Prett Tejura founder of Curry Cuisine in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 January 2014
Prett Tejura founder of Curry Cuisine in Yorkshire on cooking wonderful spicy meals at home. Annie Stirk, our food and drink consultant reports
When Prett Tejura wants to conjure up a taste of home, it isn’t necessarily the flavours of her native Bradford. Though brought up in the West Yorkshire city since she was six months old, the Curry Cuisine cookery school founder was born in Kenya, and her Gujarati Kenyan mother and Indian father have allowed her to draw on a much richer culinary heritage. ‘My cooking has elements of so many different worlds and my background has given me a huge amount of inspiration,’ says Prett. ‘My mother was always busy in the kitchen and along with my siblings we were all expected to muck in. My spicing has a definite Gujarati Kenyan slant, with a little of my father’s flavour thrown in and some Ugandan from my mother in law.’
It’s unsurprising then that Prett has always dreamed of documenting the many recipes handed down to her by generations of her extended family, and in her new book Family Secrets she showcases some of her favourites inspired by her diverse culinary roots.
Prett’s passion for food is clearly in her blood and, in 2007, she swapped a career as an accountant to set up her cookery school in Wakefield, and then her own range of chutneys and spice mixes.
‘For me, it’s always been about communicating what I know and I love sharing my culture and food with others,’ she says. ‘People in the UK tend to know about Benghali or Northern Indian cookery but Gujarat is not so well know and through the cookery school I’ve been able to pass on these traditions and flavours to other families.’
Based in Prett’s own home kitchen, the cookery sessions are informal and family-orientated and offer everything from spice master classes to children’s cookery. ‘It’s lovely being able to invite people into my home for the weekend sessions,’ says Prett. ‘But in the week the portable ovens and tables are put away so I can feed my own family.’
With three growing children to nourish, Prett invariably calls on the skills taught by her own mother.
‘My mother taught me valuable lessons about organisation and good preparation, and, as a child, my sisters and I would do all the prep for the meal and make sweets,’ she says. ‘But, we’d always leave the important tasks like the rolling of the chapattis to my mother.
‘To this day, when I peel the skin off garlic cloves and ginger it brings a smile to my face as happy memories come flooding back,’ adds Prett. ‘My goal is to motivate more families to cook together like we did, sharing the joys and smells of real Indian food.’
One of the linchpins of Indian cookery is the spice mix, in particular the garam masala blend, which has no single recipe but is distinct to each family and region. ‘Every Indian family has a garam masala blend that’s personal to them,’ says Prett. ‘My mother taught me our particular balance and combination of flavours, and how to source good spices. While they all have common threads such as cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper, there’s probably as many recipes for garam masala as there are families in India’
Prett says that with experience she’s also realised that these ways of cooking have very strong connections to place. ‘For families like my mum and dad, who moved to the UK in the 1960s, the individual flavours and spice mixes in their cooking are very reminiscent of where they came from, and they have continued this tradition as a way of capturing those memories,’ says Prett. ‘In many ways, while young people in India have moved on and are now using new techniques and spices, in the UK we are holding on to recipes that go back many years.’
Prett’s mother remains her ‘chief sampler’ when it comes to new chutneys or spice mixes, which she has developed with husband Paresh. ‘Mum always tastes my new creations and gives me feedback – though she’s usually a big fan,’ says Prett. ‘When she runs out of my strawberry and cardamom jam she’s always on the telephone ordering another one.’
For Prett, her new book Family Secrets is a chance to document this oral tradition of recipes, which she has spent more than decade collecting. ‘My mum and I re-cooked all the recipes that I remembered from my childhood,’ says Prett. ‘But I had to stop her throwing everything in automatically so I could actually measure everything out.’ As a result, the book contains some never before published recipes unique to Prett’s family as well as regional favourites.
‘There’s traditional Indian dishes such as a basic masala sauce and creamy dhal to regional delicacies like Keralan fish,’ says Prett. ‘There’s also a selection of street food and nibbles, including Chilli Paneer and Sev and Gantha, an Indian version of crisps.’ Prett has also included a chapter on desserts: ‘an often overlooked area of Indian cuisine’, which includes Gulab Jamun - dumplings deep fried and dipped in a sugar syrup flavoured with cardamom, rose or almonds.
‘I feel I am giving something back to my mum with these recipes,’ says Prett. ‘She gave me a good grounding and now, perhaps, I’m educating her a little in new flavours and combinations. I’m also leaving a little legacy, something I can pass on to my children and they can pass on to theirs,’ she adds. ‘These are old recipes that have been in my family for many years, which, if they’d not been written down, would have disappeared forever.’