Cooking with Joyce! How Malaika Arora's mother became an Insta star

Updated: Jul 05, 2020, 08:13 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

Malaika and Amrita Arora's mother has a fan following of her own on Instagram, and it's because of her dosas, biryani and meen curry

Joyce Arora
Joyce Arora

The morning we reached out to Joyce Arora, Cyclone Nisarga was still a few hours shy of grazing past the city. But the gloomy skies and chattering windows, a harbinger of the storm, weren't lost on us. The home chef and mother of model-actor duo Malaika and Amrita, told us that she will be keeping herself occupied in the kitchen—her safe space—through the inclement weather. Later, Arora took to Instagram to share pictures of a deliciously-looking tagine, a Moroccan stew, she prepared using chicken drumsticks. "There's a storm brewing outside… and there's a mini storm brewing in my pot. This is slow cooking with a twist. The conical dome of the tajine pot helps to create a vortex of steam, that swirls inside the pot, helping to cook the food in its own juices," she captions it.

It's been nearly four years since Arora started using social media to share her culinary skills, but it's only recently that she has become more disciplined with her posting. Arora admits that she enjoys putting out tried and tested dishes—from the delectable Yakhni pulao and chole bhature to South Indian favourites like Mangalorean meen gassi, uniappams and thatte idli—for her 17.3K followers. "And they have been very kind." Though, Arora is dripping modesty when she says, "Half of them follow me, because I am Malaika and Amrita's mum."

To prepare Mangalorean meen gassi
To prepare Mangalorean meen Agassi Arora uses a special tamarind called jarige. Like kokum and kodumpulli, it is soaked overnight, and the extracted juice is used for the dish. The sourness lies between kokum and kodumpulli, but the main difference is that "you have to discard the jarige petals, as it can give the dish a bitter taste". You can use surmai, ravas or ghol, to make the gassi. Pic courtesy/@joycearora, Instagram

Arora, who is originally from Alleppey in Kerala, says that Instagram has only given her a platform to express herself because "I have been cooking since I was 15". "My mother [Mariamma] was an excellent cook. As a child, I would follow her like a tail everywhere around the house, especially to the kitchen. I'd do all the errands for her, even though we had help at home. In the process, I learnt a lot from her. But, when she passed away, she didn't leave behind any hand-written notes or recipe books for me. So, I didn't have any reserve to dip into," she recalls. The aromas of her mum's meals, however, lingered. "We, Malayalee Catholics, eat a lot of vegetables. Everything I knew, was from memory—like how she cooked, or what masalas she added. And when I couldn't remember, it was my strong sense of taste that came in handy. I could eat a dish, and identify the ingredients from the flavours." One such dish that she knew from memory was eriserry, made from mathanga or red pumpkin and vanpayar or cow peas.

After she was married, cooking became an important part of her life. And she chose to do it on her own, despite having a day job in the marketing department of a leading national daily, where she worked for nearly 13 years. "I had a routine. I would wake up at 4.30 am, have my chai, and go for a walk to Aarey Milk Colony. Once I was back, I'd go straight into the kitchen, and make the girls their breakfast and lunch, and by 8.30 I was out of home. I returned at 6.30, and would immediately start with the dinner. So, I'd make three meals a day."

What Arora loves most is cooking for friends and family. In her home, Onam and Christmas are celebrated in a grand way. "Every year, for Onam, I cook at least 12 dishes, for the sadhya. We have over 25 guests through the day," she shares. "My daughter's friends also like my cooking; so sometimes, they come over to eat or I send them something. It gives me great joy."

She joined Instagram on the insistence of her husband, Anil. "Initially, I was just there to follow my daughters and their friends. But I used to see the way people would troll each other; there was a lot of bashing and I didn't quite like it. Then, one fine day, I posted a picture of a breakfast I had made. I still remember, it was the staple, dosas and idlis. But after that, I didn't stop," she says. Arora admits that she gets a lot of help from her husband. "He takes all my food pictures. I can barely focus with the phone. With the lockdown, it's he who manages the groceries. He even has all the fisherwomen on his WhatsApp; they send him pictures, and then he picks it up."

Arora has made a lot of friends on social media. "We exchange cooking notes. I even follow a few chefs, who share recipes that they think I should try," she says. "I feel overwhelmed with all the appreciation. It's one of the reasons that I make it a point to respond to everyone who leaves me a comment. It's the least I can do."

Kheema stuffed brinjal

Kheema stuffed brinjal

½ kg lamb mince
3 medium onions, ground to a paste
3 medium tomatoes, pureed
6 large cloves of garlic, made into paste
1 inch piece of ginger, ground to paste
1 tbsp kasturi methi, dry roasted and crushed to a powder
1 tsp black peppercorn
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp spicy red chilli powder
Salt as per taste
2 medium sized-bharta style brinjals
4 tbsp olive oil

Wash and drain the mince. Heat a pan, add 3 tbsp olive oil, then add the black peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and fry for a min. Add the onion paste and sauté till light pink. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute till the raw smell goes away. Add the mince, mix well and sauté till meat is browned and water nearly dried up. Add the turmeric powder, red chili powder and fry the meat, till it is dry. Add the tomato puree, kasuri methi, salt, garam masala, mix well, cover and cook on medium flame till mince is cooked. Uncover, check and adjust salt and spice, then cook on open flame till mince is dry. Preheat oven to 200 degree Celsius. Slightly peel the brinjal skin from top to bottom, on four opposite sides, so they have a dark and light pattern. Coat with 1 tbsp olive oil, and grill in the oven for 45 mins. After about 35 mins, touch to see if they are soft; it should not be falling apart. Remove, allow them to cool. From the white scraped part of the brinjal, carefully slit open the brinjal halfway to the bottom. Scoop out a little of the flesh. Mash and mix this with the mince. Sprinkle some salt inside the scooped out brinjal. Carefully stuff the mince into the brinjal, packing it till the top. Grill in the oven at 200 degree Celsius for about 30 mins. The brinjal will now be soft and the mince will have a slightly crusty top.

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