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Food: Denise D'Silva Sankhe's cookbook tracks her road trips across India

The open kitchen in Denise D'Silva Sankhe's Prabhadevi apartment is squeaky clean, shows off a black backsplash and carries a sign that says, two choices for dinner: take it or leave it.

We know that's not the dilemma her guests face and her blog (Beyond Curry) on website seriouseats.com, is proof.

D'Silva Sankhe
Pic/Shadab Khan

The door bell rings and in flies four-year-old cocker spaniel, Meiko. Petting and a ball are sufficient to calm him down.

From inside a room we hear gentle gurgling. It's four-month-old Emery.

French beans foogath. Pic courtesy/ Alan Richardson
French beans foogath. Pic courtesy/ Alan Richardson

Sankhe quit a 12-year career in advertising to pursue travel and food writing, both of which come together in her debut title, Beyond Curry Indian Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Through India, which she wrote when she was carrying Emery.

“Writing is my first love, then food. The blog and the book were an attempt to go past tandoori chicken and paneer makhanwala, and introduce readers to regional home cooking. I have included koat pitha, which are fritters made of rice flour and banana; Assamese tangy fish curry and millet pilaf,” says Sankhe. The trips that led her to discover these dishes are usually taken with husband, Prasanna.

“We stop anywhere, chat up villagers, and request them to let us try their food,” says Sankhe. “I'm not fluent in Marathi and my Hindi is awful, so I get my husband to translate. If you like something locals cook, they are pretty generous with sharing the method of preparation,” says Sankhe. The videos she shot along the way, she hopes will make it to her YouTube channel. “One is about the quaint fishing village of Harnai in the Konkan and it explores how the catch comes in. The Koli women, dressed in bright saris, are a beautiful contrast to the black sand of the shore.”

But when she travels overseas, Sankhe steers clear from Indian food. “While some are into cars and luxury, my husband and I spend our money on fancy, Michelin-star restaurants. At Mugaritz, I was served horse meat! I was reminded of Black Beauty, I returned it untouched,” she says.

Sankhe credits her Anglo Indian and Manglorean roots, and her mother's cooking for her culinary interest. “My mother would make a dish that I had christened the jungle pulao. It's an Anglo Indian dish that uses curries leftover from the previous night in a flavourful biryani with meat. She'd add her own spice mix to it,” Sankhe recalls.

Her book, published by Berkley-based Rockridge Press, is divided into five sections, and explores the North, South, East, West and North East of India. Beside every recipe, Sankhe has a guide that cautions readers if the dish if gluten-, egg-, peanut-, soy- or allium-free. “With the wave of vegan and vegetarianism, Indian food offers you all these choices,” she says, adding that regional food is India's culinary heritage.

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