Mix & Match Intuitively ~ Sanjay Jain from Hyderabad

by on December 5, 2015

His aunt and cookbook author Indu Bokaria says, “Whatever he does, he does it perfectly. He makes the best of sesame laddu and cabbage samosas. He is one of the most creative as well as caring persons I have ever known.” His cousin Pradeep says, “Sanjay is an expert cook and can out churn out culinary masterpieces in a jiffy.” Much loved by family and friends, Sanjay Jain (5O) is a Rajasthani Jain residing in Hyderabad. He enjoys cooking, pays attention to detail, takes care of his readymade garment store, helps the children with their projects and sits with them to make a mini houseboat, and above all, maintains heart-warming relationships. During the interview, he speaks about all of this as well as shares some creative recipes in great detail.


Sanjay Jain

How did your interest in cooking begin?
Right from my childhood, I was interested in the kitchen. I was a keen observer and used to watch how my mother cooked. I lived with my mother and grandmother in Rajasthan while my father was working in Kolkata. My mother had to often visit nearby areas for weddings and other social functions and that led me to spending more and more time in the kitchen.


Were you the only child at home?
At home – yes! I have an elder sister but she was studying in a hostel at that time. Later, she got married, so I was practically the only child at home.


What is your first cooking memory?
I think I was 11 years old when I made trikon (triangular) parathas. It’s an easy procedure because you have to roll thick rotis, apply ghee and fold into triangles and then roll them out. A very common item in most North Indian homes. I remember making them with a flourish (laughs).


What is your most instant dish?
Dahi ki chutney. Its so quick – just add masalas to curds and it is ready.


Do you mean a raita!
No, raita is not as thick. This is made with thick curd and has the consistency of a chutney. I like to add chilli powder, salt, coriander powder to curds and then top it with a simple tempering of jeera (cumin). As an option, you can add mint powder or garlic powder. You can also add sugar to give a sweetish taste. A perfect accompaniment with parathas or with leftover bajra rotis.


Fabulous. Tell me, did you do your schooling in Rajasthan?
I was born in Kolkata and my family moved to Rajasthan when I was 5 years old. We lived in Chhapar which is a small town near Sujangadh and well known for the Tal Chhapar Sanctuary. I did my schooling as well as higher studies here.


Was there a college in your town?
Yes, Sujala College. It was the only college around that area. It gets its name from the first two letters of three nearby towns – Sujangarh, Jaswantgarh and Ladnun. There was no other college for 30-40 kms.


What did you do after your graduation?
I moved to Mumbai to work with the Barmecha group who were diamond dealers. In 1986, I moved to Hyderabad where I worked in the field of readymade garments. I now have my own shop of readymade garments known as Little Smile.


And in the middle of all this, how did you meet your wife Raja? I would love to hear this love story.
After some years of living in Mumbai, I met Raja and we fell in love. She was a Parsi and I wanted to marry her.


What did your family say?
There was some initial resistance but they all came around. They just wanted me to first stand on my own feet. The Mumbai humidity was affecting my health, so I shifted to Hyderabad. I told my parents that I am neither going to enforce my marriage decision on them nor run away with her. So they agreed to meet her. When they met her, they really took a liking to her.


I think that was a very nice way of dealing with the situation.
After we were married, my parents refused to shift with us. They felt that there will be adjustment issues since she was from another community. But I told them that any adjustment is possible only during initial days. So they agreed to come and stay with us. I am happy to tell that it has all worked out so well. We are blessed with two children – son Sourabh who is doing his MS in USA and daughter Surabhi who is married.


Does your wife like cooking as much as you do?
(Laughs) She did not know how to cook at all. When she met my mother, she said – I can make tea. My mother was really concerned and said – The two of you are so different; how will you manage? All I told my mother was that you can teach her cooking and I will also help her to cook. At that time, Raja was also working; she was doing her own business and keeping busy. So we would cook together. Also since we were careful about the budgets, it made sense to cook whatever you desired at home rather than eating out.


So does she enjoy cooking now?
She cooks very well and makes some lovely Gujarati dishes. I have to tell you that her mother was a Gujarati Brahmin and a strict vegetarian. So even though Raja’s father ate non-vegetarian food, she herself has always been a strict vegetarian. I think it was destined that she would marry into a Jain family.


Give me an instance of what happens when you cook together?
She makes a delicious mixed vegetable learnt from her mother. It’s a very rich dish. You require 100 gms each of potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, capsicum and onions. Chop everything into 1 inch bits. All of these have to be deep fried separately. Next, you have to make a rich gravy with tomatoes, grated bottlegourd and spices. Once the gravy is cooked, add unfried paneer cubes and all the fried vegetables. To add my twist to this vegetable, I add Rajasthani vadi after boiling it separately. I also add 2 roasted papad bits to this sabzi. We call this Veg Jaipuri (smiles).


Sounds delicious and a perfect coming together of cultures. Thanks for sharing this. I also heard about the recent dish you cooked at a family wedding.
Yes, at my nephew’s wedding. My aunt Indu and myself got together with the wedding chefs and prepared aloo ki sabzi for over 150 guests. It was delicious and was the first dish to get over. I really enjoy cooking and simply need a reason to cook.


I am grateful to the Bokarias for introducing you. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
The Bokaria family is really like my own family. We have always had a great relationship. Indu Bokaria is my bhua. Her husband Prakashji has always been supportive. All of them are very caring and friendly people. I love cooking for my aunt. Last time when she came to Hyderabad I made my special lady’s finger for her. That is the recipe I am going to share with you today.


That would be lovely. Last question – what is the secret of good cooking?
I think that one must enjoy eating to be a good cook. While cooking, you have to be constantly inspired. You will want to experiment since you enjoy it. I think that if you are not fond of eating, then it is tough to be a good cook. Simply put, if you don’t enjoy the taste of dahi papdi, then you will not improvise on the spot.


Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine


First published in December 2015 in Harmony – the Indian magazine for silvers for the column – ‘His Ladle Love’. A series about men who experience the joy of cooking and can weild a deft ladle in the kitchen. Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Kurmuri dahiwali bhindi, a creative and delicious recipe shared by Sanjay Jain.


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