by Rupa Balachandar
Last night while I was winding down, a message popped up on my screen from Sid Khullar asking me if I would like to pen a few words about Tarla Dalal, about whose passing I had read about just a few hours prior.
I did not have to think twice about Sid’s request and immediately agreed to write my thoughts on the most unique talent in the history of contemporary Indian food. However, when I did sit down to write, I was at a loss for words, attempting to describe someone who I knew only through her writing and media. I’ve spent many years learning from her, just like Eklavya did with Dronacharya’s idol, but in my case the medium of instruction were Ms Dalal’s books and recipes.
During that hour many important occasions/people in my life flashed in front me like it does for anybody who hears of a loss. Revisiting those memories, I realized that Tarla Dalal was my companion on several of those cherished moments. One such incident I vividly remember is when I moved to the US in my late teens. While deciding what precious things I would carry with me in the two suitcases I was allowed, a book authored by Ms Dalal was on the top of the list. I arrived in the Fall and at my first Thanksgiving dinner in the US, I used her recipe to cooked Vegetable Au Gratin; a recipe I consider iconic from the hundreds perhaps thousands she has authored. Needless to say, it was a hit amongst my dinner guests who were amazed that a “vegetarian” dish could taste so delicious and be so easy to prepare.
As an author she was able to bring to the traditional Indian kitchen, recipes from around the world. Her Indian recipes were so authentic, one could easily recreate the Idli-sambar eaten at an Udipi restaurant, Dhokla from the best Farsan shop, or Paranthas and achaar eaten at a Punjabi dhaba. Over the next decade I acquired several of her books, all of which I treasure and are amongst the few cookbooks I own, each one with recipes that are well written, easy to follow and most importantly, which result in dishes that taste awesome
A petite person in stature but with a larger than life following, a lady who helped create many happy moments between a husband and wife, a mother and child or just amongst friends, I humbly thank Ms Dalal for helping polish a facet of my personality. She will never know it, but those who read this will understand and wholly agree that she made a big impact on our lives through her books, TV shows, cooking classes and charity.
Rest in Peace. We will continue celebrating your life.