Parveen Ashraf – authentic Indian cuisine by The Spice Queen
Parveen Ashraf is a great chef, a cookbook author and also an Asian housewife, a mother and a business woman. She is known as The Spice Queen. Parveen Ashraf talks about the Indian cuisine, her Indian cookbook and her belief that everyone can learn to cook with her step-by-step recipes.
Today you are a Cookbook Author, a TV Chef & Presenter and a private chef. When did all start? Where does your passion for cooking come from?
Actually, I began my business about a decade ago but things only really started to take off after I launched my cookbook a couple of years ago.
It all started when I wrote my first recipe for my son who went to university and needed a taste of home. He tried the recipe and it didn’t really work as he was using shop bought spices..So, I made him a little sachet of ready-blended spices which I designed specifically for him and it worked. My son loves it and said “Great business, Mum,” and The Spice Box was born.
I think my passion for cooking really good food comes from my mother who is an amazing cook. Yes, she used to use her own spice blend; she believed the most important ingredient was love! Mum complained about many things; the house not being tidy, my dad’s need to buy all manner of useless things from car boot sales but she never complained about having a cook a meal every evening for us 7 children and Dad. Looking back on it now. I realise why?… Mum did not see it as a chore as she had a real passion for cooking.
Which cooking school did you visit?
I have the cooking tour all round Europe – Greece, Turkey, France, Latvia and Prague. This is part of an EU initiative to help chefs share their recipes. I found that all the cooking tutors had one thing in common…. real joy of passing on their knowledge to their eager students. No matter what dish they cooked, it was all about using the best quality ingredients and cooking with again – passion.
You worked several years as a cooking tutor at the Peterborough College. How did you like this work/experience of being a cooking tutor?
I loved teaching cooking at the college but was hard work as I had to write lots of lesson plans, scheme of works and evaluations etc – all I want to do was actually do the job of teaching but I didn’t enjoy the paperwork side of things.
Over the years, I taught some wonderful students. My students made me proud and many of them carried on with the culinary journey and still cook my recipes today. That means a lot to me….also, some of the students became friends. In fact, a couple of them helped prepare food for 120 people at my Bollywood book launch.
Gluten-free is one of your topic: What is the secret of gluten-free cooking and maintaining the taste?
Gluten-free cooking is not as difficult as you may think it is. It’s just cooking without wheat flour – lucky for me that in Indian food we only use wheat flour for the breads and Naans. For the majority of the other dishes, we are able to use gram flour which is gluten-free (appropriate for people with coeliac disease) which is actually made from chickpeas. Therefore, the range of dishes is huge. To flavour my food, I use spices which are all gluten-free.
I cook a lot of gluten-free food, there seems to be many people who have an intolerance to gluten these days. One of the most popular gluten-free starters I make are onion bhajis but there is only one problem with them – they are addictive.
You work as TV chef: Is it mainly Indian cooking?
For the past decade I’ve been demonstrating my own recipes on shopping Channels. I have demonstrated other cuisines. I once did 3 programmes on baking but this didn’t go down too well as I didn’t know my subject matter… I blagged it and hopefully nobody noticed, but I did, and that’s the most important thing.
When I am in front a camera, I always like to be as honest and authentic as possible. I believe in order to demonstrate cooking one has to know the recipe inside – so now I only demo what I know – my own recipes. Saves me blogging it!
The Indian cuisine is very traditional and with so many different aspects depending on the regions. What is your focus at the Indian kitchen in your TV Show and books? The classic Indian cuisine?
As you have pointed out, there are so many regions and they all have different types of cuisines. The area is vast as are the type of dishes cooked in the subcontinent of India. Although Indian food is advertised as ‘Indian’, many of the dishes that are popular come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir.
My focus is to cook/teach the recipes that were taught to me by my mother which are Kashmiri/Pakistani in style. These are the recipes I know really and I know they work. But the really beauty of the my recipes and hopefully the TV show will showcase this and that’s – just how easy and simple the recipes are to follow allowing viewers to re-create my dishes in the comfort of their own homes.
