Bake, fry, steam, chill and stir: Ria Mary Mathew's cookbook highlights five methods of cooking

US-based food blogger Ria Mary Mathew's love for cooking shines through in 'Five Ways', her debut cookbook, which highlights the different methods of cooking
Ria Mary Mathew
Ria Mary Mathew

Most of us who relish cooking have a little book filled with recipes we have gathered over the years.

For Ria Mary Mathew, her book of recipes is online, available for the world to see. It all began when a fresh out of college Ria began exchanging recipes with her cousin. “One evening, I was busy keying in a recipe for her when my brother suggested I start a blog.”

And so she started Ria’s Collections in 2008. “I had no idea what a blog was. I thought it was a personal online journal. It was only when I received the first comment on my post did I realize that the whole world could see what I was sharing!,” says Ria, who hails from Kannur.

The first recipe Ria posted was that of her aunt’s chocolate biscuit pudding. “Beeji aunty had sent the recipe in a letter. I still have the letter with me,” says the US settled blogger, who is known for her tried and tested recipes that are often accompanied by drool worthy photographs and entertaining tales behind the dishes, making it a go-to for homemakers and culinary enthusiasts.

Her culinary guide Five Ways, published by Locksley Hall features recipes that have been categorised to demonstrate five different cooking techniques – baked, fried, steamed, grilled, chilled and stirred. Each technique is broken down further into three subsections – Small Bites, Bigger Bites and Sweet Bites.

The book contains 75 recipes that are a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. “I have wanted to write a cookbook ever since I started the blog. It took me a while to figure out a theme though. These days there are so many cook books that are coming out with various themes. I gave it a lot of thought and decided to focus on the different methods of cooking and that’s how Five Ways came about.”

The pictures illustrating the dishes in the cookbook were clicked by Ria herself. “It was a challenge taking the pictures because Minnesota, where I currently reside, is a cold place. It’s pretty much winter from October here with sun setting by 4 pm and this goes on until May. So it’s cold and dark all the time and so taking a picture after cooking has to be quick else shooting the dish under natural light would turn a huge challenge.”

When asked why she released a culinary book in this day and age, Ria says, “Why not? People don’t stop reading so why not release a culinary book? And I think a book has more value than browsing something on the Internet. Even though I am food blogger and a YouTube channel creator, I still prefer to go back to a book to refer to a recipe while I cook as it has a more personal touch to it. When you read a recipe with a head note you feel a personal connect then when watching hands making a dish or a blog with just a recipe.”

Top five ingredients you can find in Ria’s pantry
“My cooking is usually very basic even though I cook all sorts of cuisine it does not have a lot of ingredients. You can find basic ingredients such as garam masala, coriander powder, chilli powder and maybe some tamarind and salt.”

A reason why her followers keep returning to blog she feels, is because of the story behind each recipe. “A lot of my readers say that they read my blog for the story behind each dish. They feel like they know me and that I am a part of their home. In fact, a few of them wrote saying that they are ordering the book as they want me to be a part of their home. A cook book is something that can always be passed on to the next generation. I have a few handwritten recipe diaries, which my kids have already booked. I am glad that they recognise the value of the handwritten books, the personal touch.”

Ria’s culinary journey began at the age of three and a half when she would assist her mother, Susy Mathew, in the kitchen.

“She would hand me these little chappati dough ball which I would make funny faces out of. I would then roll it out and Amma would cook that circle into a little chappati for me,” says Ria, who adds that she learnt heirloom recipes, cooking techniques, tips and tricks from her mother and also her paternal grandmother, who she called Mamma.

“Mamma lived in Malaysia, so I not only picked up a few Malaysian recipes from her, but recipes from my mother too. My mother was a caterer who ran a cooking school in Kannur. Our dining table was decked with an extraordinary blend of Malay cuisine and South Indian food, especially Malabari and Kuttanadan dishes,” says Ria, whose cookbook features recipes ranging from arrikkadukas and Kuttanadan chemmen olathiyudu to serradurra and crispy spinach chicken.

According to Ria, she was in class four when she tried preparing a dish on her own. The dish was ladies finger fry. “I recall adding a tad too much turmeric and the taste of turmeric stood out and I didn’t like it. Mamma, who tasted it however, was so pleased that she got me a huge bar of chocolate.”

For Ria, the kitchen is a space for therapy, a space she goes to “forget about everything else.”

When she is in the kitchen, her thought revolves around food and only food as she decides on the dish for the day, the vessel to be used, how she can simplify the method of preparation…

“I am a huge pan of one pot dishes. From the beginning my kind of cooking has always been the easiest way out the kitchen even though I love cooking and spending time in the kitchen. I am not keen on recipes that a gazillion ingredients and steps and an equal amount of dishes to clean. I instead focus on dishes that can be prepared within a limited time frame. That’s the kind of recipes I have been sharing and which my readers seem to enjoy,” says Ria, who adds that one of the top ranked posts in her 12-year-old blog is how to cook palakkadan matta rice.

