Shruti Taneja's 'Nivaala' Is An Ode To Family Recipes
Food often is a portal to the past–connecting us to the people and moments lost to time. With this belief, Delhi-based Shruti Taneja conceptualised "Nivaala," a personalised cookbook publishing service, which allows people to preserve their generational family recipes as dearly as they would do an heirloom necklace passed down from their grandmother. In an exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller, Taneja talks about what kindled her passion for preserving family recipes, their importance, dishes she keeps going back to, her favourite Indian cookbooks, and more.
Recipes, like clothes and precious jewellery, are passed on from generation to generation, but they are never seen as heirlooms. What inspired you to start documenting family recipes and see them as "heirlooms"?
The inception of Nivaala came about from a personal loss. When I lost my mother a few years ago, I realised I hadn't written down or learnt any of our family recipes.
It was this stark realisation that her cherished family recipes, each with a unique story, could fade away. This inspired me to create Nivaala, a platform that encourages people to treat their family recipes as tangible heirlooms—akin to the inherited saris, watches, and jewellery we inherit.
Through this initiative, we aim to democratise the creation and publishing of family cookbooks. Every family deserves to create a beautifully designed, well-edited heirloom to pass from one generation to the next.
When did you begin understanding food and recipes as part of a family's heritage?
"My mother and grandmother make the most delicious food." We've heard this so many times. But there's a reason why what they used to cook remains special–they're not simply dishes we crave, but more than that. They hold stories about families and traditions and, in a way, are legacies that we keep.
When my nephew, Amartya, was born in 2019, I realised that I wanted him to taste the same dishes my brother and I grew up eating. There is more of a connection between food and culture than we realise. It's such an important foundation of our identity.
I've recognised the importance of preserving my family's culture by knowing how to cook a few signature recipes. In fact, I now see it as a responsibility.
Every family has its distinct way of making certain recipes. Have you encountered any unique observations, separating or connecting them, while collecting and documenting family recipes?
Having interacted with families across generations, I've realised that the act of being fed and feeding someone is universally rooted in love. Almost everybody I've spoken to has fond memories of eating "ghar ka khana"–they associate food from childhood with warmth.
At the same time, documenting these recipes can get a little tough sometimes because everything is done "andaaze se" by our mothers and grandmothers. Within Indian households, cooking is not a science.
Recipes come from stories, direction comes from instinct, and perfect flavour comes from experience–this is also why we named our family cookbook publishing vertical "Andaaz."
Why do you think it is important to preserve these recipes?
While almost everyone I know has a dish from their childhood that inspires great nostalgia, only a few have taken the time to learn how to make it or even ask the story behind it. The reason is simple: We are busier than ever before. Who can spend hours in the kitchen with our mums, learning time-consuming recipes?
But these recipes tie us to our past; if we don't save these recipes, we lose a part of our legacy. What I love about this process is people talking about the specific flavours that can instantly unlock a whole world of emotions, memories and feelings of family, love, and comfort.
Can you tell us about your favourite food memories? Is there a specific dish a family member cooked that you keep returning to?
My grandparents migrated from Pakistan during the partition, so a lot of the food that we grew up eating comes from there. One such pre-partition recipe, quintessential to the Punjabi community, is Dal Poorni. It's a kind of flat kachori filled with spiced moong dal and made during every family get-together and birthday.
Another very simple dish I keep returning to, especially when I'm unwell, is "roti ki churi," which is much more comforting than a bowl of khichdi. It's not a fancy recipe by any measure; it's simply crushed hot chapati (off the stove) mixed with salt, pepper and lots of ghee. Eating a bowl full of this churi is supposed to help soothe the throat–that is what my mum used to say.
If you could recommend three Indian cookbooks to our readers, what would they be?
My top three recommendations would be "Five Morsels of Love" by Arachana Pidhathala, "Tiffin" by Sonal Ved, and "Paachakam" by Sarita Radhakrishna.