A Sindhi summer maani

“I’ve been a Bombay kid all my life, raised in the wet markets of Khar and Santacruz,” Ankiet Gulabani of Belly Over Mind told us, ruminating on the type of cooking and eating that is decidedly Indian west coast. He was raised on curries laced with coconut and local fish pulled, filleted, or poached in Indian spice. Two degrees (one each in India and the UK) and a stint at a food magazine led him to Belly Over Mind, where he honed his own distinct style both of cooking and writing by developing a repertoire of recipes that are both modern as well as influenced by and rooted in his upbringing. We got him to bring some of that wholesome goodness to this menu, a tableful of Sindhi fare Gulabani created for Nicobar.

“Summer marks a natural shift in the food habits of many Sindhis, and we’re quite unaware of it honestly. While Sindhi food isn’t heavy, a switch to lighter, cooling gourd curries with tomato, loose dal and curd on the table will temporarily replace spice-heavy brown gravies on hot days. Kheecha, papad or kachri, made from dehydrated vegetables like tomato, lotus root, gourd and chillies which are fried, spiced and served as crunchy accompaniments to be crumbled over dal and rice. Achaar is abundant, both sweet and spicy, and for many, the first alphonso mango in the fruit basket warrants a mini celebration. Homemade sherbet concentrate is always kept handy to be stirred into milk or had with ice water and while dessert is preferred the year round, we tend to eat more fruit this time of the year as truckloads of juice-filled palmyra fruit are peeled and handed to us to eat in one swift motion. Summer desserts aren’t very popular in my house, but we’re more than happy to eat specifically REX’s raspberry jelly or china grass with either banana and apple, or custard—the kind that’s not made with egg yolks, but just custard powder.” How did you get into cooking?
I used to cook my own meals in London, but those were student’s meals that didn’t boast flavour, but were more for sustenance. If I cooked butter chicken, I didn’t smoke it; if I made spag, I didn’t finish with starchy water to turn it into a silky sauce; my most basic brownie recipe had the texture of dried out chocolate cake. My technique was poor and that’s something that improved greatly when I started working with such an informed food magazine.

Why Belly Over Mind?
Like all good ideas, this one spawned from a hunger to cook food that I wanted to eat. Create the kind of recipes that would be game changers because they’d use produce from the Indian local markets, but create something truly special. I wanted to create something different in the Indian space-a recipe website that could get everyone from amateurs cooks to seasoned chefs excited about food again, by way of approachable recipes that would make you instantly popular at potlucks.

Your cooking gives a new lease of life to everyday Indian meals. Talk to us about championing the ordinary.
People find it very easy to hate on Indian produce, but the question I ask is if you have experienced even a fraction of the produce that all of India has to offer? We grow passionfruit, exotic berries, brilliant gourds, tropical varieties of fruits unheard of, and so much more. Belly Over Mind offers a great insight into lesser-cooked produce, as well as technique, both of which set the website apart from other recipe websites out there. We also work with urban farmers who want to showcase their new produce. Who are your readers?
The bulk of my readers are between 21 and 35 years of age-savvy cooks who range from working professionals with very little time to cook and budding bakers to more seasoned and informed cooks-Belly Over Mind is a space for inspiration the year round-a place where you can pluck an idea from and make it your own.

What kind of produce does your cooking use?

The website uses seasonal ingredients available locally and seasonally to readers in the Indian markets, and with ease. It is also inclusive of produce from urban farmers, artisanal producers, and other brands that I believe in.

What’s next?
Belly Over Mind will continue to grow as a burgeoning voice coming out of India that goes beyond the ordinary everyday cooking. In the future, I hope to author cookbooks around it that’s chock full of ideas that are neither gimmicky, nor fad-driven. Good, delicious food transcends all that. I’ll only make a recipe again if it really hits home.

Recipes and styling: Ankiet Gulabani
Photo Director: Nachiket Pimprikar