The Gannet Q&A

Meera Sodha

17th August 2017

Interview: Ebony Renee-Baker
Portrait: David Loftus

Meera Sodha describes herself as “a Lincolnshire-born Gujarati girl” who spends “most of my waking minutes thinking about, writing about or cooking Indian food”. Her first book, Made in India, was a book of the year in The Times. Her second, Fresh India, articulates her love for fresh vegetables – she recently started growing her own and currently writes a vegan column for The Guardian. “One of my favourite activities,” she says, “is to elbow my way into people’s kitchens in India to find out what they are cooking for themselves and for their families.” She lives in east London with her husband Hugh and daughter Arya.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

It would be up in the clouds at The Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling. Sanjay, the estate manager, is a mad and wonderful host. He sliced the top off a champagne bottle using his knife and served tea-smoked chicken, using the tea he grows, for mains and carrot halwa with cream for pudding. All the stars aligned that night: the people, place and food created a perfect evening.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

When I want to cook something other than Indian food is when I’m most likely to use a cookbook. I tend to cook Italian because it’s the complete opposite to Indian: less tinkering at the stove and more time spent nurturing the quality of the produce. My favourite Italian book is Made in Italy or Made in Sicily, they’re both full of [Giorgio] Locatelli’s childlike enthusiasm for life, Italy and food and it’s infectious.

I only ate sea urchin once, but it was a globular orange mess that tastes like snotty fish custard

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

Sea urchin. I only ate it once, but it was a globular orange mess that tastes a bit like snotty fish custard.

Describe your perfect breakfast

There would be no bad days if I started every morning off with a Sri Lankan egg hopper. It’s a rice pancake with an egg poached in the centre and it’s usually served with a coconut curry or a deeply-caramelised, sweet and spicy onion chutney known as “seeni sambol”.

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No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

Trullo in Islington is my idea of the perfect place. It has little nooks downstairs which are perfect for gossiping in while you eat a plateful of simple but pitch-perfect homemade pasta.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

I always have Radio 4 on in the background during the day until the Money Programme comes on, then I’ll switch over to a podcast, either Adam and Joe or a food podcast like Radio Cherry Bombe or Good Food by Evan Kleiman.

I poached a chicken in Gujarati kadhi… I don’t often sound my own horn, but it really was very very good.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

It was a tie between prawns and Heinz tomato soup. I was a very fussy eater and didn’t actually eat much beyond those two things.

Who is your food hero?

My mum. She’s still my greatest inspiration and critic. Madhur Jaffrey comes close though.

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

The food fight scene in Hook is the best. I’d really love the ability to imagine a magnificent pie and it appear in front of me.

What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

Fridge bingo: the ability to knock a meal together using odds and ends in the fridge. It gives me an enormous sense of well being.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

I poached a chicken in Gujarati kadhi, which is buttermilk spiced with curry leaves, chickpea flour, pepper and chilli. I don’t often sound my own horn, but it really was very very good.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

Curry leaves. Thrown into hot oil, they flavour it with citrus and smoke and remind me of days travelling around South India with my now husband, Hugh.

I’d love to start a campaign to stop waiters spraying hideous cleaning chemicals on tables while other diners are eating

Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

My garlic press. It’s like an extra limb in the kitchen.

Share a useful cooking tip.

Most people don’t cook their onions enough when making a curry. The longer you cook them for, the better the flavour of your overall dish will be. Unless you burn them, that is.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

I am so pleased you asked. I’d love to start a campaign to stop waiters spraying hideous cleaning chemicals on tables while other diners are eating.

What food trend really gets on your nerves?

I like food trends, I think they create enormous innovation.

What’s your biggest food extravagance?

Fortnum and Mason’s dark chocolate covered stem ginger. I am very fond of it.

Posted 17th August 2017

In The Gannet Q&A

 

Interview: Ebony Renee-Baker
Portrait: David Loftus

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