Among the 100 odd recipes in Pooja Dhingra’s (30) new cookbook, The Wholesome Kitchen, are three that immediately get your attention — mock brownies, faux frosting dip, and sneaky cookies. In a book about healthy eating, you wouldn’t be remiss if you wondered whether healthy food can taste as good as the real deal. While the names aren’t meant to throw the reader off, the ingredients might just.
The sneaky cookies use bottle gourd (dudhi) and flax seeds, the faux frosting dip includes chickpeas, while the mock brownies use coconut oil. And Dhingra vouches for the flavours. “The cookies are addictive. If I don’t tell you they have dudhi, you’ll never guess. We made a tray of the brownies last week and they were gone in a day,” says the founder of Le 15 Patisserie and Le 15 Café.
If you follow Dhingra on social media, (Instagram: @poojadhingra), you’re privy to her baking experiments — posts packed with Nutella, cream cheese frosting, and other decadent evils. But as she shares in the introduction to the book, they don’t reflect an issue she has struggled with for years: weight.
In 2014, shortly after her debut cookbook, The Big Book of Treats, was out, Dhingra was visiting a friend in New York and had to climb five floors to her apartment. “I thought it would be easy, but I actually struggled to get up. It was a wake-up call,” she says. On returning to Mumbai, she made a conscious decision to start exercising.
While training for her first Mumbai half-marathon two years ago, Dhingra discovered that if she had cravings, there weren’t many options in the market that also tasted good. She then began writing this book, in consultation with her sister-in-law, nutritionist Viddhi Dhingra. While she knew the conventional baking ingredients and their proportions down pat (she’s a Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, graduate), the real challenge was to bake without flour, eggs and (processed) sugar. “I started seeing what different ingredients brought to the table. Zucchini, rajma (kidney beans), isabgol (Psyllium husk)… all substitutes you see on a day-to-day basis but don’t think of as something you’d use while baking,” she says.
Apart from zucchini and isabgol, flax seeds feature prominently as a substitute for eggs. “Everything we use had to be a natural, whole ingredient. Even the peanut and almond butter are made from scratch.” The book is divided into four categories — Energise (almond bars, banana pancakes), Nourish (porridge, wholewheat lavash), Refresh (yoghurt dip, beetroot and avocado juice) and Indulge (sweet potato chips, mock brownie) — intended to satiate various cycles of hunger. It also includes recipe contributions by actors Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Rahul Khanna.
While her first book aimed to get people to start baking at home, Dhingra hopes that this one will help people find a balance between exercise and indulgence. “I always thought healthy food cannot be tasty. But now I know how every ingredient matters, what it adds to your diet,” she says.
The Wholesome Kitchen by Pooja Dhingra. Price: Rs799 Publisher: Hachette. Available at major bookstores, amazon.in, and Le 15 Patisserie outlets.