In her Cookbook Cooking for Happiness Kornelia Santoro speaks about her journey as well as how she fought off one of the devils, depression, and of course the recipes. In my recent book review on Cooking for Happiness I’d shared why I like this book so much. It’s a guide to eat your food right, even if it’s a comfort food.
This time, I got a chance to interview food writer and author Kornelia Santoro herself. Kornelia loves to experiment in her kitchen. She had already written two cookbooks – Kornelia’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Cooking for India and Kornelia’s Kitchen 2: Cooking for Allergies – before writing Cooking for Happiness. She has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award TWICE for her cookbooks, and is a food writer for Indian and European media.
Being a food writer and an author of three cookbooks, Kornelia Santoro believes the state of mind affects the cooking and the taste of food depends on it.
Kornelia Santoro wrote her cookbook Cooking for Happiness after suffering depression for years. Read on what she has to say on her affair with food and cooking.
How did you get started in food? What influenced you?
I struggled about ten years on a novel that nobody wanted. Naively I thought I had the idea for a bestseller: the story of a woman coming of age while travelling the world and trying to reach financial independence through the ultimative drug deal. However, I was the only one who liked my story. My husband hated it because he thought the subject is not fit for a housewife and a mother. Honestly, I loved to indulge into crime via writing. But it was not meant to be. Then my husband suggested I should write about cooking, a more suitable subject for a wife. After I had fought so hard with my story line for the novel, writing a cookbook was like a walk in the park. Also: I immediately found a publisher.
What is cooking for Kornelia Santoro?
On a daily basis it is something that I have to do for my family. Before going to sleep I usually think a bit about what I will cook the next day. At the beginning of the week I spend some time mapping out what I could prepare. I do not always want to do the same recipes but I do not want to spend too much time in the kitchen also. So I try to keep it simple and to keep my shopping to two or three times a week.
Occasionally, I feel like experimenting. This might be inspired by something I watch on TV or a blog or a dish in a newspaper or a magazine. Then I mull the idea over in my mind and I try it in the kitchen. When it works the first time, great. When it does not work, I keep tweaking the recipe.
Your Signature dish?
That would be a menu:
Ceviche as a starter, followed by a vegetarian main course, Gigantes, giant Greek beans baked in tomato sauce, with Feta cheese and mixed salad with French vinaigraitte. Vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce as dessert.
Indian Spices that you cannot stay without.
Turmeric, garlic and ginger: turmeric for its healing properties, garlic because I love the taste and ginger because it fights inflammation in a delicious way.
Your favourite chef
Aakritee Bhandari Sinh, owner of A Reverie in Calangute, Goa: We share the same philosophy and approach to food.
What is your comfort food?
That depends on the occasion: Sometimes it is deep-fried squid rings, sometimes it is a chocolate muffin. In my hometown Ansbach it is definitely smoked sausages. However, when I need comfort through food I try to enjoy something homemade. My dark chocolate truffles always work but I only make them for Christmas or other special occasions.
How do you connect cooking with the state of mind?
When I am happy and I feel like cooking, everything tastes better. When I do not feel like cooking, I try to avoid it. For these occasions I always have a pasta sauce in the freezer so I can produce a dinner without a lot of effort.
A favourite cuisine from Cooking for Happiness
Thai coconut curry: I love this kind of curry because you can prepare it in no time at all and it combines the goodness of coconut with just about everything you have in your fridge.
Cooking for Happiness has mentions for all the happy and healthy food. What foods, according to you, aren’t good for health?
Everything processed with a lot of chemicals and unhealthy fat. I believe, packaged food should be avoided as much as possible, especially chips and inferior chocolate sweets. I also think that blended, refined vegetable oils are bad for the body. And of course everything genetically modified.
How family takes up your cooking at home, especially when it comes to healthy food?
In general, they are quite grateful and easy to manage. Although my son is a picky eater, it is not so difficult to satisfy him by avoiding all the stuff he does not like. Luckily, his palate has changed over the years and he even eats salad now, a big improvement.
Diet and Depression – How do you see the connection?
We are what we eat, simple as that. When you suffer from depression, you should get professional help. There is also nothing wrong with taking happy making pills over a period of time. However, at the same time one should try to improve the mood with food because this is still the healthiest way.
A cooking experience you won’t forget while working on Cooking for Happiness
Trying to do squid jerky: The result looked nice but it tasted so horrible that even our dogs did not like it.
How do you measure “eating right”?
I do not believe in measuring food. I believe in listening to your body and to eat what makes you happy. Of course, if you only appreciate super sweet and deep fried stuff you might want to reconsider and try to reeducate your taste buds. However, I always state from experience that diet makes you fat. If you have problems with weight, only a change in lifestyle will work. Losing weight is a long process and cannot be rushed.
A message to the ones who are/were in depression.
Acknowledge your feeling of desperation! Don’t try to deny it. When you are depressed, you are not happy – even if your family and friends tell, you should be happy. Validate your feelings and then try to get help. Go to a doctor and get some anti-depressants as a first step. When you feel better, change your lifestyle. Take the advice from my book, get plenty of daylight and exercise and love yourself. If you do not love yourself, nobody will.
Tips for the home chefs/cooks.
Don’t stick to recipes. I always take recipes only as guidelines. I do not particularly like measuring ingredients so sometimes I just wing it. Or I change up a recipe just because I am curious how a different ingredient would work.
You can get Kornelia’s cookbook from Amazon.in. Here are the links:
— as told to Sara Khan