A passion for preparing healthy food with a distinctly Indian flavour delights Sumita’s regular customers at the friendly Foreshore Markets.
Why are you passionate about cooking traditional Indian cuisine?
I have always been passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle through eating healthy and delicious yet ethically conscious vegetarian food. I have passion for cooking traditional Indian vegetarian food with new and good ideas and the cuisine adjusted to the western palate, because I am familiar with the spices and cooking techniques.
How did you gain your cooking experience?
When I went to Germany 15 years ago after my marriage, I didn’t know cooking apart from rice and plain curry, because I didn’t have to cook at my parents’ house in India. My mother would always say one should concentrate on studies and enjoy life in a positive manner when one is young. So, I was busy with my studies and having fun with my friends.
I used to see my mother cooking, or cook only when there was no-one to cook. But after my marriage, my husband cooked for a month for us – and that was enough for me. I decided that I would learn Indian cooking and started to learn from my German husband, who is a great cook and baker like his mother.
I then started to follow recipes from different cooking books, which became my hobby. Before I wouldn’t cook, but would collect recipes from different magazines. Maybe unknowingly I was preparing myself for my catering business. Mostly I follow Kurma’s Vegetarian Cooking Books.
I still remember cooking for a couple who were my first guests and spending 6 – 7 hours for a four-course meal. Today I would cook for 40 -50 people in that time. So nothing is impossible to do in life.
Though I follow the recipes from cooking books, my cooking style is traditional and has especially been influenced by my mother, with recipes without onion and garlic that have been used in my family for generations.
What are some of the dishes you serve at the Foreshore Market?
I serve mainly samosas with tamarind chutney, pakoras with apple chutney, avocados and beans served in lettuce leaves with stuffed capsicum, and a meal consisting of rice, spicy lentil dal (without which no Indian meal is complete), curries (every month different curries are served) and pappadam or halava (dessert).
Where do you source many of your ingredients?
Since it’s hard to get all the Indian spices and ingredients in Port Macquarie, I get them from Sydney when I visit, or my friend Denise brings them from Sydney from the Indian grocery stores. I get my potatoes and most of the vegetables from the local Comboyne farmers.
What are some tips to remember when it comes to Indian cooking?
1. Wash the rice and lentils a few times, until the water runs clear.
2. Can substitute any seasonal vegetables that are available in the market for ingredients in Indian recipes.
3. Fat is the real villain in traditional Indian cooking, so unsaturated ghee can be replaced with healthy sunflower oil, vegetable oil or olive oil and by using non-stick pan, less oil is used.
4. Whole dried chillies add a fiery heat. Chilli powders from dried chilli vary in heat, so it’s better to use dried chilli flakes, which tend to have a milder flavour. I usually use the chilli flakes to know how hot the curry or samosa is going to be.
5. Usually it’s better to buy whole spices and grind them as needed, because ground spices tend to lose their flavour in just a few months.
What are some of your favourite ingredients and spices?
The essence of Indian cooking lies in the ingredients used and how spices and herbs are blended and cooked. I prefer Basmati Rice than long grain rice with Indian curries.
My favourite ingredients and spices are:
1. Paneer (the fresh Indian cheese)
2. Okra (ladies finger), eggplant, and tomato
3. Fresh grated coconut
4. Chickpea flour and semolina
5. Mustard seeds, hing (asafoetida), ginger, garam masala, coriander leaves and curry leaves.
Tell us about your current menu for the winter season.
The menu for the winter season will be the hot samosas and the pakoras with chutney, and the curry will be: Matar Paneer. The main ingredients for this curry are peas and paneer (Indian cheese) in a spiced, minted tomato sauce. (Poories) Indian puffed fried breads with chickpea curry. The curry has nut like flavour and smooth texture, cooked in spicy sauce.Semolina Halava or Papadam.
How long have you been attending the Foreshore market, and what do you enjoy about it?
I started going to the Hastings Farmers’ Markets in 2007 at Wauchope, a year later at Port Macquarie, and the Artist Markets in 2009 since its commencement. When both the markets from Port Macquarie combined in 2010, I continued to attend the Foreshore Market. At the Farmers’ Market I came in contact with our local community. I really enjoyed being a stallholder at the Artist Market, because every market day was like a festive day for me. In India, there is a saying that we have 13 festivals in 12 months, so I am used to having people around in a festive mood. People would come with family not only to shop, but also to have a relaxed time and have a chat with their friends.
The last couple of years had been very challenging for me because of studies and health issues, but I always got support from Sonia and Necia regarding the markets. I remember how Necia would help me with unloading my car at the Artist Markets when I had a frozen shoulder, and Sonia giving me a big hug, which I will never forget.
At the moment I am looking for a job at the accounting firms, and even if I get a job, I will never leave the Foreshore Market and my customers. I don’t know many of my customers by name, but they are in my heart. Going to the market is not only for money, but also for friendship and to be a member of the community.
I have lived in many countries, but I have never made friendships with so many people as at the Foreshore Market after leaving India.