Five Morsels of Love is the chronicle of a journey that began in 2007, the year I lost my grandmother, Nirmala. The family conversations over the next several months revolved around ammama, and around an unfinished cookbook that the she had left behind. Her incredible culinary art and a lifetime of cooking had been captured in a rather modest looking Telugu cookbook. I remember telling her a year before she passed on, when I was still a student in Hyderabad, that I would help her publish the English version of the book once I landed a job. As fate would have it, we lost her just a few months after I started working. It haunted me that I had not helped ammama fulfil her dream of bringing out an English cookbook.
I had never cooked. Yet, with almost blind determination, I told my family that I wanted to complete ammama’s book. I started a (now defunct) blog in 2008 with the aim of sharing recipes from ammama’s cookbook. I soon had to abandon that path because, even though I had observed my grandmother cook, I was nowhere near capable of recreating her recipes. I couldn’t even make a simple tempering, nor did I know how to use tamarind. Terms like dry roast, salt to taste, cook till done were alien to me. I went back to bread and butter breakfasts, office canteen lunches and take-out dinners.
In 2012, I found myself back in the kitchen, now to cook nutritious and fresh meals for my little boy Arjun. I missed ammama dearly all over again as I remembered her words: “Ammulu, I will come look after you and your baby when you have one”.
A chance encounter with a Bangalore-based food blogger Chinmayie Bhat put my book project back on track again. We decided to cook and photograph over the weekends as I had a full time job as a Product Manager with Akamai Technologies. Between us, we also had two young children. In March 2013, our home cook from Kurnool Vali visited me and we cooked and photographed 60 dishes in 5 days.
What began as a weekend project soon became an obsession. I read my way through innumerable cookbooks. I fell in love with the philosophy to cook with sustainable, seasonal and local produce. My eyes were opened up to see cooking, not just as the single most important thing to do as a family but also as an institution powerful enough to reform food systems around the world.
Once the photography was nearly complete, I made the hard decision to publish the book myself. It soon became apparent that the recipes needed to be tested all over again to measure exact quantities of ingredients in grams, cups and tablespoons, to record accurate cooking times and heat levels, and to give concise easy-to-follow directions.
With the work on the book gaining momentum, I quit my job in January 2015 to dedicate all my time and energy to Five Morsels of Love.
In the midst of a week of intense testing, I paused to reflect how much ammama’s book changed me as a person. When I first cooked ulava charu, a horsegram stew made by reducing a spiced broth for over 2 hours, I couldn’t believe how far I had come from my days of quick and easy microwave dinners. I discovered a hidden love not just for cooking but for all things related to food - history, science, flavour combinations, technique and so much more. The kitchen has morphed into a centre of learning for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful to ammama for leaving behind a legacy that I could partake in. Although I started cooking as a way to honour my grandmother’s memory, cooking is slowly becoming to me what it was to her - not just a means to create a meal but a joy, a passion and an expression of love.
Five Morsels of Love is a way of celebrating ammama’s life and her passion for cooking.
The team that made Five Morsels of Love a reality:
Photography - Chinmayie Bhat
Editing - Sonya Balasubramanyam
Graphic Design, Art Direction - Eszter Laki
Special thanks to Sree Lakshmi Duggineni for testing the recipes, to Kalpana Shah for putting final touches to the manuscript and to Chandana Venkatayogi for helping with photo editing.
Here is a Look Inside Five Morsels of Love.