varan Bhaat’ with toop (ghee), limbu (lemon slice), salt and maybe a slice of fried fish is most satisfying comfort food.

7. Who are your biggest critics?  

My son, Gaurang is my biggest critic and my biggest admirer. As a child, he could guess the dish being cooked in the kitchen by the aroma that filled the house. He loves all the native and authentic GSB cuisine. He is the main reason being jotting down the recipes for this book.

8. A recipe you would like to share with us from your book.

For the Konkanis, Kolambi Bhaat is home. The flavours of fresh prawns and creamy coconut running through each grain of flavourful rice ... In my growing up years, it used to be a treat that would bring some respite to otherwise vegetarian mid-week meals. This recipe is one that has been tried, tested and enjoyed by everyone in my circle and I promise you too will fall in love with these simple, homely yet magical flavours. 

Preparation Time: 10-15 minutes Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes Serves: 6-8 Ingredients :

  • 1 cup medium-sized prawns (kolambi). cleaned and deveined
  • 2 cups Basmati rice, washed
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 mace blade
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic-green chilli paste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves


1. Combine the prawns, salt, turmeric powder, and red chilli powder in a bowl. Set aside to marinate for ten to fifteen minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Add the bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and mace and mix well.

3. Add the ginger-garlic-green chilli paste and saute. Add the onion and saute till it turns translucent.

4. Add the tomato, mix and saute till it turns soft. Add the rice, mix well and cook on high heat for a minute.

5. Add the marinated prawns and mix well.

6. Add the coconut milk and mix again.

7. Add 3 cups boiling water, stir to mix and add the salt. Mix well, cover and cook till the water evaporates and the rice is cooked completely.

8. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot.