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Anjum Anand: three delicious recipes and one juicy interview

Headshot of Anjum Anand - Anjum Anand - three delicious appetisers and one juicy interiew - Food -

Recipes from Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast...
Steamed dumplings with spicy chutney recipe
Savoury yoghurt kebabs recipe
Tandoori potatoes with herb yoghurt recipe

Q: Do you have strong food memories of your childhood?
Anjum Anand: I remember when I would walk into my house and could smell if it was basmati rice or a chicken curry being cooked. I’m good with smells and funnily enough my daughter comes into the kitchen now and does exactly the same. When I was at university and still living at home, friends would always come back to my place because there were always good leftovers. We would toast some bread, butter it and have with whatever curry was in the fridge.  

Q: How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be a chef?
Anjum Anand: They were really upset. I had a business degree and I always thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. All of sudden I was an adult, I started to work and I hated it. I didn’t understand and thought 'why am I unhappy?'. I wasn’t fulfilled and didn’t enjoy getting up to do what I was doing. When I finally said I wanted to cook for a living, my mother said, ‘What are you talking about? We sent you to college and you’ve had a great education.’ They kept waiting for me to come to my senses!

Q: How do they feel about your success?
Anjum Anand: When my first book came out it was like a switch flicked. As soon as she met her friends she would say, ‘Look what my daughter’s doing.’ Food is also an interactive thing. My father will call me and say, ‘I ate the most amazing thing yesterday, you need to try and make it.’ The fact that it’s my career is a bonus.

Q: What did you do once you decided you wanted to be a chef?
Anjum Anand: A lot of people start working in a restaurant during their holidays to make some extra money and then they just stay there. I didn’t have that natural career path so I travelled and worked in restaurants. I worked in a hotel in India as an apprentice, a fast food chain in New York and a catering company in LA.

Q: Why is making healthy Indian food so important to you?
Anjum Anand: Because I grew up fat. I always went on diets and lost weight because I’m disciplined but I always put it back on. There came a point where I thought I needed a lifestyle change. I love Indian food, it’s my comfort food, so I thought I need to make it healthy so that I’m eating food I love and I never fall off the band wagon.

Q: Why do you think people in Britain think Indian food is so unhealthy?
Anjum Anand: It’s because our entire experience of Indian cuisine is through Indian restaurants, which is Mughlai food - the food of the kings. A korma, at its most traditional, is lamb braised in yoghurt with oils and spices. When the Mughals came to India, they added cream, cashew nut paste, saffron and dried fruit because they were expensive. I have never eaten a korma in my life at my house or anyone’ else's house. Indian food is actually very simple and balanced because a lot of it is peasant food.

Q: What do you think of Gordon Ramsay’s and Rick Stein’s programmes about India?
Anjum Anand: When it first heard about them, I thought why is it not an Indian person showcasing Indian food? But Rick did it really well because he was sympathetic to the people and enthusiastic about the food. As an Indian you feel proprietorial but TV doesn’t work that way. If you asked me, I’d probably say send me to South America so I can explore. So you know what? I get it.

Q: Do you make your children eat healthily?
Anjum Anand: They’re normal children, they love crisps, cheese, chocolate and particularly ice cream. My daughter’s got the biggest sweet-tooth I’ve ever seen in a child. She inhales sugar and it’s embarrassing! We went out to tea with friends once and I wanted to see how much sugar she would actually eat. It came to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore, she had eaten like 15 biscuits! We just try and find the middle ground where I feel like they’re eating enough healthy food whilst they eat enough of the food that they want to eat.

Q: How did you find being a TV chef?
Anjum Anand: When my first book came out, I went on 'Good Food Live' and I was terrible because I was so nervous. You become self-conscious and then you realise you’ve been looking at your pot for three minutes when you should have been looking at the camera. When I was pregnant with my daughter, they called me again and asked me to come on. I was eight months pregnant and because this momentous thing was happening I just didn’t care about anything else. I went on, wasn’t stressed about it and just had a great time laughing and joking.

Q: What's your top tip for women who cook all the time?
Anjum Anand: I always think people should cook with fresh food. I really believe that your health is based entirely on what you eat. If you eat really unhealthily, someday that’s going to catch up with you. The second thing is don’t stress about food, we stress about feeding our children and I think that’s the worst thing we can do.

Q: What about for working women who don’t have a lot of time?
Anjum Anand: I really sympathise because on days when I get home and I’m exhausted, I don’t want to cook. I really feel for women who don’t have their mum with them to look after their kids. Sometimes my sister-in-law will call me and ask if I can cook for her children. But sometimes she’ll say, ‘I’m cooking this afternoon, do you want me to cook for your kids?’ So there are ways of helping each other that we sometimes don’t explore. But to the mum who comes home late in the evening, I think there are a whole load of recipes, magazines and chefs who are actually saying, ‘This takes 15 minutes, don’t stress about it.’

Q: You launched The Spice Tailor sauce range with your husband. How did you find working together?
Anjum Anand: After six months, I remember going to him in our bedroom and saying let’s not do it. We’re going to end up in divorce courts, it’s not worth it! He looked at me and he said, 'Now that you’ve bugged me for so long, we’re doing it.’ I remember that so clearly because I kept thinking what if he had agreed with me? This has been the most exciting journey, apart from my kids. It kind of feels like it had to happen.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?
Anjum Anand: I have finished my new book, which comes out next spring. We’ve been asked to launch another range to go with The Spice Tailor, which has been like my third child, so that’s coming out in November in Waitrose.

Quick-fire questions

Q: Who are your favourite celebrity chefs?
Anjum Anand: Jamie Oliver because he’s always current and inspiring and Nigel Slater because I always want to cook and eat everything he makes.

Q: What’s your favourite cuisine apart from Indian?
Anjum Anand: Probably something oriental like Chinese because it’s complex, healthy, has texture and is also balanced.

Q: What about British food like pies?
Anjum Anand: I like shepherd’s pie and any kind of crusty pastry pie. I have to say I don’t eat them so much now because I gravitate towards lighter meals and you get to a certain age where you can’t eat too much pie!

Q: What do you eat on a normal day?
Anjum Anand: I will have sugar-free muesli for breakfast with rice milk. For lunch I’ll often make Indian food, something like lentils or beans, always with protein, carbs and vegetables. Dinner will be something salady or soupy. They’ll be some fruit going on in between and there’s nuts – I eat loads of nuts.

Q: What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Anjum Anand: I love the fact that I’m cooking Indian food because it’s kept me close to India. It’s a good excuse to travel there, taste the food and understand the culture and history.

Q: Would you go to an Indian restaurant in Britain?
Anjum Anand: Only if I feel like Tandoori food. I don’t own a tandoor oven so if I’m craving proper naan then I’ll go to an Indian restaurant.

Q: Does your husband help out in the kitchen?
Anjum Anand: Unfortunately, my husband doesn't cook but he is happy to do the washing up!

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