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Heart to hearth

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A series by Pratibha Jain about silvers who believe nurturing the body and mind is the key to joy.

Featuring Sundari Ganesan from Mumbai
“I enjoy learning and experimenting,” she says. It is a simple mantra that reflects her zest for life and keeps her young at heart. For Sundari Ganesan, a TamBrahm living in Mumbai, variety is truly the spice of life. With a deep appreciation for India’s various regional cuisines, she enjoys learning new techniques and recipes. Her recipes are published in magazines, she makes appearances on TV shows, and thoroughly enjoys teaching eager foodies, the proof of which is evident in her two grandchildren. Young Kavya Shyam, just 12 years old, already enjoys baking, and college-going grandson Kartik experiments with making pizzas and pastas from scratch. As I chatted with Sundariji, I could see how certain people had the power to channel their energy into energising others as well. Here are a few snippets of my conversation with her.


I was born in Mumbai and spent my early years in this city. When I turned 10, we shifted to our hometown Thirunelveli, in Tamil Nadu. There, I lived in a large, joint family of almost 30 members. It was an orthodox upbringing, where children were not allowed into the kitchen. But I remember watching the large-scale cooking that took place during festivals and celebrations. I think the seed of interest for cooking and hospitality lay there. After marriage, I moved to Ahmedabad. I enjoyed my time in that city and learned many Gujarati dishes. Now, for the past 15 years, we are settled in Mumbai.


I always enjoyed writing in Tamil. Soon after my marriage, I started submitting recipes to magazines such as Mangayar Malar, Rani, Snegithi, Saheli (Tamil), and many more. So far, I have more than 200 recipes published in magazines. I particularly enjoy writing recipes that are simple and easy to read and follow. Apart from writing recipes, I also write short stories. I enjoy weaving stories from what I see around us, in the people around us, and in our families.


As a family, we have always enjoyed watching cooking shows on television together, such as Masterchef or Khana Khazana. I have also made appearances in some television shows, including AMN TV, Khana Khazana and Captain TV. I enjoy interacting with youngsters and enthusiastic foodies. There is always so much to learn and to teach; I find that I discover new things from them every now and again.


When I was 21, I married P S Ganesan; he retired as an audit officer with the Central Government. My husband is my main source of inspiration. He has always had an encouraging nature, and says that participation is more important than winning or losing. He is enthusiastic about what I cook and always has a word of appreciation. What more could I ask for?


All of us share a common love for good food. We have two children, Shyam and Subha, who are married. Both Subha and my daughter-in-law Priya enjoy cooking and preparing new dishes. My granddaughter Kavya bakes delicious cakes and prepares some Gujarati delicacies, even though she is only in the 7th standard. My grandson Kartik is currently pursuing B Tech and has an avid interest in cooking. He likes watching how we cook and often pitches in to help in the kitchen. I think that as a family, all of us are enthusiastic to try new concoctions.

Kartik (grandson): I grew up watching Masterchef on TV with the family. I think that is how I became interested in cooking. I may not cook often but when I do, I enjoy it thoroughly. I like making pastas and pizzas from scratch. I get good Indian food at home, so I prefer trying out other cuisines. I am sure cooking will always be a part of my life, whether there is a need to cook or not.


As a family, I don’t think we have any favourite recipes; each of us just loves the rich assortment of flavours. When our extended family visit us from the South, they relish our North Indian dishes. I enjoy making chana bhatura, parathas and paneer varieties. When my husband’s colleagues come home, they enjoy a South Indian meal served on banana leaf. To watch people relish your food is the biggest compliment. My son says everything I cook is tasty, and my heart swells with pride whenever I see my grandchildren in the kitchen.


When unexpected guests arrive, it takes no time to make upma or dosas. Give me half an hour and I can whip up many more dishes. One dish I make often, particularly when we have guests, is a spread with sweet corn. To make this, grate the corn off the cob. Heat some oil in a pan and add some mustard, jeera, curry leaves, chopped green chillies and ginger. Add the grated corn and a cup of milk and allow it to cook. Add salt, chilli powder, turmeric powder and a dash of sugar. Cook until the mixture thickens. Serve with rotis or as a spread to top toasted bread.


I enjoy buying seasonal vegetables and fruits to make jam preserves and juice concentrates. Allowing the preserves to cook on a slow simmer fills me with immense joy. One absolute favourite recipe I make is a squash using 1 kg of ripe guavas. Clean the guavas, place them whole in a vessel (without adding any water), and cook in a pressure cooker for up to three whistles. Cool and grind the guavas without adding any water, and strain to remove seeds. Mix the guava pulp with 1 kg sugar, add 2 teaspoons of citric acid and cook until it reduces down to ¼ the original quantity. Allow to cool, add ¼ teaspoon of sodium benzoate and mix well. Preserve in a clean bottle and store in a cool place. This concentrate is now usable for up to one year. To serve, add water and ice to concentrate and enjoy this refreshing drink chilled!


I don’t know how the day passes because I have so many interests. I enjoy reading books, chatting with friends and family on the computer, and discovering new dishes on the Internet. Whenever we go on holiday, I really enjoy visiting historical places. At home, we have a collection of old coins, old paintings and statues on display. We also have a collection of old palm leaves (olai chuadi) with astrological inscriptions on them, which our elders could read. When we travel down South, we make sure to pick up some antique vessels. It is a sheer pleasure to decorate the house with all these artefacts.


Sundari Ganesan’s deep love for experimentation can be seen in this delicious recipe of instant vadai. It is such a family favourite that she always keeps a bottle of powdered roasted gram (daaliya in Hindi, udacha kadalai in Tamil) in her kitchen, so she can make these instantly.


  • Roasted gram: 2 cups; powdered
  • Onion: 1 large; chopped fine
  • Green chillies: 5; chopped fine
  • Ginger: 1-inch piece; chopped fine
  • Coriander leaves: A fistful; chopped fine
  • Fresh coconut (optional): 1 tbsp; grated
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil (for deep frying)


Mix all the ingredients (except the oil) and bind well. The onions will add wetness to the mixture, so add very little water. Sprinkle just 1-2 tsp of water to pat the mixture into a thick dough. Divide into 12-15 portions; roll and flatten into vadai on a plastic sheet. Now, heat the oil in a pan and drop in a few at a time, frying evenly on all sides until they turn golden. Serve hot with coconut chutney or ketchup.

Pratibha Jain, an author and translator from Chennai, is the co-author of two award-winning books Cooking at Home with Pedatha and Sukham Ayu. Her area of specialisation is documenting Indian traditions through research, translation and writing

Photos: Haresh Patel
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
February 2018