Tue, 30 Apr 2019
Balwinder Kapila loves to cook, particularly the recipes passed down to her by her mother and grandmother, along with dishes she has adapted to suit Western culture.
Balwinder’s parents moved to England in the late 50s and she was born in Hounslow, in the house where her 90-year-old mother still lives.
“Growing up I would watch my mother and aunties as they gathered in the kitchen and created all these amazing dishes and I learnt a lot from them.
“In the early days we used to get certain ingredients delivered, but now you can buy almost anything in the supermarkets as different cultures have been embraced.”
Balwinder cooks very much by instinct, knowing just how much spice she wants to use or whether or not to add one chilli or two. “I don’t really measure ingredients out, but for this book I had to.
“It all started when friends would come round and sit and chat and make notes while I cooked.”
Her neighbours would come to Balwinder’s Pangbourne home and needed to know exactly how much to add and when, so she worked it out as she went along and they would happily go away and recreate her mouthwatering dishes.
“They would invite me around to their house to mark their efforts out of 10 – we always had such fun.”
From this, it became obvious that a book should follow, but Balwinder never imagined it would take eight years to complete.
It was worth the wait, as A Pinch of Spice is indeed a thing of beauty and a labour of love.
“I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that book, but did I ever regret embarking on the project? No, not once and that's really because of the support and encouragement from my friends and family. It was a real community effort.”
Balwinder is not exaggerating when she says this. Although she prepared the recipes and wrote the words, her older son Aran did all the photography and Aran’s partner Janki created the artwork.
When she was trying out recipes, friends and neighbours would bravely volunteer (Oh, how I wish I’d been a friend or neighbour) to taste them and get involved in the planning and preparation.
The book is also in part a tribute to her youngest son Aman who died aged 15, 10 years ago.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Aman and what sort of adult he would have been, and this book is a small reminder of his vibrant personality and can-do attitude.”
The title A Pinch of Spice comes from a piece of English work Balwinder found in her son’s school bag a couple of years ago. Aman was writing about the rugby union player Jason Robinson:
“He brought a pinch of spice to each match. He injected fire into each of the 80 minutes. His trademark move cast memories of awe in my mind....”
The dishes are mainly from the Punjab region of northern India, with Balwinder’s personal twist. Two-thirds of the recipes are vegan, certainly vegetarian.
“I am a vegetarian myself, but I know instinctively what spices work with different foods, so I was able to create meat and fish dishes.”
The book was finally published earlier this year. “We printed a run of 2,000 and because it arrived just before Christmas I was able to give copies as gifts to many of the friends who had been involved.
“As a result, they then ordered copies for their friends and so on. I can’t believe how well it has done.”
In fact, a second print run has already been ordered and Balwinder has been doing book signings and giving various cookery demonstrations in the area.
The book is a vibrant, enticing publication, filled with sumptuous photographs and pictures from Balwinder’s family album – of her as a child and pictures of her mother, grandmother and aunties. At the back is a montage of images of family, interspersed with many pictures of the friends who have had a hand in the making of the book.
It is a weighty tome, with some 80-90 recipes.
“I say 80-90 because some of the recipes have added tweaks or slight changes you can make according to individual taste – so in some instances you get three for the price of one, so to speak.”
At this moment Balwinder, who has been cooking a dahl while we are talking, hands me a bowl of the most delicious, steaming spicy heaven.
It is clear from the first taste that Balwinder’s kitchen is going to continue to be a very busy place and I suspect a third print run of A Pinch of Spice may soon be required.
A Pinch of Spice, published by Matador, is available to buy from Balwinder’s website www.balskitchen.com