Recipes … with love

Although I absolutely love cooking – I think of it as an art form, therapy, and a medium of sharing pure love – I rarely write down recipes. I neither record my own recipes, which I have been creating since I started cooking as early as age 10, nor do I often follow other people’s recipes. Because I am a foodie, and have been blessed with an innate ability to discern taste when I sample something and then recreate it, I have preferred to mostly play it by ear and flow with my own experimentations and inventions, asking for guidance here and there, now and again. (Let me clarify that this inherent talent is solely restricted to Indian cooking. And I cannot bake to save my life! :-)) And although I experiment, I am also a traditionalist with regards to flavors in Indian cuisine (just as I am in language, but that’s another matter), and my efforts in recreation are often based in old-time nuances, sophistications or complexities my taste-buds lovingly detected and memorized in the cooking of my grandmothers’ generation, and later in my mother’s hand and generation, through experiencing the broad repertoire of a slew of talented aunts, neighborhood aunties and friends’ moms. And not unlike the fabled nani or dadi, I am quite unable to quantify amounts of ingredients with any degree of specificity in a dish, which I otherwise whip up with ease – all I can muster up is the vague and imprecise “Oh, it’s a pinch of this and a handful of that…”

So whenever my friends, especially American, have asked me for any of my recipes, I have tended to become uncharacteristically evasive. First, how do I begin to even teach them about all the zillion spices in Indian cooking? (Why don’t they simply buy a Madhur Jaffrey book?) And even if I succeed in Masala-101, how do I quantify or prescribe what for me is an artistic, creative, perceptive and emotional endeavor, honed through years of eating and experimenting? So, often I have answered most truthfully, “Oh, this has many, many spices, but the most important ingredient is love.” And although this might sound flippant, it rarely is. I have truly experienced that intention (love) in what you cook – keeping in mind a certain person’s tastes, likes and dislikes, or my own caring for them, renders the food I cook for them that much better, richer, extraordinary. And to the contrary, if I am grumpy or unhappy when cooking, then it becomes a mechanical, purely scientific action – the following of a recipe – which can produce good, precise products, but not wonderful, transcendental delights. On hearing my answer, one of my close friends who is an ardent fan of my cooking, pointed me to a beautiful French movie titled Like Water for Chocolate, a fantastical, sensual exploration of how one young woman’s powers of love mixed into her chocolate productions went on to have unexpected and life-changing impacts in those who ate her chocolate.

More recently, my boyfriend, who initially appeared pretty neutral towards my Indian cooking progressively began to show interest, then appreciation and later even a desire to know my recipes. I was both surprised and flummoxed. Whenever I pulled the love-as-secret-ingredient answer, he laughed, never taking me seriously. So I tried to tell him about all the ingredients I use in his gradually building list of favorite dishes, but this usually resulted in vigorous nodding followed by the same inquiry about the same dish a few weeks later. Once we strolled into a tiny store in Pike Place market  with Indian spices and artifacts and my eyes went to an unexpected item on the shelves – a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook – one of her more comprehensive and traditional ones at that. As I stood leafing through it, JW leaped towards it with an exuberance I couldn’t have imagined two years ago. “Oh, is that a good book?” When I told him that Jaffrey was renowned for bringing the mysteries of Indian cooking to Western enthusiasts, he piped in with his characteristic brand of humor, “That’s great to know. If you ever break up with me, I’ll know where to find good Indian recipes, since I’ll miss the food!” I was quick to retort, “Oh, no worries, I’ll get you the book as a parting gift when I dump you!” We had a good laugh and it got added to our collection of bad dumping jokes.

So when Valentine’s Day was around the corner, I had an idea. Each year I have been hand-making JW cards based on some experience or inside joke we’ve shared (thus seizing the opportunity to commemorate love, yet simultaneously denouncing Hallmark’s fabricated fanaticism!) This time I decided, for the very first time, to pen down a few of my recipes that JW enjoys the most, and gift him with a designed collection. The title of the collection, aptly, is “Recipes … with love,” and at the risk of stating the obvious, I was punning – “with love” for Valentine’s day, and “with love” as a reference to the common ingredient in all the recipes included in the collection. Packaged with this, I added a traditional “dibba” of Indian masalas – you know, the lovely little round stainless steel container with little baby bowls of spices; I filled these up with all the spices mentioned in the little book I had created. I share with you here, the cover image of this collection, as well as one of the inside pages.

Needless to say, JW’s first response as soon as he unwrapped my present was, “What? You’re dumping me on Valentine’s Day?!!?”



Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Malini

    Very nice post Tana…I like the way you presented the recipes….keep going gal!!!!

  2. Khushi

    Great presentation. I am looking forward to eating some of these someday soon.

  3. Anonymous

    Tana, you sound happy and like you had a geat vals day. I like the name recipes with love. I think the reverse also holds true – if you eat with love it tastes better. Maybe your boyfriends love for indian cooking has grown with his love for you.

  4. Yasmin

    Really liked the ‘dont forget the love’ in the ingredients. (You didnt mention how much to put in though…we wouldnt want to make the dish too sweet) 😉

  5. Tana

    Malini, Khushi, thanks for the encouragement. I’ve been thinking of continuing building the collection. Anonymous, what a lovely thought! Couldn’t agree more, perhaps that’s why I have so many fond memories of foods I ate as a child, because I ate them with love. Yasmin, I TOLD you I’m bad at quantifying! 🙂 There’s actually no limit to how much to add. 🙂

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