Chetna Makan burst onto our screens in 2016, participating in and then winning series 5 of The Great British Bake Off. Since then she’s firmly established herself as a popular and successful food writer with a whopping 7 cookbooks under her belt and has amassed over 280,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel.
Her seventh book, Chetna’s Indian Feasts: Everyday meals and easy entertaining was released this August by Hamlyn.
Her previous books are The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East (April 2016), Chai, Chaat & Chutney: a street food journey through India (July 2017), Chetna’s Healthy Indian: Everyday family meals effortlessly good for you (Jan 2019), Chetna’s Healthy Indian: Vegetarian: Everyday Veg and Vegan Feasts Effortlessly Good for You (June 2020), Chetna’s Easy Baking: with a twist of spice (June 2022), and Chetna’s 30-minute Indian: Quick and easy everyday meals (June 2021).
The premise of this latest title is a collection of recipes that are full of flavour, designed to feed a crowd, and accessible (both in terms of supermarket availability of ingredients and ease of making). Within these pages are recipes for big celebrations and entertaining friends as well as dishes suitable for quick yet delicious family meals.
In her two-page Introduction, Chetna characterises what the word feast means to her, bringing together a number of definitions; she speaks of meals that conjure feelings of joy and thoughts of cooking with love for family and friends. She has inherited her mother’s love for cooking and feeding others, and fondly recalls her mother’s ability to spend hours creating elaborate feasts without breaking a sweat. Chetna firmly believes that food brings people together, an approach that helped her forge new friendships when she moved to the UK from India. She notes that the recipes in this book are the ones most loved in her own home.
At the back, there’s a glossary of UK/ US terms (translating things like aubergine, hob and rapeseed oil to eggplant, stove and canola oil) and a decent Index (which uses UK English).
What the book doesn’t have is a section on core ingredients and pantry staples, but since Chetna uses ingredients which (these days) are readily available from most UK supermarkets it’s not an essential component even though it might still be useful for some.
Recipes are divided into chapters for Friday night takeaway, Chaat, Feasts for two, Fast feasts, Barbecue, Picnic, Festive feasts, Sunday Brunch. Each chapter has a one-page preface providing context to the topic, and all the recipes are listed out, eleven to each chapter.
For example, in Friday night takeaway, Chetna explains how new the concept of a traditional British Friday night curry was for her when she came to England; of course in India she ate Indian food every day. She also mentions how unfamiliar the typical menu dishes of a British Indian restaurant were to her. The chapter covers dishes including Gobhi 65, Chicken tikka masala, Prawn vindaloo, Saag Alu, and Peshawari naan.
Virtually every recipe in the book has photos (with the exception of a couple of condiments) and these present the food beautifully. Nothing is styled in a fancy, cheffy way and the stylist (Rosie Reynolds) and photographer (Nassima Rothacker) use vividly coloured backdrops and just the right lighting to showcase the vibrant food.
Adding to the richness, several of the text pages throughout the book are adorned with delightful illustrations (Abi Read) of items such as a spice tin, a stack of bowls, an ornately-handled spoon, a mortar and pestle, or a chopping board with a knife and an onion.
Recipes are neatly laid out with the intro at the top, ingredients in a side column and the main instructions separated into clear paragraphs. My only niggle here is that the text size of the ingredients is a little small for those of us with less than superb eyesight.
I’m not quite sure why Chetna reminds me of my mum (Mamta of Mamta’s Kitchen) – they don’t look that much alike, and they have different backgrounds, careers and life stories. Perhaps it’s the fact that both are charmingly humble about their cooking, both love to cook for friends and family, and both take real joy in helping others learn how to cook tasty Indian food. In the Chaat chapter, I find out that another thing they have in common in a deep love of chaat – a category of Indian snacks named for its ability to make you lick your lips. One of Chetna’s previous books (see above) focuses wholly on this subset of Indian cuisine, but you can get a taster through the 11 dishes shared here such as Dal papdi chaat, Dahi puri, Spinach leaf pakora, Tamarind jaggery chutney, and Cumin ginger lassi.
Feasts for two is perfect for days when you don’t need or want to cook for lots of people. Like Chetna, we often cook for four or more even though we are just two of us in the house because leftovers are a thing of beauty. The simple dishes in this chapter are just the right amount for two, and work well for light meals or snacks. I’m drawn to Potato-stuffed onion rings, Sticky, spicy chicken wings with tomato curry, Fish fry, Spinach onion paratha, and Biscoff cheesecake delight.
