Because the way to the heart is so often through the stomach, we suggest a gesture that goes beyond paper hearts and roses: Prepare a meal for or with your beloved, which recognises your idiosyncrasies, your shared or diverse roots, histories and hopes. For inspiration, we have seven best cookbooks for a dinner date that feature nostalgia and novelty, cross-cultural marriages made in the oven (or over a stove), fresh, and ready to serve.
These seven chefs (or teams of) cooked their hearts out for recipes bursting with the excitement of a new love, seasoned with nostalgia. We suggest a serving of the same for a memorable evening.
‘Asma’s Indian Kitchen’ by Asma Khan, Pavilion Books
Serves: The big fat friendship bash
The restaurateur of Darjeeling Express, London, reflects an authentically mixed heritage of Rajput, Bihari, Bengali, with a foot each in Hyderabad and Calcutta; Khan even started with a home-based supper club, with local immigrant women for cooks. Her dishes are not too intense for mid-week meals. So, cut a celebratory bouquet for the sisterhood with tangri kebab with soy sauce, kaju aloo, Armenian-inspired keema sua (dill) palao, Hyderabadi tamatar ka cut, and gulab lassi.
‘Lands of the Curry Leaf’ by Peter Kuruvita, Murdoch Books
Serves: The reluctant romantic
When your SO is wary of your yen for the exotic, stick to the essentials but take a tiny step sideways across the subcontinent, from Sri Lanka to Nepal (the author is of mixed Sri Lankan and Austrian heritage himself). Vegetarians feel the love with Afghan pomegranate rice, kimish panare (‘paneer’ with olives and raisins), and rose-scented sheer pira. Or maybe the pitch-perfect Ceylonese lovers’ rice and thala guli (sesame sweets) for a packed lunch. Bhutanese buckwheat and cabbage momos should keep younglings happy.
‘Gunpowder’ by Devina Seth, Harneet Baweja and Nirmal Save, Octopus Books
Serves: Hearts wholly Indian
A spicier multicultural affair brightens familiar flavours with an element of surprise, crafted by a London restaurateur trio with a shared Calcutta-Mumbai history. I’d recommend a home-theatre date, with aloo gujiya for the curtain-raiser, also featuring pani-puri margarita as the sidekick. For a suggestive main course, consider the Kosbadi rabbit masala (courtesy Save’s aunt from Kosbad village, Maharashtra), paired with a jackfruit guchhi pulao and mustard broccoli, reminiscent of yellow winter fields. Let the credits roll with a banana and curry-leaf parfait with chocolate mousse.
Serves: The spontaneous duo that cook together
This husband and wife blogger team do impromptu, bazaar-based hence seasonal cooking, which makes this A-Z vegan cookbook handy when you can’t plan ahead or are stuck in a rut. Impress your date with a chickpea salad sandwich, creamy pumpkin penne, coconut rice with Brussels sprouts, or roasted cauliflower tacos. Their new plant-forward book, Love & Lemons Every Day, is out April 2.
‘Taste of Eastern India’ by Kankana Saxena, Page Street Publishing
Serves: Jaded eater-outers
Restaurant menus in India often exile the East end. Maybe the dishes are too much a labour of love? This blogger at ‘Playful Cooking’ suggests otherwise, making accessible—with very subtle fusion—shukto, zucchini aloo posto, chicken ghugni, dudh phulkopi, baked mishti doi, ros boda, and chitoi pitha.
‘Season’ by Nik Sharma, Chronicle Books
Serves: Experimental and experienced intimates.
A child of an intercultural marriage (Indian and American), Sharma brings experience from both his sides to his blog, The Brown Table. His book flouts convention with a cocoa-spiced lentil soup, and roasted cauliflower, paneer and lentil salad, marrying North Indian comfort foods with the thrill of chaat outings. And his bourbon-laced iced chai is good for lazy morning-afters with the date and tamarind loaf.
‘Veggie Desserts + Cakes’ by Kate Hackworthy, Pavilion Books
Serves: Vegetable lovers, vegetable haters
Sweets for the sweet who fears empty calories? Or maybe they are struggling with their 10-a-day goal. Have they ever had a spinach and strawberry roulade? This blogger’s recipes partner not cuisines but contradictory food groups and genres. Like pea cake with vanilla and lemon. Or chocolate mashed potato cupcakes with espresso icing.
All images: Courtesy publishing houses