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or years, chicken tikka masala has been Britain’s favorite dish. Now, British chef Manju Malhi is trying to reverse the trend. The Indian-born Malhi is taking England’s favorite foods to India. In fact, Malhi is currently in India shooting a 40-episode cooking series slated to air next month on India’s popular NDTV channel.

Malhi found her culinary calling by accident. In 1999, BBC2 challenged its viewers to send in video tapes demonstrating a recipe. Malhi decided to send in a video of herself preparing a green coriander chutney. She had a friend film her in her garden and sent in the unedited VHS tape to BBC. Months later, she found that she had won the competition. The win allowed her to cook live on TV with British celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, and she was later invited back again on the show. Malhi also does voice-overs for BBC Food and is currently the voice heard on the channel. Her first cookbook, Brit Spice, came out in 2002 to great reviews and went on to become a bestseller. The book showcased tasty yet quick-to-fix Brit-Indi dishes—dishes that were essentially British but “desified” a few notches with Indian spices. Her next book, India With Passion, showcased regional Indian cuisine and was published in 2004.

caught up with Malhi via phone, just before she set off to India to film her series for NDTV.

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Manju Malhi at the market.

British cuisine in India—that sounds like a first.
When I was in Delhi, so many times people came up to me and said there’s not a single restaurant where you can get British food. This is stuff people have read about in books—English tea in the afternoons, scones, cakes. I thought it would be great if we could give people that experience.

Becoming a chef—was that something you planned all along?
Like a lot of Indian girls, I had learned a lot just by watching my mother in the kitchen. My career as a chef really started there. Every week I’d take in food to share with my colleagues and they’d just devour it. They kept telling me you should write a book. Then I entered the competition and it just evolved from there.

In some ways, this is a good time for desi foods in the West.
Definitely. There’s greater awareness of ethnic foods, and people are more willing to experiment. There’s also a trend towards easy-to-make home-cooked meals, people are getting tired of eating out all the time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to try Indian food? Have you had to work against any common misconceptions?
People sometimes approach Indian food with caution. They will say, all Indian foods are spicy, or it’s too difficult to make. Sometimes they might have had a bad experience with spices at a restaurant and that prevents them from experimenting. And often, Indian restaurants are really run by Bangladeshis, so when you’re ordering an Indian dish, you’re really getting what a Bangladeshi thinks the dish should be.

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Manju Malhi in the kitchen.

I think some restaurant foods are spiced out. You know when you smother a dish with a hundred different spices and you can’t taste the main ingredient. My advice would be just start with small amounts of a spice, and then add more little by little, till you’re comfortable with the level of spice. At cookery theaters, I give out simple Indian recipes or small spice packs which they can try at home so they’re not overwhelmed.

You mentioned cookery theaters. That’s a new term this side of the pond.
Oh really? Cookery theaters are huge open air events, they’re like fêtes. Chefs from around Britain participate in them and hundreds of people come out to sample various foods. They get to interact with the chefs, take notes, ask questions. Or even buy ingredients from the chef’s store to use at home. I love participating in cookery theaters.

What current projects are you working on?
My latest book, Easy Indian, will be out later this year. This one features Indian dishes that take 20 minutes or less to prepare. And we’re including a music CD with it that you can put on when you’re cooking—it’s not just cooking a meal, it’s a whole experience. We’re still finalizing the music for the CD—something mellow, definitely not bhangra or hip-hop. Then I have the British restaurant project in Delhi and I’m also working on a new show.

Any plans to visit the US?
Definitely. I’m hoping when Easy Indian comes out, I’ll be able to visit the States, maybe even introduce cookery theaters to America.

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10 Minute Chicken Curry

Tip: Use ¼ teaspoon of chili powder instead of the green chilies.

Chicken Curry
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
400g / 14oz chicken fillets, skinned and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1 green chili, seeded and chopped
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp tomato purée
¼ tsp garam masala or 1 tsp curry paste
2 tbsp double cream

Spicy Salad
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ green chili, seeded and very finely chopped (optional)
Pinch of salt (optional)
½ tsp runny honey
1 tbsp balsamic or cider or wine or malt vinegar
1 packet mixed green salad leaves, a creamier texture

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then put in the onion and fry for 1 minute. Add the chicken and continue to fry for 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili and continue to fry, stirring from time to time. While the mixture is browning, make up the salad dressing. Take an empty jar with a lid and put in the olive oil, black pepper, chili, salt, honey and vinegar. Screw on the lid and shake. Now add the salt, turmeric, cumin and coriander to the chicken mixture.

Stir well and continue to fry. Add the tomato purée and garam masala or curry paste, then fold in the cream. Put the salad leaves into a bowl, shake the dressing again, then pour it over the salad leaves and toss. Serve the chicken beside a pile of salad, or push everything into pita bread pockets.

Mango Crumble

For the filling
2 large sweet ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced or
2 tins of mango slices, drained

50g brown sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves or 4 whole cloves

For the crumble
300g plain flour
80g butter
100g brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the filling: Place the mango slices in a saucepan with the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves and cook for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat.

Now make the crumble: Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Spoon the mango mixture into a buttered ovenproof dish and sprinkle over the crumble topping. Bake for 30–40 minutes until the topping is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.n

Priya Ramachandran enjoyed trying recipes from Brit Spice and can’t wait for Easy Indian to hit the bookstores.
Published on July 2, 2007.
Photography: Courtesy of Manju Malhi.
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