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b.y.o.b. - fork spoon knife

We hate to admit it, but we are a little jealous of Asha Pagdiwalla. Indian by birth, culture and childhood memories, Asha moved to New York from India, by way of Tokyo, right around four years ago. In just that short time, with no formal training, she has taught herself how to bake exquisite cakes, pies and other pastries simply from trial, error and creative experimentation — all while finding the time to showcase her family’s traditional Indian cooking. We recently had the chance to talk to Asha about her blog, Fork Spoon Knife, her inspirations and her favorite pantry items. SPENSER MAGAZINE: You have said that baking is intuitive to you. But many people are intimidated by baking because they consider it such a scientific process. What would you say to encourage them? ASHA PAGDIWALLA: The flavor combinations are really the intuitive part of the process. As far as the technique goes, even if it is just a tart crust, I will follow original recipes the first few times. Once I feel comfortable with it, I will start to play around. Although baking is more of a science than cooking is, there is still leeway and once I am comfortable with the base recipe, I start experimenting, changing a few of the ratios to see where it goes. It just takes some trial and error. SM: What baking ingredients are you always sure to keep in your pantry?

AP: I always have nutmeg. I always have dried fruits, like raisins and figs, because they’re an easy way to elevate flavor. Being Indian, I always have cardamom at home. It brings a lot of warmth and additional sweetness. If you’ve had a baked good with cardamom in it you realize that if you use the standard amount of sugar, it tastes very sweet. If you are conscious about the amount of sugar you are using, instead of using nutmeg or cinnamon which add spiciness that needs to be balanced with sugar, you can use cardamom and enhance the sweetness of the baked good. SM: You mentioned that your mother and grandmother were great cooks. Did they bake, too? AP: Indian cooking involves no baking, but they were both great cooks. The intuitive sense of how much of what spices, et cetera to use in dishes. Knowing how to make good food comes from having tasted and seen my mother cook. SM: Have you put up any of your family recipes on your blog? AP: My family and my husband’s family come from two different parts of India, with two very distinctive cuisines. As a result, I actually have quite a few recipes from both sides of the family. Semolina pudding, interestingly, exists in every culture in India. I come from South India and there is a South Indian version. The Parsi version of the pudding [at the right] is my favorite, and is actually my mother-in-law’s recipe. You also asked about pantry items. We make our own garam masala. The spice mixture for the masala varies with the recipe. Sometimes we mix coconut into it. Other times we use roasted and ground lentils to add flavor to the spice mixture. We also make a paste from dried chilies, a dried Kashmiri chili, which is really red, mild and very flavorful. The chilies are soaked in vinegar and water and ground into a fresh paste. It goes really well with meat, like in Vindaloo. SM: And, finally, something we’re asking all of our contributors this month, what was the first thing that you ever learned to cook? AP: The first thing I learned was how to make rotis, an Indian flat bread, around the age of 10. My mother understood that I would be very happy to eat rotis hot-off-the-tava for every meal.

spenser magazine: issue three  

mar.apr 2012

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