Five years ago, quite inadvertently, Rukmini Iyer started a food revolution, encouraging home cooks to ditch their saucepans, skillets, pots and pans, in favour of the roasting tin.
With her first cookbook, aptly named The Roasting Tin: Simple One Dish Dinners, the food stylist and cookery writer proved that making delicious dishes doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the kitchen – both during the cooking process and afterwards with a pile of washing up. Instead, with 75 varied recipes all cooked in just one tray in the oven, she offered hungry yet time-strapped cooks a novel way to prepare midweek meals without any faff.
Needless to say, the prospect of turning ingredients into a tasty meal in 45 minutes or less (with most of that spent on the sofa, waiting for the oven timer to ping) was enticing for many, and Iyer’s cookbook was a runaway success. In fact, since the release of more books like The Roasting Tin Around The World, The Quick Roasting Tin and The Sweet Roasting Tin, among others, the series has now sold more than 1.5 million copies in total.
So, does she feel like the “culinary pioneer” many now say she is?
“I mean, most of the time now I just feel like I’m covered in milk, so there’s not very much glamour,” answered Iyer with a laugh, her new baby, Alba, cooing away in the background of our call. “The nicest part, really, is that people who weren’t that confident in the kitchen now feel like the books have made them confident. Obviously, it’s lovely when established cooks think your recipe is really good, but my favourite thing is when people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think I could, but now I can’.”
And now with a baby in tow, Iyer has never been more thankful for her collection of quick, easy recipes.
She added: “I’m very grateful to past Rukmini for having made them because we’ve eaten a lot of one-tin dishes since Alba arrived. I think the first few months after she was born, we were exclusively eating roasting tin recipes!”
With her mission to provide everyday cooks with “maximum flavour, minimum fuss” recipes arguably accomplished, Iyer has taken a new approach with her latest cookbook. Starting life as a “secret passion project” inspired by the 24-hour train journeys her parents made while courting, travelling back and forth between Kolkata and Chennai, India Express, published in September, features many of the family recipes Iyer has known and loved since childhood.
From crispy marinated sea bass and masoor dal to fried okra and her mum’s all-in-one spiced tomato rice, each dish is bursting with flavour and colour – and, in true Iyer style, there’s no complicated steps, just good home-style cooking.
“Loads of the dishes in the book are accessible, easy ones that I just knock out on a weeknight, but for the ones which were inspired by home recipes, I tested them with my parents,” explained Iyer, who trained as a pastry chef at Tom Kitchin’s restaurant in Edinburgh.
“I went home for a couple of weeks when I was quite heavily pregnant, and we cooked and wrote everything. It was really cool. And my dad is hilariously chef-like – I think he really could have been a chef instead of a doctor.”
With more than 75 pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan recipes to choose from in the book, it’s hard for Iyer to pick a favourite. However, at this time of year, she does love to whip up a dish of roasted cauliflower with mustard, chilli and lemon dressing – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the easily-adaptable meal cooks in just one tin.
She said: “The great thing about that dish is that I can make it with whatever’s in the fridge. If I had half a butternut squash leftover from work, I’ll use that instead. If I went to two supermarkets and couldn’t find any cauliflower, I make it with broccoli.
“I love that it’s a template for whatever is seasonal, and the dressing is really easy. It’s just grainy Dijon mustard, yoghurt, chilli and that’s it. You mix it together with some oil, add it to the veg, roast it off, and then squeeze a bit of lemon and maybe some more chilli to finish.
“It’s really simple, but it’s so warming and tasty, and it’s really quite a unique flavour, so it’s my go-to autumn dish.”
Bengali five-spice roasted squash with carrots & pumpkin seeds
Serves four. I make so many versions of roasted squash – this one with a garlic, ginger and Bengali five-spice crust is a new favourite. You can find panch phoron (literally “five-spice”) in larger supermarkets in the spice aisle or in the Asian food aisle – it’s a lovely aromatic mixture of fenugreek, black cumin, nigella, mustard and fennel seeds – easy to make up yourself in equal quantities, but I usually buy a packet of ready-mixed.
- 600g squash, cut into 3cm wedges
- 300g carrots, peeled and halved (purple are nice if available)
- 1 red onion, cut into eighths
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 inch ginger, grated
- 5-6 tbsp Greek yogurt
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Handful pumpkin seeds
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/gas 6.
From the store cupboard:
- 2 tsp panch phoron or ½ teaspoon each of nigella, mustard, fennel, black cumin and fenugreek seeds – or use what you have to hand
- 3 tbsp neutral or olive oil
- ½-1 tsp mild chilli powder, to taste
- 1 heaped tsp sea salt flakes
Tip the squash, carrots, red onion, garlic and ginger into a roasting tin large enough to just hold everything in one layer (a little bit of overlap is OK).
Roughly grind the panch phoron in a pestle and mortar, then add it to the roasting tin with the oil, chilli powder and salt. Mix well to coat the vegetables in the spices, then transfer to the oven to roast for 50 minutes until the vegetables are all cooked through.
Mix the yogurt and lemon juice together and drizzle the mixture over the vegetables. Scatter over the pumpkin seeds and serve hot.
Leftovers: This heats up well the next day, and tastes lovely in wraps with more yogurt.
India Express, Square Peg, £22, available now
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