A desire to make South Indian food approachable for the youth inspired Jayshree M. Sundar to write this fascinating cookbook. We caught up with both Ms. Jayshree and Mr. Sundar Rajagopalan whose recipes are recorded in the book. Excerpts...
"People who love cooking will always be on a hunt for good cookbooks", said Ms Jayshree M. Sundar, when I asked her about her latest cookbook ‘The Tambram Recipes’. And it is quite fascinating really, especially because this is a book made for ‘millennials’. Millennials and books? Millennials who can practically dig out any recipe from the web, would they be so interested in holding a fat book and cooking? Jayshree’s confidence is a little more than just impressive here, she knows what she has on offer and the people she has made it for.
Jayshree M. Sundar, the author of the book is the wife of the famous media person Sundar Rajagopalan, the corporate genius who has been the face behind many successful media portals and start-ups. “I am a Bengali and he has grown up on the cusp of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, so you can imagine how foodie our family is. He has enormous love and passion for cooking and feeding people. Whoever comes to house, whenever, whatever they need, he will cook it for them. He has a lot of patience to cook for people and it was time his recipes came out to the world”, Jayshree tells me.
When A Home-Sick Daughter Craving Indian Food Inspired Parents To Write A Whole Cookbook
So why did they decide to come up with a cookbook now? Turns out, it was their daughter who is studying abroad and her persistent efforts to recreate Indian food that inspired Jayshree to compile all these recipes, tips, tricks and information in one book.
“My daughter would call up everyday asking ‘Papa how do I cook this idli, why is the batter lumpy , how do I make dosa crispy, how do I make rasam? He would write the recipes in messages, send voice notes from Delhi to Chicago. She would make those recipes and then her friends would ask her about the same. I thought one day that ultimately all these word docs, files and voice notes would get lost, it merited a proper book,” Ms. Sundar ascertains.
At this point I turned to Mr. Sundar who expresses his desire to let Jayshree lead the interview since she is the author and it was her idea to come up with a cookbook in the first place. “I have always had a penchant for cooking, while I haven’t formally learnt cooking, I always observed my mom cook when we were growing up and I was her happy helper after school”, he quips. Will the book feature these traditional recipes passed on in the family as well? “Yes, the book is replete with family recipes belonging to my parents and grandparents like okra pachadi, avial, upma kozhakattai, idli upma, bullseye, kathrikkai podi curry, olan, parappu usli, kosmali etc.”
Youngsters who are pressed for time or are posted somewhere and do not often lean towards cooking something elaborate the Sundars tell me. So fun and quirky three-ingredient recipes, healthy, gluten-free recipes also find a place in this massive ‘South Indian cookbook’. “Yes, of course there are all the traditional Sambhars and everything, lot of vegetarian curries, sweets, pickles. So, every amateur cook could relate very well in the book, that said, even if you are an expert, this book will come in handy”, says Jayashree.
The Journey of 'The Tambram Recipes'
Diving further into the making of the book Jayshree told us that she has been an advertising professional for many years and knew right away that for the book to have a ‘young’ tone, it needed the supervision of the same. In came the couple’s art graduate niece, a 23-year-old, Kartika Bagodi who designed the book and kept the look and the feel of the book very fun, colourful and youthful.
Jayshree told me that the target group of the book is somewhere between 21-40. "Once we had all these ideas, we were cooking at home. It was complete lockdown, so a lot of cooking was happening then eventually we learnt food photography, he also learnt plating and just between the two of us we jointly did everything, but we were in constant touch with our daughter who could be called our creative consultant. She was very excited for this book."
So here was a couple with all these ideas and additional skills that they picked up during the lockdown, but still, to publish a book you need a bigger, dedicated team. How did they stay inspired for a whole year?
“I was sure I wanted a professional touch, we carried everything out on Zoom calls. There was constant back and forth and everyone was very clear of their responsibilities. And then by page by page we got the book together. Eventually we found a publisher and finally last week the first few copies were rolled out. The feedback has been very overwhelming”, the couple answered.
