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Posted by Lucy H on 5th Oct 2021

​Q&A with Maunika Gowardhan, author of Thali

Thali cover photo

What was the inspiration for this book?

The vast diversity and geography of India have left an imprint on regional cuisine and also reflected on what gets served in Thalis across the Indian sub continent. And Thalis I have eaten from a young age when I lived in Mumbai and through the years travelling across the country spurred me to share my experiences.

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

Someone who loves spices, Indian cooking and also with a keen eye to try new flavours. I have included traditional Indian recipes although there are recipes that aren’t very well known as well which I feel are an integral part of local communities of India and needed to be celebrated.

Do you have a favourite genre or author? What books or authors would you say were significant influences on you?

I moved to the UK in my 20’s from India and began cooking because I dearly missed home cooked Indian food. At the beginning of my career in food, I read The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. It’s the book, I believe changed the way I saw food, approached my recipes, writing and also over the years to see him write so many brilliant recipes has always been a constant inspiration.

The idea of a Thali – many small, delicious dishes as part of a single meal – is so appealing. What would you advise a first-time Thali-creator to try?

We have shared ideas on how to plate your Thalis at the back of the book. So anyone beginning their experience I’d say start with the Everyday Thali. It’s a simple, delicious and wholesome vegetarian meal.

With Thalis you can make 2 dishes or an elaborate meal so begin with 1-2 recipes that have a minimum list of ingredients that are achievable.

There are so amazing ingredients available nowadays. Is there anything you’d love people to be able to find more easily?

Chaat Masala- a blend of tangy, sour and warming spices. I think some stores stock it and its available online but I’d like to see it more widely in stores. Its versatile to sprinkle over Tikkas, raita or even on fresh fruit.

Do you prefer to shop in person or online?

In person! To be able to see your produce and also speak to the grocer/ fishmonger is what I grew up doing. Of course I think when ingredients/ spices are not readily available you need to resort to an online shop.

What’s your favourite recipe from the new book?

That’s a tricky question! But is I had to choose one it would be the Punjabi Kadhai Paneer- Stir fried paneer with peppers and classic Kadhai masala blend which is a winner.

Virtual socialising in lockdown has been invaluable. Once we’re allowed to meet up in person again, who would be on your fantasy dinner party list and why?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Indira Gandhi and my maternal grandmother.

And of course, what would you feed them?

A celebratory Thali.

The COVID-19 situation has affected us all in different ways. How did you manage during the lockdowns?

Taking it a day at a time. Reminding myself I’m doing the best I can. Enjoying the small moments and little joys! Yoga and walks have always been helpful.

People are much more confident about trying recipes, partly thanks to TV chefs and online cookery channels. Do you have a favourite that you go to for inspiration?

Yotam Ottolenghi; his food is truly inspirational.

What type of food or cuisine style would you love to try that you haven’t already?

Traditional Eritrean cuisine. The idea of eating everything placed over injera flat bread sounds delicious.

What would your perfect day look like, and what’s the first place you want to visit once travel opens up again?

I miss travelling back to my family home in Mumbai India and also visiting cities across India.

What are you reading at the moment?

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Archie Comics.

Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.

You can order a copy of Thali HERE