What is about the modern Indian kitchen – what is new? What are the trends/directions?
I think the modern Indian kitchen incorporates everything is good about living in the modern. Are use a good quality kitchen knife blender, pans and something as simple as having a really good garlic crusher. So the recipes remain authentic but we just use more modern equipment. I think in terms of trends, it become quite popular to become vegetarian and vegan. Many of my vegan friends struggle finding good recipes but when they come to me..they are treated to an array of different dishes. From Bombay Potato Cakes, Chick pea chaat, Tarka Daal, saag, peshwaari naan. The list is endless as Indian food lends itself really well to Veganism. One thing I have also noticed in terms of spice…is that Turmeric is trending!
Does fusion food also apply in Indian cuisine?
I love fusion food. I love cooking food that highlights the best of my British upbringing as well as my Asian roots. For example my recipe for Cuman roast potatoes came for my love of roast potatoes and chips – I think must be I’m half Irish I just love potatoes!!.. I am joking, of course, but honestly, I do love potatoes in shape or form but especially roasted with cumin. They crisp up beautifully and become even more tasty!!
I also cooked dishes that are quick. For example I have a panfried Tandoori chicken which takes 10 minutes from ‘marination to mouth.’ The word tandoor actually means a hot clay oven. I don’t have one of those, so happy to report to a bog standard oven. However, for the sake of ease, I redesigned the recipe so I can cook it in the pan on the hob in just 10 minutes. We live in a fast paced life and sometimes we just need really quick simple easy recipes – which this is.
My daughter has hers in a wrap with avocado and shredded lettuce – I would call the fusion.
In 2016 you published your first cookbook “Parveen The Spice Queen: Step-by-Step Authentic Indian Cooking”. What is the book about?
My book pays homage to my own culture and to the food that I grew up with….Food was integral part of my upbringing in Yorkshire and I have fond memories of sitting around chatting and enjoying my mum’s onion bhajis.
I wanted to take my mum‘s recipes and pen them down on paper, well fingers on a keyboard really to celebrate the traditional dishes mum cooked for me and my brothers and sisters.
However, I think that my cook book is more then a recipes book. It is full of family stories and funny anecdotes to introduce each recipe but the real beauty of the book is that is contains recipes that really work.
Do you plan any further cookbooks?
I would love to write another cookbook but at the moment we’re not planning anything because I’m busy writing a script for TV show. However, I do have a few ideas for another book but I will keep that to myself for now if you don’t mind.
You started your own YouTube channel “Parveen The Spice Queen”. What experience have you made so far to market yourself on Youtube?
I think it’s quite difficult to get noticed on YouTube, unless you happen to have a funny cat or dog video, then you can be a YouTube sensation.
I never wanted to be a YouTube sensation, I just wanted my my video tutorials to be available to my customers. My video are quite long and detailed because it’s vital to me to make sure that people understand the exact method of cooking my recipes.
Do you still have time to work as private chef?
I love cooking, so when I get the chance to cook for people, I take it but these days I actually do more private cooking lessons than Bollywood dinner parties. I’m a real people person and I enjoy the interaction with people on a 1-2-1 basis.
With your Indian roots, your great experience: how would you describe your own culinary line today?
I think I would describe myself as authentic Asian with a dash of Bollywood. My food often represents my of asian heritage and my British upbringing….I am British; I queue, drink tea and am very polite.
Can you share some of your actual recipes with us?
If you could choose any place in the world you have not been yet, where would you like to work as a chef for some time?
I would love to come to America I’ve never been and my idea of America is based on what I have seen on the silver screen. Many of my friends say the food is fabulous and very varied as there are myriad cultures in the USA. Also, the plus point is it’s an English speaking country, so language won’t be a barrier.
Thank you, Parveen Ashraf!
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