A passionate cook who loves her kitchen, Kornelia Santaro shares the story behind her two books devoted to bringing international essence to Indian cooking
In my kitchen I am queen, goddess and mother, all rolled in one. I can control what I do. Nobody dares to tell me what has to happen. My tiny universe makes me feel secure when the blues hits me. It is not only the approaching menopause, which makes me feel scared. It is the general state of the world that we have created.
Pollution, hurricanes, over-population, all these problems recede when I take my knife and set to work. All my desperation about the global destruction retreats when I start to write about the simple things of life like cooking. Beginning 2013, my second cookbook will be launched. It shares all my knowledge on ‘Cooking for Allergies’. It took me two years to compose this book and like my first one, it is based on personal experience and extensive experiments in my kitchen.
Being 50, I have to admit my own guilt. I too did not do enough to oppose the rape of mother Earth. For me, Sandy is just the beginning of far worse consequences of the harmless term climate change. Nobody can imagine now, what our children will have to face one day. I don’t think I am paranoid. I just try to keep an open mind and I read a lot of books.
In the eighties, when I worked as a journalist in Germany, in Europe we started to become aware of pollution. There was no clean water any more, the garbage piled up and acid rain caused forests to die. For anybody with a bit of common sense it was clear to see, that we could not keep polluting this planet. Scientists started to speak of global warming, but politicians refused to accept that climate change was actually happening. Luckily, at least in Germany the political leaders came to their senses. I am happy that my country is seriously rooting for clean energy. Denmark is the first country, which became independent from oil import. I salute them – although they pay a high price for their energy.
Unfortunately, the big players in the world today, still have to wake up, first of all the USA. Instead of playing policeman for the world, they should play innovators for affordable, clean energy systems. Then China and India: They are growing at an enormous pace, but at what cost? China depends on power plants, fuelled by coal. The next Sandy cannot be far away and who knows where it is going to hit. India grows its own economy by growing its population, but where does the energy for all these people come from?
More importantly: Where will the water come from? The glaciers in the Himalayas shrink rapidly. The river Ganges depends on the glaciers. Heaven help!
When these thoughts overwhelm me, I seek solace in my kitchen and I concentrate on the very real problems my family faces every day: What do we eat? As my Italian husband and son like the flavours of their home country, I have become an expert in cooking Mediterranean food with Indian ingredients.
For me, cooking is not just a duty I have to fulfil. Of course there are the days when preparing dinner tends to feel like a chore. But I gladly take this on, because I believe in home cooked meals. Food fuels our bodies and can be so much more than just sustenance. I look at cooking as a kind of meditation. When I manage to feel good, my love flows into the dishes and everything tastes better. There are so many ways to be creative during the cooking process. I started cooking with my family by completely ignoring all cookbooks. Even today, I rarely try to replicate recipes. That does not mean I do not appreciate cookbooks. I have collected cookbooks since being a teenager and I love to read them.
I am a maniac reader. I read my way through two or three books a week on average. But I look at cookbooks more as a source of inspiration than a source of actual recipes. There is always this adventurous spirit in my head that keeps asking: How can I change this? In my kitchen, many times I just go with the flow and throw things together like I see fit in the moment. I enjoy the feeling of being in complete control.
Of course, the outcome may not be successful every time. My men have become used not to expect a perfect meal when I am in experimentation mode. If everything fails, we can always fry up some eggs and eat them with a carrot salad. Usually, I also have some frozen tuna or chicken liver pate stashed away in my freezer for emergencies.
To keep my mind fit and my writing skills alive, I then proceed to my computer and put my kitchen experiences into written form. It was my husband who suggested this kind of therapy. I spent ten years penning down a novel and trying to sell it to a publisher. This was a heartbreaking experience. I am not one to give up easily, but around 150 rejection letters are difficult to digest for anybody. In hindsight, I have to admit that writing novels is not my cup of tea. I am simply not good at developing plots and characters.
My clever husband said I should try to write about cooking. It turned out that to write about cooking is like a walk in the park for me. With my decade of experience as a journalist, putting a recipe and kitchen experiences into words requires no effort on my part. It just flows and so far, it flows successfully.
In Goa where we live, we have two publishing houses interested in taking on local projects. Thanks to Goa 1556 and Broadway Publishing House, my first cookbook got printed. Kornelia’s Kitchen – Mediterranean Cooking for India became an instant success and received the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for India in 2011. For my published recipes, I use local ingredients as much as possible. Of course, you cannot cook Mediterranean dishes without imported olive oil or Parmigiano, but you can keep the use of imported ingredients to a minimum.
I chose Mediterranean cooking as my first cookbook’s theme because I had become completely annoyed with recipes I watched on TV and in magazines. Most of these were done with ingredients either not easily available in India or prohibitively expensive. I only publish recipes that Indian men and women can cook with the ingredients they find in the supermarket around the corner – maybe not in rural India, but in major cities and their surroundings.
The success of my first cookbook encouraged me to write another one. The subject came naturally when my son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. I got myself tested for allergies and I tested positive too. Living with food allergies poses quite a challenge. My first reaction was to buy some cookbooks. I discovered, that all cookbooks dealing with food allergies were written in the USA or Europe. Of course, authors used a lot of ingredients alien to India.
I set out to explore how to adapt my cooking to Indian ingredients. It is not so difficult, because India offers a wealth of vegetables, fruits and grains not so common in Western countries. But cooking for multiple food allergies poses different problems. Everybody is allergic to different things. There is no solution like one fits all. Adapting recipes is the key to successful dealing with food allergies.
That’s why my new cookbook features a big chapter about substituting ingredients. For example, it is quite easy to avoid gluten when making a cake. Gluten free flours however require a lot more moisture than wheat. Knowledge is the key and I am convinced that my cookbook provides all the information needed to handle food allergies of any kind.
(“We eat to live but sometimes I live to eat.” Enjoying the simple things in life with time for her family made Kornelia Santoro give up her profession as journalist in Germany. Now she lives with her Italian husband and son in Goa and specialises in writing about cooking. Her first cookbook Kornelia’s Kitchen – Mediterranean Cooking for India has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for India in 2011. In January her second cookbook Kornelia’s Kitchen 2 – Cooking for Allergies will be launched. She also has a website Kornelia’s Kitchen, www.mediterraneancooking.in.)