Rukmini Iyer, author of the Roasting Tin series answered our questions about her forthcoming new book The Roasting Tin Around the World  which publishes on 14 May 2020. You can pre-order your copy now, and of course there are her previous Roasting Tin books to keep you busy until May!
(Author photo by David Loftus)
We’re very excited about it - we expect it to be a big seller. What prompted it? Have you been travelling to find recipe ideas?
I love drawing on flavours from around the world in all of my Roasting Tin books, and was really excited in this book to be able to showcase some more unusual recipes alongside old favourites. The book is the culmination of years of travel – Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, India and the US in the lead up to this book, and with recipe ideas I’d carefully noted down from previous trips to Italy, Uganda, Mauritius, Russia, etc. Luckily I haven’t successfully Marie Kondo-ed my desk in the last few years, so was able to tip out my old notebooks, scraps of paper and come up with some really exciting new one-tin versions of favourite dishes from abroad. The tefteli or Russian meatballs with rice in a tomato, sour cream and dill sauce are a throwback to a really excellent meal years back in St Petersburg (and because I could probably do an entire book about meatballs), and the Peranakan style Kapitan curry with mushrooms, squash, lemongrass and coconut was inspired by a recent trip to Singapore. I say this about each new book, but this one is certainly my favourite and the one I now cook from the most.
The Roasting Tin books seem to have spoken to modern life (quick, simple, tasty, healthy) – what other cooking techniques do you think might do the same in the future?
Apart from one-tin cooking, the most efficient way to get dinner on the table that I can think of is a two-pan meal. One saucepan on the stove with boiling water and some carbs in (rice, pasta, noodles, bulgur etc), and then a frying pan where you make the sauce or topping in the time it takes for your carb to cook – so for a quick-cook pasta, grated courgettes, finely chopped broccoli, garlic, chilli and spinach wilted down in a pan with lots of olive oil and salt – an 11 minute dinner. Or with noodles you could stir-fry thinly sliced chicken or beef with ginger, garlic and chilli, then chuck in some pak choi, beansprouts, coconut milk and crunchy peanut butter – delicious, and a 10 minute dinner.
Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?
From the lovely readers who write in to me on social media, it’s definitely a mix of young people who want something quick and delicious when they get home from a busy day at work, mothers with young children who love the ease of five minutes chopping then letting dinner get on and cook itself, and readers like my parents who are experienced cooks, and want to try out new recipes and flavours. One of the nicest things is hearing from people who have been going through difficult situations and finding it hard to muster up the energy to cook from scratch, who have written to tell me that they’ve found the books incredibly helpful as an introduction back into cooking and eating. For me, knowing that they’ve helped in that way is the best thing to come from writing the books.
How do you come up with recipes which cater to vegetarians, vegans, people with food allergies, and of course carnivores? Which is your preference to cook and/or eat?
I grew up in a vegetarian household, so coming up with vegetarian dishes is almost more natural to me than the ones with meat in – I love the variety of textures, flavours and colours that you get from a vegetarian meal. With vegan food, when you draw on food cultures from around the world, there’s almost no need to adapt meat or vegetarian dishes to veganise them – so much Asian and South-East Asian food is naturally vegan, using coconut milk, peanuts or tofu, and gluten-free if you serve them with rice or rice-noodles. I think Nigella wrote a similar thing about diet food where she suggested that rather than coming up with low-calorie versions of food that would normally be full-fat, make food from cultures which are naturally low-fat and eat them in their gloriously original, full-flavoured form. You can make a beautiful noodle soup (the Malaysian laksa in Around the World is one of my favourites), pile fiery black pepper tofu and greens onto rice with a lime-chilli dressing and not feel as though you’re missing out on anything – that’s the approach I take to vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free food as well. With carnivorous food, there are so many classic dishes like butter chicken or the Venezuelan slow cooked beef with peppers and onions, which I’ve worked to adapt to a one-tin format.
Food styling is very visual and internet-friendly. Do you do all your own food design and styling in the books?
Yes, I do all the food styling for the books, and worked with designer and art director Pene Parker to come up with the simple, overhead style of the series – I wanted them to look like flick books, with the tin always in the same place, and different meals inside them. Pene comes up with a different colour palette for each book, and between the two of us we have a massive collection of roasting tins and work out which ones will work best for each dish.
Some people cook to relax – how do you like to unwind? Do you have any other creative outlets as well as your work food styling and writing? If not, what would you like to try?
I must admit that I use cooking to unwind sometimes as well – as long as it’s freestyling a recipe and not one for a book! I find using up leftovers in a fridge-forage extremely satisfying. Walking the dog and chucking a toy around for her (border collie, so my house is basically ankle-deep in toys) is really relaxing, and I like to get to yoga or the swimming pool to properly unwind. Creatively, I love drawing, doing the odd bit of dressmaking, slowly renovating the house (even more fun if I can use the power-drill), and tending to the plant situation in the flat – they’ve stopped multiplying since the advent of the dog, luckily.
