When it comes to Indian culinary stars, Tarla Dalal’s iconic stature is noteworthy. She started her career in the 1960s, way before the advent of the “celebrity chef” culture in India. She was the housewife who knew how to cook and cook well. And she channelized this passion to forge a career that began as a culinary teacher. In the year 1966, she started out by giving cookery lessons to 5 students in her South Mumbai home.
It was this small class that grew manifolds within a very short span of time. Her home became a hotspot that attracted scores of married and unmarried women from Gujrati and Marathi families. Cooking classes were held for 8 months a year where she trained her students to cook an array of vegetarian dishes by following her unique recipes and cooking methods. This is how her journey began to become one of the most respected celebrity chefs in India.
Journey of Tarla Dalal, Chef Par Excellence
Dalal’s most significant contribution to the Indian cooking scene was making recipes of popular international dishes, easily available for home cooks. People could now afford to taste these dishes sitting at home. While traveling abroad, she would collect cookbooks. These would mainly contain recipes of non-vegetarian dishes which she would twist to suit the vegetarian palate.
The clever “desi” adaptations of global cuisine using locally available ingredients that were affordable and acceptable for consumption by vegetarians, made her a chef to reckon with. Her first book, launched in 1974 ‘The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking', a collection of made her a household name in India and a celebrity. The book has sold 1.5 million copies.
Tarla Dalal was the most prolific cookbook author in India. She has 170 titles to her name. Her books, available in paperback and hardcover have been translated into several foreign and native Indian languages like Dutch, Russian, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali. Some of her most popular books are 'The Complete Gujarati Cook Book', 'Desi Khana', 'Healthy Breakfast', 'Sandwiches', 'Punjabi Khana', 'Baked Dishes', 'My Khana Khajana, and 'Delicious Diabetic Recipes: Low-Calorie Cooking'. Apart from these, she also published cooking magazines. Her famed, Total Health Series' cookbook series was launched in 2007.
The Queen of Vegetarian Cooking
Tarla Dalal's website, tarladalal.com is the largest repository of global and Indian vegetarian recipes with a very clear set of instructions for cooking. Apart from Gujrati cuisine which was her area of expertise, she has developed recipes of vegetarian food from all over India. Added to this are her recipes for global cuisines like Italian, Chinese, American, French, Mexican, Thai & Lebanese. The recipes are also available for various categories of meals like breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizer, snacks, and dessert.
One important thing that always made Tarla Dalal stand out was her focus on creating healthy recipes. For each dish, whether it's a snack or meal item, she would always suggest nutritious ingredients that would deliver on taste as well as food value. While working on her cookbooks, she would collaborate with nutritionists, dieticians, and other well-trained chefs, to develop full-proof, quick, and easy recipes. The recipes cater to all kinds of eaters, from children to adults, diabetic to non-diabetic people. From dal to naan, a snack to dessert, her recipes cover all categories of food imaginable.
The art and science of cooking were equally important to her and she tried to bring out the best of both in her dishes. Her recipes also factor in health concerns so that everyone can enjoy a tasty meal. Some of her most popular recipes are given below:
Recipe for French Casserole
Traditionally speaking, this is a non-vegetarian dish. Star chef Tarla Dalal, appropriated it for vegetarians by using suitable ingredients. This is a one-pot baked dish, great for family dinners and get-togethers.
- For the rice:
3/4 cup rice
1 and 1/2 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- For the spinach-onion mixture:
3 cups chopped spinach (palak)
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tsp chopped green chilies
Salt to taste
- For the tomato gravy:
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh cream
- For the topping:
5 tbsp grated processed cheese
Method for preparing the rice:
1. Combine the rice, milk 1 and 1/2 cup of water, salt, and pepper in
a broad non-stick pan, mix well and cook on a flame for 18 mins
while stirring occasionally. Keep aside.
Method for preparing the spinach-onion mixture:
2. Add the spinach, green chilies, and salt, mix well and cook on a medium
flame for 4 to 5 minutes while stirring occasionally. Keep aside.
Method for preparing the tomato gravy:
1. Combine the tomatoes, onions, and 1 cup of water in a broad non-stick pan, mix well
and cook on a medium flame for 6 minutes while stirring occasionally.
