Spice For Life With Anjula Devi

TOAST turns up the heat for National Curry Week with chef and author Anjula Devi

Renowned for her vibrant, healthy Indian food, chef and author Anjula Devi talks to TOAST about her inspirational father and her great love affair with creating spice-filled dishes that taste as good as they look, plus her top tips for dishing up authentic and delicious Indian food at home.

This chillier time of the year may call for a whole host of cosy comforts, from woolly jumpers and open fires to a good old Sunday roast served with lashings of red wine, but if like me there’s still a part of you that yearns for sunnier climes then nothing can transport you there better than a spiced-filled, aromatic Indian feast, and with National Curry Week taking place this month (9th- 15th October) there’s been no better time to spice up your life.

From her Surrey kitchen where she runs her Indian food business, Anjula Devi is taking over the world; she hosts regular cookery classes, local supper clubs and orchestrates her successful and deservedly popular Indian food catering businesses, and she has also somehow found the time to recently write her first cookery book, as well developing a range of Indian cooking utensils and a ‘How To’ book in partnership with Lakeland UK. Anjula is a natural, and cooking is most definitely in her blood.

I started cooking at the age of 8, and my earliest memories are of sitting on the kitchen floor with a pestle and mortar, which seemed as big as me, grinding and blending spices” Anjula enthuses. 

By the age of twelve I was my father’s ‘right-hand man’ catering for large Indian weddings. My father was a culinary genius and taught me so much!”

Spice For Life Roasted Shallot Chutney

(Dish: Roasted Challot Chutney)

Spicy Crispy Baked Sweet Potatoe Spice For Life Recipe

(Dish: Spicy Crispy Baked Sweet Potatoe)

Despite her inherited passion and obvious talent and flair for cooking, Anjula only decided to carve a career in food a few years back, after her two sons left home for university. She has since achieved far more than most during that time, including writing her first cookery book - Spice For Life - which contains over a staggering 100 recipes in addition to all the techniques one might need to begin mastering Indian cooking at home.

I promised my father before he died that I would share his recipes with as many people as I could, and I waited patiently to find a publisher who could create the book that I had in mind. When I saw the front cover for the first time I was overwhelmed. I knew that my Dad would have loved it.” Anjula explains.

It took me around 9 months to create and iterate the recipes until I felt that they were as good as they possibly could be. I went with my heart and created the dishes which I love the most - you won’t find my recipes in any other cookery book. My method of cooking Indian food is made easier by the way I set out the spices, and there’s no butter chicken or tikka masala!”

Ah yes, tikka masala. One of those classic curries that us Brits just can’t seem to get enough of. As a nation we love a ‘ruby murray’ – piles of popdoms, onion bahjis and a creamy korma to boot. Undoubtedly delicious, but also very rich, filling and absolutely packed with calories, and not terribly authentic it seems either.

I think more and more people are realising that Indian takeaways aren't the type of dishes we eat at home - food cooked in Indian homes is much lighter and healthier. I probably love aloo gobi the most, it reminds me so much of growing up. Sometimes serve it with coconut and green mango chutney - it’s a simple but amazing dish made from two humble but magnificent vegetables!” enthuses Anjula.

I love experimenting with a wide range of ingredients, coconut and green mango are two of my favourites! I like to use a lot of fresh and vibrant vegetables and I carefully select and blend my spices. I do love traditional methods – the pestle and mortar which I was bought for my tenth birthday is by my side every single day” she adds.

The ultimate secret to great traditional Indian food is all about blending and balancing the right spicesm and it should be cooked patiently and with TLC. I cook at home every single day - I try to create new dishes and traditional ones which I apply my own twists too, and I often make my husband and sons’ favourite dishes. I also love to cook outdoors and create dishes which I know are made over open fires in countless Indian villages

Anuja Spice For Life Tarka Daal

(Dish: Anjula's  Tarka Daal )

Spice For Life Pulled Lamb

(Dish: Anjula's Pulled Lamb)

Spice For Life Bhel Puri Indias Most Famous Street Food Zingy Sweet Tangy Zesty Spicy In One Spoonful Jpg

(Dish: Bhel Puri, India's most famous 'Street Food' - zingy sweet, tangy, zesty, spicy in one spoonful!)

As well as all of her creative recipes, it’s a relief to hear that Anjula’s book also covers all the techniques and tips that one might need to begin mastering Indian cooking because let’s face it, cooking an authentic, great tasting curry at home can seem a daunting task to even the most accomplished home chef.

I think it’s a bit like learning to drive a car. Experience is important, but there are logical steps which enable you to become more proficient. Like anything else if you have a real passion for it, your learning curve will be steeper and even more enjoyable.” explains Anjula.

Just go for it and never be concerned about making mistakes! Buy a masala dabba and fill it with all of the spices you need. Spices are easy to source nowadays – either online, from an Indian grocer or a large supermarket. Start with the easier recipes and evolve from there. Be fearless and you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve”

Anjula Dabba Masala

A masla dabba, in case you were wondering, is a box containing various compartments for all the different spices that are required for cooking up an Indian storm wherever you are - ‘dabba’ means box in Hindi or Punjabi, and masala is a mixture of ground spices used in Indian cooking. Anjula still uses her father’s original hand-carved dabba, and she has also designed one as part of her range for Lakeland.

Most masala dabbas have seven compartments. Mine has eleven. The outer seven are for the key spices which hold the flavour for much longer and the inner four are for the warming or finishing spices which are used towards the end of the cooking process” Anjula explains.

“It’s one of the essentials for creating authentic and delicious Indian food at home. That and a pestle and mortar, really good preparation and the right amount of time to make sure that the food is as tasty as it can be. It’s also about understanding the spices, so that you can make something amazing in just twenty minutes if you want to. As they say - ‘knowledge is power’!”

Speaking of which – Anjula is more than happy to share her in depth knowledge of Indian food at one of her authentic cooking classes at home (hers, or yours); during either a full day or a half-day lesson eager cooks will learn how to whip up healthy, fresh and vibrant Indian dishes (as well as sampling them, of course) and the good news is that all levels of ability and confidence are welcome.

Anjula Masterclass

The classes are definitely for everyone, especially those who love or are intrigued by Indian food. I like people to have lots of fun and I teach in a way that enables them to go home and replicate what they have learned with confidence - learning about the different spices forms a key part of the classes and I teach a range of techniques and a number of different dishes” explains Anjula.

I genuinely love every class. Every class and each person is unique and they all love to watch and then practice all of the hints, tips and techniques that I share with them”

If you sit more in the ‘can’t cook, won’t cook’ camp, then perhaps Anjula’s catering business is for you – just say the word and Anjula and her team can rustle up a mouth watering Indian BBQ, creative canapés or a full blown aromatic feast for you and your guests to enjoy, whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner party, lavish wedding banquet or big birthday bash.

My work is my passion. My business is wide and varied, with Indian food at the heart of everything that I do. I am an entrepreneur at heart and love the spectrum of writing, teaching, consulting, demonstrating and designing recipes” Anjula explains passionately.

“I am very choosy about who I work with. I like to stay true to my beliefs and I don't want to be known as ‘jack of all trades but master of none’. I know Indian food through and through”

To celebrate National Curry Week Anjula has shared her mouth watering recipe for Pulled Lamb with Fiery Mint Chutney which you can find over on TheEdit now, as well as Anjula’s indispensible Top Tips For Creating Delicious and Authentic Indian Food At Home, read on here.


Posted in Spotlight

by Sophie Farrah
on on 11 October 2017


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