Fellow Foodie Interview Series : Sonali.... A Foodie, Blogger, Nutritionist And An Author In The Making !!! :)

For our next FellowFoodie series, we have blogger Sonali of http://quicklydelicious.com/ . Checkout how Sonali's personal tragedy and ideas to overcome that can help you make easy nutritious dishes in 30 minutes. Also BTW Sonali is launching a cookbook soon. Stay tuned to grab a copy of the book too. 

Let us read and know more about her, and check out some of her recipes as well :

1. Our readers would love to know you more. Can you give an introduction to yourself ? What makes Sonali ?

Hello to everyone! I am Sonali, a Public Health Nutritionist by training. I got my Masters in Health Science from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which is ranked no. 1 for Public Health in the US and well known abroad. I worked there for a few years and got good exposure to working with African Americans and Native Americans to develop and implement nutrition education strategies, to help people shop, choose and eat healthy. It was a very fulfilling experience. I would like to take my experience and tailor it to Indians. Indian food is well-known the world over for its flavor. But with a little more planning we can unlock the doors of nutrition and create food that not only tastes great but also improves your health.  It is an understanding of how to cook foods to retain maximum nutrients, how to pair them to boost our nutrient uptake, plan menus, or balance meals to counteract the effect of any outside food or unhealthy food we may have eaten.

2. Since we know you are a big-time foodie, we would be eager to know where exactly did this journey begin? What drove you to enter the kitchen and make something ?

My interest in food began with my mom’s cooking. Since childhood, I was intrigued by how she made me enjoy some vegetables I did not like and then I gradually learned to eat most vegetables. I recall those summer days, when I would fuss over eating cabbage and green beans or spend a long time trying to remove all the mustard seeds in a dish!  I dabbled in the kitchen for many years, made phone calls and got recipes from mom over email while I cooked as a student and entertained friends. I just enjoyed doing it, took photos, shared on facebook, wrote down some recipes and that was it! However, with my knee injury, when I could stand for only 20 minutes, my cooking journey took on a new perspective. I realized that cooking within 20-30 minutes would really help so many busy people to cook at home more often! That’s when I decided to be more mindful of my recipes, write down mom’s tips, detailed instructions, and try to get most things done in the kitchen in the shortest time possible. Later on, I took up blogging and saw the wonderful work that bloggers have done. I started my blog quicklydelicious.com to share my work and learn the way people respond to information. I don’t give myself the liberty to cook without limits – I apply quite a few filters – a dish needs to be ready in 30 minutes, it needs to nutritionally balanced, and delicious. A few months back, as I made progress with my knee, I decided to focus my resources on my cookbook. Cookbooks present information in a very different format – a static yet creative layout bound by limited space can be very beautiful! This cookbook brings together my effort and perspective, and simplifies the application of knowledge into everyday tips.  The goal is to empower the reader with tools for healthful eating behaviors. I hope it becomes a useful reference guide for planning nutritionally balanced meals for families.

3. What was the first dish you prepared and when ?

Back in 7th grade I remember my mom telling me that I was big enough to start using the stove! I was excited and she first taught me to make tea. Then, I got promoted quickly to learn to cook varan bhaat (rice and dal) in the pressure cooker.

Refreshing Mango Salsa To Mango Ensalada

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4. What drove the inspiration behind the blogger that you are ? People, Place, Reference ? anything ?

My knee injury drove me to explore the cooking side of nutrition and see the nutrition science from a cook’s perspective. Now, that I am mostly recovered, I feel grateful for all that has happened. I started blogging to share my work and learn what foods people like, how people respond to different formats of information and so on. In the process, I have learned so much from the more experienced and active bloggers. My blog has a long way to go as I have not been very active. I took time off from blogging now and then to focus on my recovery and my cookbook. And, now that I am finishing my cookbook, it feels good - it sort of covers for one year of blogging! I plan on being more active, write more articles and collaborate with other bloggers, groups and communities, until the next cookbook!

