This award-winning book by author Natasha Celmi offers you fuss-free meals with gourmet flavours
Whether it is Kung Pao Cauliflower, Street Style Pad Thai or a hearty Burmese Khao Suey you want to try out this weekend, you need to get hold of ex-restaurateur and food blogger Natasha Celmi’s new cookbook. Titled Fast Fresh Flavourful, her cookbook specialises in using local ingredients and simplifying basic techniques to create global dishes.
From satays, Singaporean laksa, mezze platters, Italian zucchini rolls, fiery Mexican burrito bowls to delectable desserts, this cookbook could be your ‘go-to’ reference for easy cooking, smart techniques, and interesting meal plans. It celebrates the versatility of vegetarian cooking and offers you a meat substitute as well.
The cookbook has just won an award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020 and is available worldwide on Amazon.
Creator of the Instagram blog, Cucina Mia by Natasha, Natasha is a self-taught chef who is popular for her cooking workshops across the country.
In an interaction with YSWeekender, she speaks about her favourite recipes and her culinary journey, and she has some tips for home chefs too.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YSWeekender (YSW): Can you tell us about your book Fast Fresh Flavourful?
Natasha Celmi (NC): My debut cookbook is all about everyday meals made easy. Today’s generation does not want to eat ‘dal chawal’ every day. As the book name suggests, I guide you to prepare meals which are ‘fast’ yet ‘fresh’ and not stuff from bottles and cans filled with preservatives and chemicals.
YSW: What are some of your favourite recipes in the book?
NC: My family’s favourite recipes from the book are the Italian zucchini rolls, Indonesian Nasi Goreng, and the comforting Mexican bean burgers. The veggie hummus, pumpkin risotto, and homemade gelatos are sure shot winners too.
YSW: How is it different from the many cookbooks in the market today?
NC: Fast Fresh Flavourful is not just a book of recipes. My book is a practical guide and friend in the kitchen. I hope to convince people that you don’t need a special occasion to eat a gourmet meal. Every meal can be a celebration if planned and done right!
YSW: Can you tell us how you got interested in cooking?
NC: I grew up in Kolkata in a time when kids were not encouraged to be in the kitchen. Getting lavish meals on the table was the job of the dedicated cook and the army of staff around, under the watchful eye of my mother.
Around 2005-2008, my work related to my first venture, Mama Mia! gelato took me to Italy on multiple occasions, and there I was introduced to a whole new world of flavours I had never tasted before.
Back then, food blogs were not yet born. Meal planning apps were still a dream and YouTube channels were few. This was when shows like MasterChef Australia and Nigella Bites took India by storm. Cooking seemed much more exciting than it did before!
YSW: What are some of your tips to make a simple meal possible?
NC: In my opinion, planning is the key to avoid getting stressed when faced with this question. Utilise the weekend to stock up on homemade sauces, chutneys, dips, etc, which can be refrigerated or stored for those tiring weeknights. I highly recommend doing your grocery shopping on the weekend and stocking up for the week.
When you are cooking something, make extra and use it the next day in a creative way with a slight variation. Chop some extra salad to make a delicious sandwich filler. Leftover aloo Gobi or chana masala make gourmet wraps the next day. If you had Thai curry with rice last evening, have it with some noodles and fresh herbs the next day in a noodle bowl. Also, eat seasonal, fresh, and local foods.
YSW: You are a self-taught chef. How did you teach yourself the art of cooking?
NC: While I had developed an interest to cook, I was struggling to put something decent together due to the lack of skills and knowledge.
Inspired by Julia Roberts in the movie Eat, Pray, Love (which I watched on repeat those days), I enrolled myself into a cooking school in Florence, where I learnt to make authentic Italian food. Exploring local markets and spending time in restaurant kitchens helped me learn more.
When I moved to Singapore with my husband, I learnt the intricacies of Asian cooking. I attended some culinary schools there and interacted with locals to learn the true flavours of their cuisine.
YSW: Since your husband is from Italy, do you experiment a lot with Italian food?
NC: My husband is from Southern Italy and is an excellent cook. I learnt a lot from him and his family about their food traditions. Italian food is “home food” for us. We spend a lot of time cooking together and having friends over for meals.
Italian food is all about simplicity and fresh, seasonal ingredients. I am not talking about commercial non-authentic restaurants with stodgy sauces and overcooked pasta overloaded with cheese. You can create magic with simple olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, vegetables, and flour, but it is important to respect the ingredients and let each one shine.
Just as Indian food is not merely about chicken tikka and naan bread, true Italian food is not only about cheesy pizza and pasta in red and white sauce.
YSW: What is the importance of cooking with local produce?
Thai Green Curry
NC: From a health point of view, using local produce is very important as it will not contain artificial elements and preservatives. Today, everyone is eating everything all year round as the ingredients are either grown artificially or imported.
I have advocated local substitution throughout my book. Arborio rice in a risotto dish is replaced with barley, an ancient Indian grain which gives it a lovely bite and texture. Ricotta cheese is simply desi paneer blended to a fine creamy consistency.
Mexican black beans and rajma are country cousins for sure.
If you pick the ripest of our humble desi tomatoes and cook them right, I guarantee you an Italian Pomodoro sauce at par with an Italian one. So, no canned tomatoes all the way from Italy please!
YSW: Can you tell us about your cooking workshops?
Pancakes topped with fruit
NC: I have been conducting cooking workshops at various venues around Bengaluru and also in other Indian cities pre-COVID. Now it has all gone online and has worked out really well, as people all over the world join in. I also do private workshops for corporate groups, families, friends, and couples.
My menu ranges from Italian, Mexican, Pan-Asian, and Thai to healthy salad bowls, pizza, breads, desserts, and gelato.
YSW: What are your professional plans for the future, post-COVID?
NC: I aspire to climb as high as I can dream...and I do dream a lot!
(Images credit: Natasha Celmi)