07/12/2014 2:46 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

The Magic Of Vegetarian Cooking

Indian food has infinite combinations and aromas, filled with several centuries of journeys of many dynasties and cultures. But, for me it's always been the great Indian culinary traditions.


Indian food has infinite combinations and aromas, filled with several centuries of journeys of many dynasties and cultures. But, for me, it's always been the great Indian culinary traditions. You don't leave home without a pinch of sugar or a spoon of yogurt, a little infant's first honey taste when born, the offering of rice in several forms of gratitude, the pinch of tsampa flying in air to offer Buddha a symbol of gratitude.

I am in awe of these little ceremonies that binds us, comfort us and most importantly heal us. I have written more than 15 books and they have focused on these traditions in the backdrop. Even today when I open my kitchen of Junoon in New York City and light the tandoor, I offer a little piece of dough to the divine. "May this fire bless us and satiate the hunger of the one who eats".

In my recent book Hymns from the Soil -- A Vegetarian Saga, I have focused on the traditions of soil, its significance and various dimensions of its reverence.

It was like a visit back home, filled with memories of simple foods cooked at my little kitchen with the turmeric kitchen door. We all got around and enjoyed the food, which for me has been the greatest degree or institute I have been to. Many years have gone by and many things have shifted. But the gravity of my journey has been food. The book had an amazing response and is now available worldwide. At every book launch, hundreds of guests congratulated me for making their vegetarian kitchen so important. I would tell them that my teacher in Culinary Institute of America always said: it's harder to cook vegetables and lentils just perfectly. They have their own textures, colours, flavours and aromas and to do justice to them all is a great work of temperature, techniques and timing.

When we started the first tasting menus at Junoon, we were surprised by how many people requested for a vegetarian choice, by then Thomas Keller's flagship 3-Michelin Star's Per Se's veg tasting menu had broken these rules. We did the same to offer more interesting vegetarian choices and create something refreshing and brilliant. It had more response from the Americans and even vegetables like bitter gourd and round gourds would have guest appearance on the menus.

Many New York chefs in my fraternity would always compliment our vegetarian choices and some would tell me, it must be easy for you to create this as you are from "vegetarian heaven -- India."

While traveling around India for my research on Indian cuisine, the variety of vegetables I discovered was truly amazing. All these dishes over the years were composed to create Hymns from the Soil.

Sometimes, while traveling, I would meet people who would say that my mother or uncle or aunt is a great cook and we would dream to have them on MasterChef, but unfortunately they are vegetarian. I am proud that the 4th Season will give a chance (fair chance) to everyone who cooks from his or her hearts and turn food into art.

I am so looking forward to the new traditions of vegetarian magic unveils on the show soon.

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