How will you be celebrating the holiday season, and what’s your perfect festive meal?
I will be back home with my family for Christmas, so there’ll be the usual people popping in and out for mince pies and mulled wine, and of course decorating the house – I like to string baubles at various heights from invisible thread across the room, in a cascading spiral around light fittings, around the pine branches on fireplaces, over doorways etc. It takes absolutely ages because I’m slightly obsessive about each one being a proportionate height compared to the one next to it, but it’s very much worth it, despite the odd exclamation when someone hits their head on one trying to get through a door.
Perfect festive meal – my mother does the roast potatoes (Delia’s), I do the sprouts – roasted, of course, with something interesting like feta, paprika and almonds; my father buys and opens the champagne; and my sister somehow draws the short straw and meticulously prepares our chosen vegetarian Ottolenghi recipe of the year, so she’s cooking from the 24th till about 2pm on Christmas Day while the rest of us mainline cheese and crackers. Because we’re a family of cooks and having ready-made food is a bit of a treat, we never make the starter or the dessert, and buy in festive canapés and petit fours from Waitrose or M&S instead. Rushing to either shop three days before Christmas and trying to get the last box of breaded mozzarella or mini arancini is very much part of the tradition.
What would you choose for the food, who would you invite, and what’s the perfect location?
(Is this for a dinner party or Christmas? Think have covered the festive meal above so will make it a dinner or lunch party?)
My favourite meal is the one my mother makes for my birthday every year – cheese ‘chop’, which is a Bengali dish a bit like a rissole – mashed potato around a piece of cheese (traditionally it’d be meat or banana blossom, but I am an infant, so prefer cheddar cheese), crumbed and deep-fried, a selection of freshly made pakoras (potato and onion), these incredible rounds of aubergine seasoned with turmeric and salt, dipped in flour (also deep-fried), along with luchis, which are white-flour rounds of flatbread that puff up beautifully when, you guessed it - deep fried. The main is somewhat healthier, as it’s cashew-nut pulao rice (you can find my mother’s recipe in the Guardian), red kidney bean curry (rajma), and Madhur Jaffrey’s cauliflower cooked in cream, ginger and chilli. Pineapple upside down cake for pudding. I’d have my family, my friends and their various children and dogs, and ideally we’d have it all on long trestle-tables on a very sunny day outside in the orchard.
What current food trends do you particularly like or dislike?
I am extremely happy that Korean food is so popular, because I love kimchi, and will always order it when it appears on a restaurant menu. There’s nothing I particularly dislike food-wise – I wasn’t a fan of the trend for over-iced cupcakes, but that’s several years old (why ruin a good cake with a mountain of buttercream?)
Is there a particular chef or restaurant you’d like to work with in the future?
I like to go and do a stage in a restaurant every year or so to keep my chef-ing skills fresh – a couple of years ago it was Le Manoir, at some point over the next few years I’d love to work with Calum Franklin at the Holborn Dining Room – I love pies, and his really are the best pies in London.
What do you always have in your kitchen cupboard? What’s your standby supper dish?
Sesame oil, good soy sauce, salted peanuts. Along with a lime from the fridge, I use them to season everything. But my standby supper dish is Nigella’s spaghetti carbonara, or olio e aglio if sadly out of pancetta.
What was your favourite book as a child? Do you prefer paper books or e-books?
Gosh, there were so many! Ballet Shoes, the Narnia series, Monica Dickens’ Invitation to the Game, The Alchemist’s Cat and all the Robin Jarvis books, and a lot of Agatha Christie, which is still a comfort re-read. I do prefer paper books. The only exception, which I obviously consult in hardback as well, is Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus, which actually works incredibly well as an e-book because the hyperlinks can whizz you in and out of chapters, flavours and ideas in quite a flowing, organic way.
What are you reading at the moment? What book(s) would you recommend to a friend?
I just finished Fleischman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – an absolutely stunning read, and I’d recommend it to everyone. Otherwise I’m a massive fan of Xialou Guo’s books – Once upon a time in the East was both incredibly moving and well-written. But do send me your book recommendations on Twitter or Instagram because I’m currently in-between books.
Which authors or food writers are on your go-to bookshelf?
Ruby Tandoh for the spectacularly written Eat Up and Flavour, Niki Segnit for The Flavour Thesaurus and Lateral Cooking, Bee Wilson for Consider the Fork – which I could and do happily re-read every year, Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, then Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was really fascinating as was Sandra M. Gilbert’s (yep, co-writer of The Madwoman in the Attic) The Culinary Imagination. I love reading books about food which aren’t necessarily recipe books – particularly when I’m writing as I panic that will accidentally re-write someone else’s recipe, so it’s usually fiction, non-fiction and non-recipe food books.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to reading The Roasting Tin Around the World, and wish you every success with it.
The earlier Roasting Tin books are available from A Great Read here: