Nandita Iyer-author of The Great Indian thali -2
Nandita Iyer with her book Image Credit: Supplied

The Indian thali with its wide assortment of delicacies in small bowls inevitably has your lips smacking. A thali is tailored depending on which part of the country you are dining in and according to the cuisine dominating the region.

Food writer and columnist, Nandita Iyer’s new book titled, The Great Indian Thali lays a delectable spread of recipes-as varied as the country’s topography. Showcasing the culinary tapestry of India, this ‘thali’ has ‘monje haakh’ (kohlrabi stew) from Kashmir sharing company with Kerala’s ‘ishtu’ (stew) and Tamil Nadu’s ‘vatha kuzhambu.’ Surprising you with its novelty is ‘chak hao’ – Manipur’s ‘black rice kheer’ – while ‘chenna poda’ from Odisha leaves one drooling. And, busting stereotypes is ‘shakarkandi chaat’ made of sweet potatoes roasted over fire.

If chickpeas have been done to death in Indian cooking with the ubiquitous ‘chole,’ Iyer offers an alternative with ‘madra’ – a Himachal Pradesh dish minus the regular onion, ginger, and garlic. Whoever heard of ‘amrood subzi?’ This guava curry is a revelation, like the ‘shengdanyachi amti’ a Maharashtrian curry using just groundnuts. Amti is prepared during fasting when grains are not consumed.

This is Iyer’s fourth book. With 70 recipes arranged by seasons, readers can hop across different parts of India.

A medical graduate from Mumbai, Iyer quit medicine to explore a new road – goaded by her passion for cooking and writing. Equipped with a course in nutrition from Medvarsity-Apollo Hospitals, she kick-started the journey with a blog in 2006. Stirring up regular ingredients in new experiments, Iyer wrote her first book, ‘The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian,’ published in 2017.

‘It’s about treating usual recipes differently, like using multiple gourds-a low-calorie vegetable- for a stew instead of potatoes, carrots, and beans. Or adding local greens in pasta and horse gram sprouts in salads,’ she says.

‘Everyday Superfoods’ published in 2021 speaks about superfoods that enrich diet and specific superfoods that help in managing various ailments including diabetes, hypertension, and weight loss.

‘The Handmade Life’ brought out last year is divided into seven sections including baking, fermentation, kitchen gardening and soap making.

‘Each section delves deep into a craft. At the end of it, there are easy projects to work on using our hands,’

Iyer says, ‘The idea was to get people back to using their hands since we are spending more time on the screen today.’

For The Great Indian Thali she researched extensively and refined recipes after trials at home. Her favourite YouTube channels are ‘Refika’s Kitchen’ hosted by Turkish food writer and television presenter and ‘Guju Ben Na Naasta,’ by 77-year-old Urmila Asher of Mumbai.

The recipe of ‘black rice kheer’ was shared by her friend, Bivarani Ngangom. ‘Even if black rice is not available, a darker variety of rice can be used,’ suggests Iyer.

Okra, as a tea-time snack? Yes, as ‘kurkuri bhindi.’

Other starters in Iyer’s ‘thali’ are Gujarat’s ‘methi na muthia (fried dumplings with fenugreek leaves) makkai ke pakode (sweetcorn fritters) an,d beetroot kola, a Chettinad flavoured cocktail bite.

Celebrating mangoes are ‘aam ki launji’– a sweet and sour chutney and ‘aam kashundi,’ a quintessential Bengali condiment announcing its arrival with pungent mustard. Other mango preparations are ‘aam panna,’ (raw mango beverage) ‘aamrakhand’(sweetened mango yoghurt) and ‘mango phirni,’ (mango and cream of wheat pudding).

Healthy dosa (crepes) options are found in ragi (finger millet) dosa and jolada (sorghum/jowar/summer millet) dosa.

For dips there is Gujarat’s ‘haldi ka achaar,’ an instant dish.

Who said that eggplants could only become a bhartha? Why not a ‘dahi baigana’ – an Odia preparation instead? For those with a sweet tooth, new experiments are found in ‘ragi (finger millet) laddoo,’ ‘thinai payasam’ (foxtail millet pudding) and ‘rajgira halwa (amaranth flour fudge).’