5. Tell us something about food from your birthplace.

I was born and raised in Mumbai. It may compete with Delhi as the food capital of India but since I haven’t explored Delhi’s foodie jaunts, I can’t compare. Mumbai takes you from the best street food (vada pav, chaat stalls, chutney stands) just around the corner to the most delicious gourmet Indian meal in town (Jiggs Kalra’s Masala Library). Enjoying fresh seafood is the most cherished memory. The taste of fresh catch is simply beyond comparison. With great ambiences and well planned dining experiences, restaurants will take you on a virtual journey to taste different regional cuisines and International cuisines, without having you to board a flight. Living in Bandra, for most part of my life made it more special. It was easy to spot celebrities while growing up. I recall rooting for them while in school as we spotted them and now I see them open restaurants with different themes. Being exposed to great food, makes you a very picky foodie  - would you think that a simple yet uniquely spiced samosa, batata vada, chicken kebab or bandra’s famous paneer wala can raise your standard so high that you can easily dislike anything that does not meet that reference point. People may scorn at you, but you know that you’ve had better. Me and my mom try to replicate dishes we have tasted in a restaurant and share notes to understand what worked and what didn’t! You will find some restaurant style recipes made healthy on the blog (methi matar, no malai, restaurant style dal makhani, chicken tikka masala etc.) and more to follow.

6. How different does your meal look now from your childhood? Or is it still the same? How, in your opinion, has your palate changed over the years?

After having traveled abroad, lived in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and US, I experienced some unique cooking and dining experiences – a cooking class in Paris, casual dining in a small restaurant in Glasgow that served small portions of the best Italian food I have had, my favorite restaurants in Mumbai, Baltimore, Ahmedabad, have influenced the way I eat and dine today – I have come to appreciate produce and flavors of different cuisines, cook fusion dishes,  and serve with good silverware and dinnerware. I dabble with different food plating styles to make my dish look gourmet,  as you may see in my Salmon Tikka recipe. I am inspired by chefs like Massimo Bottura, Dan Barber and prefer to work with sustainably sourced ingredients. I hope to hone my food plating skills in due time. Now, living in the Bay area and seeing so many Indian restaurants may rekindle a childhood dream to have one of my own – maybe someday!  And, you know what the theme would be, right?

7. What is your idea of a good and complete meal ?

A meal that satisfies all your senses, nourishes your body and soul is a good and complete meal. A healthy meal presented beautifully that smells, tastes, looks great, and makes you feel good at the end of the meal, is a meal one should strive for. It can be a simple khichadi with vegetables, balanced with a raita and fruit or a fancy, 3 course meal that starts with a light soup, leads to a gourmet sandwich & side salad and ends with a small portion of fruity-chocolaty dessert.

Schezwan Veggie Patties – Indo Chinese

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8. How do you plan your blog posts? (Details on research and getting ingredients, preparing recipe and gathering props etc.)

I spend hours on a blog post – I have a comic post on the blog that describes how I work on my recipes. I come up with an idea for a dish I recently tasted or use a recipe from my logs, work out to make sure, it’s nutritionally balanced, test it to see if tastes good, meets the “quick” factor of cooking, take and retake photos. Sometimes, I begin with the best produce that I have picked from the market and figure out a healthy dish to make with it. I focus more on the layout and presentation of the nutrition info in my recipes – so that it’s easy for people to learn from the recipe. Food styling is on the spur of the moment, although food plating is what I am more interested in. I still have to work on my food photography – I do get impatient while photographing and just jump to eat out of the plate at times. I  do have a small collection of props and basic photography tools.

9. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start blogging ?

Yes, it’s very easy these days to start a blog with so many new platforms offering the service for free. I would love for everyone to archive what they are cooking as a blog and make it a great resource for their progeny. It’s great to see that most Indian women love to cook. I would love for them to keep the health aspect in mind while cooking their dishes and share those thoughts and notes on their blog. Let it be a legacy of recipes and health. One mistake I made was I transitioned away from the wordpress.com community before I had many followers thinking that wordpress.org is also connected, but they aren’t. Their community is a great way to grow your blog. I wish someone would have told me that.

10. Apart from blogging what are your hobbies?

I love to cook of course, travel, write, do gardening on a small scale, photography, take a walk or jog, and do enjoy travel and culinary documentaries now and then.

11. We would love to know about your role as a nutritionist and how that keeps you connected with food !

As a nutritionist, I tend to give tips on healthy eating to my friends and family while also posting them on the blog. When we eat out, it’s hard to turn off the X-ray machine in my head that scans my plate/menu for healthy food and so we do order some well balanced meals. I value the produce a lot and do not like to waste, whether it is organic or conventional, as long as the produce tastes good. I think, that the taste and flavor of your produce tells you a lot about its nutrients and how it was produced. I vacillate from using few to moderate level of spices in my cooking to let the produce stand out.

