Israeli aromas in Mumbai
An expat novelist from the US is all set to share her love for cooking with you through what's an interesting spread
Four years ago, when Leah Franqui, a novelist and playwright, moved to Mumbai with her Indian husband, a Bollywood screenwriter whom she met while they were studying drama together at New York University, the idea was to create more time in her life so she could pursue her novel with full force. Between then, and the release of her book, which happened in October last year, Franqui has donned many hats, including that of a writer with a film company and a consultant in the educational space.
Roasted beets in tahini
But hosting diners happened to the Santacruz-based expat quite serendipitously, even though she has nurtured a love for cooking for long. Authenticook, a home-dining experience franchise, had launched around the same time that Franqui and her husband moved to Mumbai, and they had signed up for a Koli meal being hosted by a home chef based in Versova. Soon, the couple took a liking to these meals and became a monthly regular at their pop-ups, until they attended a Pathare Prabhu pop-up at co-founder Aneesh Dhairyawan's home, and an alliance was forged when they learnt of Franqui's culinary bent.
Twice cooked eggplant
"All the jobs that I have held had a writing dimension because that's my background. But when it comes to cooking, I have been doing that almost my whole life. I also worked in restaurants between the age of 15 and 20 back in the US," Franqui tells us, adding, "My mom is a Russian Jew and my dad is a Puerto Rican, but my grandmother's childhood was spent in Iran. So, growing up, I was exposed to a lot of Middle Eastern food. And then a chef called Michael Solomonov opened up a chain of restaurants in Philadelphia [which is where Franqui grew up]. So, when I moved to India, I noticed the crossover of a lot of ingredients, which is good, because some cuisines are really hard to cook here due to the lack of condiments."
Hummus and pita
Franqui has embraced the semblance of Israeli culinary traditions in the Indian spice market to prepare dishes like a slow-roasted beetroot where the veggie is shredded and tossed in tahini and parsley; a Sephardic Jewish preparation from Spain called chicken albondingas made with chicken meatballs tossed in a tomato sauce; and a whole roasted mutton leg brined in pomegranate molasses to go with an aromatic Persian rice, as well as well-known dishes like hummus, but which she prepares with a Solomonov twist that makes use of equal parts chickpeas and tahini (unlike in other Levantine cuisines that use less tahini).
Speaking about her saga with Indian food, Franqui tells us, "I love the food of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and am very interested in Indian food history because it's a composite cuisine with a million influences. In the US, I was mostly exposed to a lot of bad North Indian food that is actually cooked by Bangladeshis and is many times removed from its original taste. So, the big revelation for me, when I moved here was Bengali food, which I absolutely love! But what is confusing is how this country has so many diverse cuisines, but most Indians I have met haven't really tried anything else apart from their own community's food and end up eating the same thing on most days. I do love Indian food, but I don't think I could eat the way Indians do."
At Santacruz West (full address to be shared after bookings).
On May 12, 1 pm
Log on to authenticook.com (to book seats or request a meal on a date of your choice)
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli