How these women put together a joy of meaningful meals

By Indira Laisram
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The producers of Healthy Veggie Bites

Before COVID-19 upended lives, women at the Gurdwara Siri Guru Nanak Darbar Officer, regularly took part in the temple food service, preparing meals for thousands of community members, patrons and visitors. By dint of the scale, they would find themselves discussing how to make the food low-cost, full of variety and nutritious at the same time.

But what also triggered these conversations, says Harmeet Kaur, one of the members who also works as an Impact Analyst with CISRO, was her experience from doing a course with community leaders from all around the world. “They would visit the temple and enquire about the recipes of the meals being prepared and I often discussed this with other women members of the temple,” she says.

Manmeet

So, when the lockdowns happened for most part of last year, the women found an opportune time to work on a cookbook project. Being physically absent from the temple kitchen meant they had the time to collate information and meet online to do something meaningful.

A five-member core team comprising Manmeet, Rinkujit, Harmeet, Kakoli and Manpreet took up the project. They reached out to many others inviting recipes and worked towards collating information and bringing out a vegetarian cookbook embracing the fresh and the various.

“Because of Covid, we also thought providing raw groceries with recipes instead of cooked food would give people a gainful occupation of their time, equip them with a skill set and get them out of the couch,” says Manpreet, who describes herself as a devoted sewadar.

Manpreet

It took all of six months for the women to put together 21 vegetarian recipes, design and publish the cookbook titled Healthy Veggie Bites, which was launched on International Women’s Day this March. It has since distributed (free) 400 copies, and has been downloaded about 700 times.

The women agree Indian vegetarian food is undeniably tasty and healthy. “But our aim was also to distribute it to the wider community, not just Indians, so we reached out to our friends from different communities,” says Manmeet, whose interest in food has also led her to doing a course on patisserie.

Since the publication, the women have enjoyed great feedback. “We’ve been told that the recipes are well listed with clear instructions. Our friends have had fun with the ingredients and helped them compare with some of their own community ingredients, which is wonderful. Also, day by day people are becoming vegetarian so they love this book,” says Kakoli, a retired electrical engineer, who enjoys her time at the Gurdwara.

Harmeet Kaur

Asked whether first time Indian cooks are intimidated by the spice mix, Kakoli says, it is not the same as when she moved to Australia in the early 1990s when people looked at Indian curries as complex cooking. “Now with the availability of almost every ingredient even in mainstream shopping stores, Indian cooking is very easy and simple. With the internet, people are having more knowledge now of how Indian curries and what they involve.”

The cookbook project has also been an extension of their understanding of the relation between food and hospitality and food as an act of devotion, they opine.

“Not only is Indian hospitality centred around food, but Langar (community kitchen of a Gurudwara) is an important part of the Sikh faith and it is a privilege to be a part of this service,” says Harmeet. “It helps bring together people of all backgrounds and infuses the Sikh spirit of equality, love, sharing and caring, which is all the more important in these challenging times.”

Kakoli

Therefore, the cookbook initiative, they further add, has highlighted the significance of the  langar to the wider community and “brought us together even when we were in isolation”.

So what’s next for the women of the Gurdwara Siri Guru Nanak Darbar Officer? “We have lots of projects and inter-cultural community events that are continuous but for the lockdowns,” says Manmeet. They do hope they can bring out a more voluminous issue next.

Rest assured, any food connoisseur would appreciate this labour of love and sewa for the community!

You can download the cookbook here.


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