Two books in two years have kept Iyer on her toes. ‘As an author and a social media content creator, there are too many hats to wear,’ she says. ‘You have to work on your writing, creative recipes, styling, photography, social media, marketing yourself, having negotiations with brands, and public speaking. It’s never easy to juggle so many roles. My high point is managing all these roles without having any formal training in any of these,’ she says

The Great Indian Thali’ is available at

Image Credit: Supplied

Thinai Payasam (Foxtail Millet Pudding)

Prep time: 1-2 hours; Cooking time: 1 hour | Serves 4-6


¼ cup (50g) foxtail millet (kangni)

1 litre full cream milk

½ cup (100g) raw cane sugar

Pinch of saffron strands


Wash and soak the millet in a bowl of water for 1-2 hours. Drain and keep aside. In a pressure cooker, add the milk, sugar, and soaked millet. (In an electronic pressure cooker, set the menu to Pressure Cooking: High Pressure for 40 minutes.) Once the time is up and the pressure lowers, open the lid, add the saffron strands, and put it back in the pressure cook setting for 10 minutes. In the stove top pressure cooker, combine ingredients and allow to come to full pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat and keep for 30-40 minutes on lowest heat. Once the pressure lowers, open lid, add saffron strands, and put it back in the pressure cook setting for 10 minutes. Make sure this pressure cooker has a heavy bottom or a long period of pressure cooking could burn the milk. Millet payasam is ready to be served hot or cold.

Image Credit: Supplied

Chak Hao (Manipuri Black Rice Kheer)

Prep time: 12 hours | cooking time: 1 hour 15 mins | Serves 6

Soaking the rice for 12 hours is mandatory so that it cooks to a creamy texture. The stunning lilac colour of this dessert along with the aroma of coconut milk makes all the wait worth it.


¼ cup (40-50g) black rice

1 litre whole cream milk

½ cup (100g) sugar

2 tbsp milk powder

½ cup (120g) thick coconut milk

For garnish

Thinly sliced fresh coconut

Dried rose petal


Wash the rice and soak for 12 hours in water 1 inch above the level of rice. Take the soaked rice along with the water and milk and cook it either on stove top with constant stirring or an electronic pressure cooker (pressure cook setting, high pressure, 1 hour). Once the pressure lowers, open the cooker. The rice should be fully cooked and sticky at this point. The milk will be light purple in colour due to the colour of the rice and the soaking water added at the cooking stage. Add the sugar and stir well over low heat. You can either pressure cook for another 10 minutes at this stage or allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the milk powder and coconut milk. Add it to the kheer and simmer for another 5 minutes over low heat. Add thinly sliced coconut to the kheer. Garnish with dried rose petals. Serve chilled.

Chenna poda
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Chenna Poda -Indian Cheesecake from Odisha

Time taken: 45 minutes | Serves 6

Chenna poda is made using paneer (chenna) and traditionally baked over a log fire for a few hours. A layer of caramel at the bottom gives it the burnished colour and the slightly bitter caramel flavour to the cake that just sets it apart from any other Indian sweet.


2 tbsp ghee, divided

2 tbsp cashew nut pieces

2 tbsp raisins

200-250g fresh homemade paneer

½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar

½ tsp ground green cardamom

1 tbsp fine semolina (chiroti rava)

1-2 tbsp milk (optional)


Preheat the oven at 180°C. Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a small pan and fry cashew nut until golden brown. Remove with a spoon and keep aside. Fry the raisins in the remaining ghee until puffed up. Keep this along with the fried cashews. Grease a 5-6 inch round pudding mould or cake tin with ghee. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of sugar in the tin and hold it with a pair of tongs over medium heat. Keep swirling the sugar as it melts and caramelizes so that the caramel coats the bottom of the tin. In a food processor, combine the crumbled paneer, sugar, ground green cardamom and rava. Blend to a smooth paste. Use 1-2 tbsp of milk if the mixture is very dry. Remove this paste into a bowl. Combine with the fried cashews and raisins. Transfer this over the caramel layer in the prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven at 180°C for 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean and the top is a dark golden brown. Turn over into a dish and cut into wedges or pieces. Serve warm. Allow the chenna poda to cool in the tin for an hour. Run a knife around the sides, loosening the cake from the tin.

Allow the chenna poda to cool in the tin for an hour. Run a knife around the sides, loosening the cake from the tin. When making paneer at home for this dish, do not squeeze out all the whey. A bit of extra moisture in the paneer prevents the cake from drying out in the oven. To make gluten free, almond or coconut flour can be used instead of rava.

Aam Kasundi
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Aam Kashundi (Green Mango and Mustard Sauce)

Prep time: 1-2 hours; Time taken: 10 minutes; Fermenting time (optional): 2 days | Makes over 1 cup


1 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 medium sized (200g) raw mango (1 cup, chopped)

4 green chillies, sliced

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp mustard oil


Soak the black and yellow mustard seeds in half a cup of water for 1-2 hours. Peel and chop the raw mango into small pieces, scraping off all the flesh from the stone. Discard the stone. In a mixer jar, combine the chopped raw mango, drained mustard seeds, chillies, sugar, and salt. Blend to get a fine puree. Pour the oil into this paste and pulse a couple of times until you get a creamy sauce. Transfer this to a clean dry glass jar. Close loosely with a lid and allow to sit on the counter for a couple of days for it to ferment slightly. Close the lid tightly and refrigerate. This will easily stay for 2-3 weeks.