Traditional Cookbooks vs. Mellennial Cookbooks
At this point I was tempted to know how was this millennial cookbook different from a traditional cookbook? Did they find any gaps to fill, what made their book different? “A cookbook is a cookbook; it serves more or less a same purpose. But here is a book that looks young, feels young. The tonality and the style are very refreshing. It is not just recipes, it has many interesting articles too. For example, young people like coffee a lot, so there are two whole pages dedicated to filter coffee. How do you make it, how do you pour it, the beans used. Another feature I really like is this bit on ‘tiffins’. When I first got married in this house, I used to find it so funny, because my idea of tiffin is what you carry to school or picnics, but in a South Indian household it has a very different meaning and all of that is captured in the book,” Jayshree replied.
For the unversed, in South India, if you hear someone utter the word ‘tiffin’, he or she is most probably referring to light snacks like Chana Dal Vada, Medu Vada etc. “All of which they make at home, my husband’s family”, she says.
The book also deals with the idea of a ‘South Indian brunch’, which is again an idea that is picking up internationally and even in India among the youth especially.
“So, whenever we think of brunch in India, we think of Chole Bhature or Puri Bhaji or something like that and I said why don’t we think of a south Indian brunch with Rasam as welcome drink for example, or two-three cocktails and tiny dal vadas, there are so many different things you can do . Then I have also done an article on the fine art of cutting vegetables because how you cut vegetables for Sambhar is different from how you cut it for an Avial, which is different from how you cut it for your Porial. Where it should be sliced, where should it be julienned, where it should be cut thin etc. Stuff like that are also there in the book making it an informative read.”
Further I was told about the recipe format and how they arrived at the one you see in the books now. Apart from your usual cooking method, list of ingredients, serving size etc, there is a ‘health metre’ indicating the calories and nutrients of the dish. Then there are variations. You can learn how to make dosa in three ways, or how to make Sambhar without onions. “Each recipe has a ‘Tambram’ step, where he gives you his little tricks to deal with the recipe. Why it is called Tambram is because I jokingly call my husband that since the time of my marriage. In the first line of the book itself I have explained that, everyone who knows us, know about this little joke and nickname,” Jayshree explains.
There’s much focus on simple recipes’ or ‘simplified cooking methods and tips’. So do the Sundars believe that simple recipes strike a better chord?
“With each recipe having a ‘Tambram’ twist and simple tips. It doesn’t mean that you are not hands-on. But for young people, when you are cooking, you are in a rush or you simply do not know the efficient way, that is when this book just helps you out. For example, for your dosa and idli recipes, this book would tell you how you should grind for dosa, it is a slightly different procedure from how you grind the mixture for an idli. At exactly what point to flip it, and which rice to pick. Or if you are using an old batter, how to repurpose the same etc,” the couple adds.
Given Jayshree is Bengali, should we also expect a Bengali recipe in the book? And does she have any favourites? “In this book there are a few non-veg recipes, they are all south Indian non-veg recipes, except one which is a signature Bengali mutton dish and that is Kosha Mangsho, it serves as a very good accompaniment to Mutton Dosa. That is my one contribution to the book and I call that recipe the Editor’s choice,” she says. Adding that her absolute favourite recipes from the book are Avial, idli, Mango Thokku which is a type of an instant mango pickle. “It is the love of my life”, she exclaims describing the same to us. “I also have a soft corner for sweets so I also keep coming back to payasam, rava ladoo etc.”
“My favourites are Dal Vada and hot Rasam”, Mr. Sundar adds.
Jayshree also told me that it was actually her second cookbook, “the first was also a coffee table book that had about 18-20 of my mother’s signature recipes. She passed away three years and my family wrote the book in her memory. It was never meant to be a commercial project. I gifted a handful copies to select friends. They loved it so much, that later I spotted those recipes on various social platforms getting all the likes and attention they deserved. So, I got the confidence from there, you know, the amount of joy cooking can bring to people who love to eat”.
When the web is flooding with recipes, what makes cookbooks hold their own I asked the proud author. "I got feedback from one person yesterday, saying that she often goes to YouTube, to blogs for recipes, that her laptop is always open. She told me that it is such a pleasure to keep a book open and cook from there. It was a different experience altogether. I don’t know what she meant, but she sounded very happy and excited. In what way is it different... I think it is a matter of personal connect. Say you are making a sambhar; you open 20 different recipes and each of their cooking style is remarkably different. So, each time you are cooking, you are referring to different videos, ending up with different versions of the same dish.This is a book that sits at home, it is a well-produced book which is always there for you. This is also a coffee table book. People like to keep a good looking and valuable book at home, and thus they can never seem redundant”, she concludes.