In today’s world, most of us understand the need for quick recipes to enjoy when time is tight but you still want something delicious. Fast foods shares recipes for just those times including Spicy ginger-garlic chicken, Cauliflower masala, Prawn coconut curry, Peanut, coriander and lemon rice, and Almond halwa.
Like Chetna, Pete and I are firmly in the fair-weather category when it comes to barbecue time! This chapter shares recipes that are perfect to cook outdoors (though they can readily be cooked inside should the British weather fail to play ball). Dishes to look out for here include Masala spatchcock chicken, Spicy king prawns, Tamarind potatoes, Naan on the barbecue, and Caramelised walnut and coffee pavlova.
Another chapter that’s geared towards sunnier months is Picnic. I know from my own childhood that Indians do picnics very differently favouring hot dishes carried in stacked tiffins; when I was a kid we mixed British picnic traditions with Indian to enjoy scotch eggs and sandwiches alongside chickpea curry and poories! What all the dishes here have in common is that they can easily be packed for travel and work well even when cold. Try Chutney club sandwiches, Bread pakora squares, Paneer and egg chapati rolls, Paneer samosas, and Mango panna.
I am not sure you’ll find an Indian who doesn’t love celebrating by way of a feast; enjoying a range of dishes to celebrate any occasion. For some festivals, specific dishes are traditional but in many cases, it’s simply a case of bringing together a Festive feast of favourites. In this chapter Chetna offers up treats including Tandoori paneer curry, Nimki, Peanut aubergine masala, Fenugreek pea pulao, and Gulab jamon! As with each chapter, you can cook just one dish, a handful of them, or go all out and make the entire lot!
Finally, we get to Sunday brunch. For Chetna, this is a meal her family can relax and enjoy together amid the busy schedule of work and school commitments and other activities. For something a bit special (though it takes a little ore time and effort), try the Kacchi biryani, served wtih Onion Raita, and Cococnut-curry leaf chutney. For something a little more casual, you could try Cheese egg toast, Hearty wholesome daal, Masala vermicelli, or Chocolate and cardamom caramel cake.
As soon as got the book, Pete got cooking. The first recipe chosen was Street-Style Egg Curry from the Sunday brunch chapter. What a fabulous dish, and it came out just like the photograph in the book. The only minor change Pete made was to substitute tomato puree and water with a tin of chopped tomatoes. This was such a tasty dinner and the speed made it perfect for a midweek meal. We enjoyed it with ready-made flaky parathas from the freezer.
Next up, Paneer Do Pyaza from Friday night takeaway. In her introduction for this recipe, Chetna ruminates on why the dish is so named (does do pyaza refer to two onions or double onions?) She notes that it usually uses more than two onions, and indeed in her recipe the onions are joined by shallots, which increase the allium count further. My mum has asked herself the same question (on Mamta’s Kitchen) and thinks it means that a dish calls for twice as much onion as other curries. I’ve also come across the idea that it uses twice the amount of onions to protein. All these potential meanings are plausible so I don’t think we will ever know! The paneer Pete picked up from Morrisons was a great find, closer in texture to home-made than the usual firm and bouncy texture of ready-made. We loved it in this recipe, which is quick and easy to make and really delicious.
Our third recipe was Red chilli pulao with chicken from the Picnic chapter, though we had it for an evening meal at home. It’s a really straightforward one-pan dish with lots of flavour. Perfect comfort food for a cold and wet evening.
I seldom buy or use Indian cookbooks given that I have access to a huge collection of my mother’s recipes alongside many from extended family and friends, but we’ve loved cooking from Chetna’s Indian Feasts, not least for the book’s focus on simple, straightforward recipes that work so well for midweek meals. Whether you cook for one or two people, for your family, or for a group of friends, you’ll find plenty of ideas here to incorporate into your cooking repertoire and bring joy to your table.
Recipes from Chetna’s Indian Feasts
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We have lots more Indian recipes to enjoy on Kavey Eats.
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Chetna’s Indian Feasts: Everyday meals and easy entertaining from publishers Hamlyn. Photography by Nassima Rothacker. RRP £26 (hardback)