“Everyone knows how to cook rice; it’s a basic thing but till then I would place the rice in a pressure cooker and let it have as many whistles as I felt like. The starchy water would splatter everywhere on the counter top. My aunt’s method was just one whistle and zero mess. I felt that if I found it useful I am sure there must be someone else out there who will find it useful too. I posted it on the blog and even recently I got a photo and a post thanking me for the recipe. Even a simple, basic recipe can garner lots of views, likes and shares.”

Ria, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2016 and completed a year-long baking and pastry arts programme in the US says back when she started the blog, there were just a handful of foodbloggers. “Everyone knew each other and appreciated each other’s works. There was hardly any competition. Nothing was seen as a business plan or marketing strategy. We did it out of passion, out of pure love for what we were doing. I find happiness when people cook the dishes that I share and send me pictures and their feedback. It is so nice to read their adventures while cooking my recipes,” says Ria, who had a regular column in a US based Malayalam journal called Malayalee. She demonstrates how to prepare Indian dishes at a nearby culinary school called The Kitchen Window.

The gourmet, who enjoys experimenting with recipes, says she has adapted several of her family recipes, especially desserts, to cater to her tastebud.

According to Ria, her family adores whatever she cooks. “I don’t know if they are just being nice to me but whatever I cook, my husband, Jobin, and children Ian and Zara, accept it wholeheartedly.”

The kind of food she eats depends on her mood. “Sometimes when it is rainy I like to have fried food and when it’s snowing, I like to have naadan dishes like beef fry, mooru kachiyathu and mezhukkupuratti so that it feels like a warm hug from home on a cold day,” says Ria, who started a YouTube channel, also called Ria’s Collection, three years ago.

The 35-year-old who enjoys watching Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson cook and the way Zoe Francoise makes her videos for Instagram, tends to cook food that stick to her roots. “I want my kids to experience what I have eaten growing up so there is always an Indian meal at home. I don’t follow any kind of food trend because they come and go. I use the good old traditional stuff like using coconut oil and ghee.”

The debut author who did not expect her book to do “so well”, says, she hopes to start work on another book. “But I won’t be starting it anytime soon. I need a breather from all the promotion. I might even take a break from social media for a few weeks."

The food blogger shares two recipes in connection with the festive season:

Crispy Capsicum Sticks with Hot Garlic Sauce
Crispy Capsicum Sticks with Hot Garlic Sauce

Crispy Capsicum Sticks with Hot Garlic Sauce

(Serves 6)

We love sitting around our dining table during teatime, sipping on our favourite beverages and enjoying hot snacks. I try to have those special moments whenever I can with my family and this particular snack graces our table every now and then.

This is my take on something that I ate when I was 15-years-old at a family friend’s house in Kannur. It was so delicious that I still continue to make it.

Ingredients:

2 large green capsicum, cut into very thin strips

½ cup cornflour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 cup club soda

Chaat Masala

2 cups of vegetable oil, for deep frying

Hot Garlic Sauce:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

A small red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

¼ cup tomato ketchup

½ - 1 teaspoon Kashmiri Chili powder

¼-½ teaspoon white vinegar

2 tablespoons water

Salt

A pinch of sugar

Method:

● In a medium bowl, mix together cornflour, all-purpose flour, salt and garam

masala. Make a well in the center and pour in the club soda. Whisk to form a

smooth batter and set it aside for 5 minutes.

● In the meantime, heat the oil in a tall pan to 180 degree Celsius or until it starts

to shimmer. Dip each capsicum stick into the batter, letting the excess drip off

a little and gently lower it into the oil. Repeat with the remaining capsicum

sticks and fry till they are golden.

● Drain them over absorbent paper towels, sprinkle some chaat masala over it

and serve it hot alongside Hot Garlic Sauce.

Hot Garlic Sauce:

● In a small saucepan, heat oil on medium heat and sauté onion and garlic until

the onions soften.

● Add tomato ketchup, kashmiri chilli powder, white vinegar, water, salt, a

pinch of sugar and cook till it thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.

● Serve it along with Crispy Capsicum Sticks.

Tips :

● Substitute capsicum for another vegetable like cauliflower, green beans, carrots or even

Prawns!

● These are good with the classic Tamarind & Date chutney as well.

Double orange cake with marbled icing
Double orange cake with marbled icing

For those with a sweet tooth, Ria shares one of her popular cake recipes

Double Orange Cake with Marbled Icing

Ingredients:

Cake

100g flour

100g butter, softened

100g sugar

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp orange zest

3 tbsp orange juice

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 350 F and line a 6 inch cake tin.

In a medium bowl, beat together flour, butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder & baking soda on high for 2 mins. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the zest and orange juice. Beat on high for another minute. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 mins. Let it cool in the tin for 10 mins . Unmould and cool completely over a cooling rack.

Marble Frosting

60g butter

1 1/4 c icing sugar

1 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp orange zest

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Method: In a small bowl, beat butter and orange zest together until light and fluffy. Add orange juice and icing sugar little by little and beat till smooth. Divide the batter into 2 and whisk in cocoa powder to one half. Spoon out the icing alternately over the cake and marble it using a toothpick.

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