April 25, 2001
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The Rediff US Special/ Navneeta Rekhi

    As Mother's Day rolls around the corner, you can surprise your parents with a mouth-watering Lassi!

    In an interview with 16-year-old Navneeta Rekhi, Arlette Braman, author of Children Around the World Cook!: The Best Foods and Recipes from Many Lands, shares her experience of writing an international cook book for children, which includes a recipe for this mouth-watering Indian sweet.

    What inspired you to write a children's cook book?

    My first book with John Wiley, the publishers that I have, was a book about activities from around the world. Originally, I was going to do activities and cooking together but the publisher said, 'Well, let's separate them. We will do activities first and then we can do the cooking afterwards.' The cookbook grew out of the original book. I come from a family of cooks and I've always been really fascinated with ethnic foods and things like that. It was something I knew I always wanted to do.

    Where does this fascination with ethnicity originate from?

    My family was very multicultural. We did very traditional things for holidays, so I got to learn a lot about different cultures and I was always really fascinated about that. I loved social studies as a child when I went to school. I love to travel and I travel as much as I can. I love to go out and meet people to find out about their worlds. I've always been interested in it.

    Have you ever traveled to India?

    No, I haven't. There are places on my list where I would love to go. That's one of them, but I've never had the opportunity yet to go there. We had an Indian restaurant in town. I loved the food so I'd go there all the time. I was one of their best customers and I got to know the owners. They were the ones who shared their recipe for sweet lassi, which is in the book.

    What is your favorite recipe from the book?

    Of course, sweet lassi. I think I drink it every day. It is one of my favorite beverages. I'm always trying to perfect it by adding this and adding that but I love it. My daughter, she actually makes it herself, now, in the blender.

    Can you describe the process of writing a book?

    It's funny. I wasn't really sure what it would be like. It was tough. One of the things I think you have to do is when you do your research is, you have to make sure the information is accurate. When you are getting information from different people, double check to make sure that it is accurate. Every single recipe had to be tested again and then tested on children, so it was a very time-consuming process. There was one recipe that I had to do six different times to get it right and then test it on kids and then modify it for the book. It was an interesting process.

    How do you express the unspoken in your writing?

    That's hard! When I would write the recipes up and try to explain the steps, I would go in and test it on kids after I had tested it. They were a little confused while, to me, it was clear. When you have the opportunity to work with kids and test it on them, it helps you to clarify your writing more and more so that by the time you have to explain the steps, it is clear, and concise. It will hopefully explain things to the kids so that they can read it and understand it.

    What kind of input did you get from the children?

    The children were great. They were very honest. When I tested a recipe on the kids, immediately, they would say, 'Oooh, I don't like this! Or I don't like the way this tastes.' They would tell you right off. My rule was that if seventy five percent of them liked the recipe, then we would go with it.

    How many people did you interview?

    I would say at least fifty to seventy-five. A lot of people I interviewed in person, I would go talk to them or see them.

    Are you working on any projects right now?

    My next book is due out on the fall. It's also with John Wiley. It's called Traditional Native American Arts and Activities. Again, it's crafts and recipes from Native Americans and I traveled to reservations and interviewed a lot of people for that. That was a really wonderful experience. I just started working on my next book. It's called Kids Around the World Play, which is going to be games and activities and toys from different cultures.

    Can you describe your experience from writing all these books?

    I would honestly have to say it was really having the opportunity to meet people either in their own environment or even if it was on the phone, really meeting people and being able to understand their world more and learning about the kind of things that they do. The fact that they share that so willingly was the most enriching experience.

    Do you have any advice for budding writers?

    I would say that if you have a goal that would you like to write a book or a cook book, you should probably pursue that. Do everything that you can to try to make that goal happen. Don't be discouraged if you run into road blocks. I ran into hundreds of roadblocks. It's just something you have to keep at; keep learning new things about what you're doing to achieve your goals.

    Navneeta's Favorite Recipe Potato Curry

    4 potatoes, 10 stems of cilantro, 2 green chili peppers, 1 teaspoon of salt,
    1/4 teaspoon of tumeric, 1 teaspoon of garam masala, 1 tablespoon of cumin,
    2 tablespoons of oil

    Preparing the condiments
    You begin by chopping up two green chili peppers finely. Afterwards, add a teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of tumeric. Lastly, mix in a teaspoon of garam masala.

    Meanwhile, cook the Potatoes
    Place four potatoes in a medium pot filled with water so that the potatoes are fully soaked. Boil the pot for ten minutes or as long as it takes for the potatoes to cook; use a fork to pierce one potato to ensure that they are ready. Afterwards, wash the potatoes in cold water. Peal the potatoes; the skin should come off effortlessly. Chop each potato into eight pieces, neatly.

    On medium heat, add two table spoons of vegetable oil to a dry pan. When the oil starts heating up, add a tablespoon of cumin to the oil. In thirty seconds, the cumin should turn a lighter shade and float up to the top of the pan. At this time, remove the pan from the heat. Add the condiments and stir it a few times. When this is fully mixed, throw in the potatoes. Gently mix and stir the contents of the pot until it is evenly distributed. Then, remove the contents and place in a serving dish. Chop the cilantro finely and sprinkle it evenly on the top to garnish. Serve and enjoy this appetizing dish with any of Indian bread, such as a paratha, poori, naan or chapati.

    Navneeta Rekhi is a student at St Francis High School in Mountain View, California

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