The term “desi” describes a person of birth or descent from the Indian subcontinent that lives abroad and that is the starting point of British Punjabi chef Sarah Woods’ new cookbook released this week.
‘Desi Kitchen’, which she promises is packed with easy-to-follow recipes for any level of cooking enthusiast, is devised as a unique culinary roadmap to the diaspora of the Indian subcontinent in Britain today. First appearing on BBC One’s ‘Britain’s Best Home Cook’, Woods is second-generation Punjabi and in her new cookbook she has brought together a collection of dishes to provide a glimpse into desi kitchens from all over Britain, making authentic home cooking from the Indian subcontinent accessible to all.
Woods shares: “Food is about past, present and future and forms part of the fabric of a person’s culture and identity. It’s about balancing preservation and evolution. There are classics alongside twists that reflect the blending of different cultures; which is what desi identity is all about.
“However, it’s important to provide that community-specific cultural context, too. Much like a good curry, we’ve got layers and complexity, dual regionality, diversity and storytelling. Desis are entering a period of redefinition, and my book aims to be a celebration of who we are and what we contribute.”
After her TV debut, Woods left her corporate role at a leading pharmaceutical company to pursue a career in food. She honed her cooking skills at Ashburton Chef’s Academy in Devon prior to taking the leap. During the Covid lockdown, she established a thriving desi food collection business, hosts regular supper clubs and pop-up restaurants in her hometown of Wilmslow, in Cheshire.
In the midst of all that, she also found time to go on an immersive journey to connect with the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent and how it has evolved in different parts of the UK.
She explains: “I really wanted to get under the skin and really understand each culture. When you go to different regions, there is a different way of using the spices, a different way of tempering different cooking oils.
MORE LIKE THIS…
“If you take tadka, a technique that's used across the whole of India to inject flavor into your dish, it is used in very different ways. You can either use it at the start of cooking while you're building your layers, or it could be like in the Nepali culture, at the end of cooking. Then you've got the sizzle, which is very dramatic. And, of course, it adds and injects flavour in different ways.
“To me, it was really important to share those nuances and get that across because I think cultural context is super important.”
As someone who grew up in a bustling British Punjabi household with a love of freshly cooked food by talented family members, Woods now wants to share that special foodie buzz with everyone.
MORE LIKE THIS…
“What I didn't want to do with it though is to dumb down these recipes because they are a reflection of somebody's heritage and their culture. I think it's really important to respect that because cultural appropriation as you know is an important topic, and quite rightly so.
“So, it’s going to be a learning journey and I'm going to hold your hand and it's going to be really easy, because I'm going to be your step-by-step guide. Anybody can cook it!”
*Info: Desi Kitchen