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Laxmi Parida, Author Of 'Purba, Feasts From The East' Talks To Lokvani

Chitra Parayath

Oriya food is one of the unknown cuisines of India, Laxmi has presented, in this book, a unique Indian culinary culture, a balance in taste, presentation and nutrition, cooking ingredients and methods. Full of intriguing anecdotes and recipes, Purba is a wealth of exotic and hard to find ethnic recipes.

Orissa, a state in the south eastern part of India is well known for it’s exquisite temples, rich social and cultural history and charming handicrafts, unfortunately very few know Oriyas for their distinctive cookery and their food habits.

Laxmi Parida ,a scientist lives in NY with her teenage daughter. Having moved to the US in 1993, the idea of writing a cookbook and sharing the recipes from her mother’s kitchen, took shape in her mind long before they were put down in writing. She admits freely to being a compulsive note taker and her experiments in the kitchen began when she was all of twelve!

Purba features over200 recipes, of snacks, entries, sweets, pickles and non - vegetarian dishes.
Cookbooks, I maintain should be more than just a list of recipes. Unless they offer a peek into the soul of the cook, a glimpse into the origin of the recipes, it is hard to hold one’s attention for very long. Reading Purba was a like visiting Laxmi’s kitchen and reading her explanations and little notes almost transported one to Orissa!

After reading and thoroughly enjoying the book, a friend and I decided to pick out a recipe to try. The Sajana Chuin Tarkari- Drumstick Curry (find this in the Recipe section in this issue) looked easy enough to make and we prepared the curry with frozen Drumsticks and potatoes. The end result was pleasing and teasing to the tongue, the spices’ taste lingered delightfully long after the dishes were put away.

One hopes that this talented writer will continue her passion for collecting recipes and write another charming cookbook.

Written with a healthy dose of humor, this book is a must have for all experienced and inexperienced cooks. We talked with Laxmi over the phone.

Why write a cookbook? Do you believe that that people can actually become better cooks from reading/following instructions?
A cookbook is like any other book: a source of information for the reader. A lot of my own learning about other cuisines has come from books and I deeply appreciate well-written ones. People can certainly become better informed cooks and whether their cooking is appreciated by others or not, is a subjective matter.

Who did you have in mind when you first conceived the idea and then wrote the book? Who is this book aimed at?
The book is aimed at the curious, curious about food and the cooking process in general. The idea was implanted in my mind by a close friend, who was convinced that it was worthwhile to share my ramblings about food and experiences at the kitchen with a more general audience rather than just close friends.

I liked your cookbook because I saw a little of you almost on every page thus the book itself has an appealing personality. What drew you to this style of presenting the recipes?
You understand that documenting recipes can be quite boring and to keep the project interesting even for me, I had to give a context and say something more than just the recipe. I always have this urge to abstract things and seek out a different meaning and so on, which perhaps annoys my friends, but that helped me with the book. I also realized that merely a recipe is not as helpful as giving a background and also comparing it something that the reader is already familiar with- this is particularly important when dealing with an unfamiliar ethnic cuisine. And, humor is the spice of life!

Ethnic cookbooks are getting increasingly popular these days. Do you think it is important to also introduce readers to the region, its history, its culture and traditions?
Absolutely. If I had the means or the knowledge, I would have certainly included material on history, culture and traditions. However, I did not see myself as an expert in that area and refrained from it. But I do talk about a little bit of the beliefs, restricted to the kitchen, that I encountered in my life. To do true justice, I would need to collaborate with an expert from the other area.

How many Oriya cookbooks( to your knowledge) are available in the market today?
I have not seen a single Oriya cookbook either translated or written in English- and I have looked far and wide to add to my library. However, there are books written in Oriya I can read and write Oriya but I know a vast majority of people (even Indians) do not. I remember I used to feel frustrated when I looked for Marathi or Rajasthani cookbooks and found none in English. I hope the non-Oriyas (as well as Oriyas) will find my contribution useful.

The easiest way to get hold of Purba is to order online from one of the following:
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?ATH=laxmi+parida&userid= 3EA7LF2H68
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0595267491/qid%3D1050661851/sr%3D11-1/ref %3Dsr%5F11%5F1/103-5752585-1651043

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