12. Congratulating you for the book that you plan to launch, we would want our readers to know more on that !

First and foremost, sincere thanks to you Kinjal, for this opportunity to share my thoughts in this interview and also to introduce my educational cookbook. It will be out in a few weeks and I am very excited about it. It focuses on a simple food – the legumes. It includes nutritional aspects on why they are important in today’s growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes (including pre-, gestational), blood pressure disorders. From planning menus, to pairing foods, learn different recipes and variety of ways to incorporate them on a regular basis. It is not just for vegetarians, but also includes non-veg dishes. It presents multi-cuisine recipes and covers most courses – from starters to desserts. It has recipes for novices to advanced cooks, so just about for everyone who takes that first step to start cooking healthy.

Salmon Tikka With Brown Rice & Spinach Sauce

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13. How does it feel at this stage, when the book is still not launched, and how do you think the perspective will differ once it has been launched? Also, do share your future plans.

I do feel a bit nervous about the reception of the book. It will be a showcase of the nature of my work - a focus on the practical aspects of healthful cooking in a busy world. It will empower readers with the knowledge and ideas to take their health to the next level by planning more balanced meals for their families.

14. Is there any one person who inspires you to take this culinary path?

Yes, my mom sowed the seeds of inspiration and my husband nurtured it to pursue this path.

Healthy Chilli Chicken

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15. How do you take pictures of your recipe? (smartphone/DSLR/digital camera) ?

I now use a Nikon D3300 with 50 mm and 35 mm lens. No lighting equipment yet and I recently purchased a tripod for my shaky hands to get those super sharp pictures! 

16. Can you provide some tips on photography that novice users using their smartphone device to take food photos can apply?

I don’t use my smartphone for food photos for the blog, but the newer phones have great cameras. It is worth checking out different apps for editing photos. I would recommend Snapseed.

17. Have you got any photography tips for digital camera users or plain cellphone users that you can share?

A reasonably priced tripod and a good 50 mm or 35 mm lens are a good investment for starters and just keep on practicing. Photography is key for any blog besides its content – it draws people to a virtual world of food.

18. Food presentation and detailing is very important for food photography. Can you share some secrets regarding food presentation? What importance do you give to that ?

Yes, food styling and plating are quite important to make food look alluring. It requires simple props, great lighting and sharp photography. I am more inclined towards food plating, that requires working with the meal components rather than the props. I like to arrange food components on the plate to send the message of how a meal can be balanced. Sometimes, using non-food objects in the photo also make for interesting shots – such as books, cutlery, natural backdrops etc. While other times, keeping just the plate or bowl in focus and negative space around it, also makes for an artistic photo.

19. What are your future plans for your blog or based on your passion for food and technology?

I am thinking of turning my blog into a more interactive platform, maybe with nutrition quizzes, or polls where people can interact and share their concerns.

20.Whom do you consider mentors in food blogging, food photography, kindly provide reference website, names or blogs if using any.

In my early days as a blogger, I got mesmerized by Sia’s food Photography (monsoonspice.com) and Elise Bauer (simplerecipes.com) and now there are so many I follow – faves being Anita Mokashi’s cravecookclick.com, Gabriela of cookingwithoutlimits.wordpress.com, Binjal’s binajlsvegkitchen.com etc. For recipe ideas and formats, I love Dassana of vegrecipesofindia.com, Sonal Gupta of simplyvegetarian777.com and Dana of minimalistbaker.com, and I follow health tips by Apsara of eatingwelldiary.com on how she talks about nutrition from her perspective.

21. Mention any accolades and achievements from you blogging / photography journey.

The feedback I have received in person and over email from my subscribers is very fulfilling. It’s great to see them implement the health tips mentioned on the blog. This has been very satisfying for me. Making impact on people’s health, one person at a time! 

Rapid Fire Round 

Favorite food not cooked by you: Mom’s Dahi vada

Favorite dish cooked by you: Restaurant style dal makhani, no cream

Favorite ingredient:  Mango, Cilantro

Dish you can’t live without: something I need every day, right? Masala tea, chapati

3 things always found in your fridge: red bell pepper, cilantro, garlic

Favorite kitchen tool : Magic Bullet

>> Restaurant Style Dal Makhani, No Cream

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Do not miss to check all of Sonali's recipe collection by clicking her itsPotluck foodie profile here: 


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