2. Cool completely. Put it into a mixer and blend till smooth.
3. Combine the tomato-onion mixture, chili powder, oregano, chili flakes,
sugar, salt, and pepper in a deep non-stick pan, mix well and cook on a medium flame
for 10 minutes, while stirring occasionally.
4. Add the cream, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 30 secs. Keep aside.
Method for cooking the dish:
1. Spread the rice in a glass baking dish in an even layer.
2. Spread the spinach-onion mixture evenly over it.
3. Spread the tomato gravy evenly over it.
4. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over it.
5. bake in a preheated oven at 200-degree Celcius for 10 mins
6. Serve immediately
Recipe for Gajar ka Halwa
This a very popular Indian carrot-based dessert item. Though it's traditionally known to be high on calories, Tarla Dalal's recipe is for a low-calorie version which is made possible by substituting a key ingredient, kheer, with powdered milk.
- 3 cups of finely grated carrots
- 1 tbsp of melted ghee
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp milk powder
- 2 tbsp low-fat milk
- 1/4 tsp of cardamom powder
- Place the carrots in a sieve and steam for 5 minutes in a steamer. Remove and keep aside.
- Heat the ghee in a non-stick wok, add the steamed carrots. Mix this with the ghee and cook on a medium flame for 2 minutes. Keep stirring the mixture.
- Add the sugar, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 2 to 3 mins while stirring.
- Add the milk powder and milk, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 2 to 3 minutes, while stirring.
- Add the cardamom powder and mix well.
- Serve warm or store in a refrigerator till it's served.
Recipe for Paneer Lababdar
In India, paneer is to vegetarians what meat is to non-vegetarians. It's well-loved and consumed very frequently with sides like chapati and rice. There are scores of recipes that are available when it comes to paneer. The Lababdar is a decadent Punjabi version, rich and creamy, and a perfect dish for a special occasion. Tarla Dalal recommends using low-fat paneer and milk to make the food light on the stomach.
- 1 cup low-fat paneer cubes
- 1 tsp oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp roasted and crushed coriander seeds
- Dry Kashmiri chilies
- 1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
- 1 and 1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
- 1 and 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp cornflour dissolved in 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
1. Heat the oil in a broad non-stick pan, add the cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds
powdered Kashmiri chilly, dried fenugreek leaves, onions and ginger -garlic paste and
saute on a medium flame for 1 to 2 mins
2. Add the tomatoes, turmeric powder and 4 tbsp of water and cook on a medium flame
for 2 to 3 minutes
3. Add the tomatoes, turmeric powder and 4 tbsp of water and cook on a medium flame for 2 to 3 min
remove from flame and allow it cool and then blend in a mixer to make a smooth paste
Transfer the paste into a deep non-stick pan, add the cornflour-milk mixture, mix well and cook for 2 mins on medium flame
5. Add the paneer, garam masala and salt, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 1 min
6. Garnish the paneer with freshly chopped coriander and serve with flatbread or basmati rice
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The Entrepreneur Chef
Apart from writing cookbooks, Dalal had launched a line of ready-to-cook mixes which was acquired in 2000 by a company named International Bestfoods Ltd. Her list of entrepreneurial ventures also includes Tarla Dalal vegetarian restaurants like Namah in Pune which serves food made from her recipes. She also hosted a show, 'Cook it Up with Tarla Dalal' which was telecast on Sony TV.
The show ran over a period of three years and gained phenomenal success. The show was co-hosted by Sudhanshu Pandey, an actor and a model, who used to assist Mrs. Dalal in preparing food in the kitchen. Their friendly banter and the simplicity with which they approached the cooking on the show created a fun and jovial mood and in turn, eased the viewers into trying out her recipes which were vegetarian versions of other international gourmet foods.
For her outstanding contribution to the field of cooking, she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007. The published cookbook author, chef, and entrepreneur passed away in November 2013. Tarla Dalal was for sure, one of the most celebrated cooking stars in India and has left behind a rich legacy.
Chefs like Tarla Dalal, Sanjeev Kapoor, Vikas Khanna, Anjum Anand among others have made Indian cuisine exciting and also introduced people in India to global cuisines. They are stars who have taught their followers to cook with a well-informed mind and made it a stress-busting activity rather than a chore. Their cookery shows, recipe books, lectures, and articles have made it possible to prepare restaurant standard dishes at home.
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