Mayat’s mouthwatering legacy

Indian Delights editor Dr Zuleikha Mayat died last week, but her legacy lives on through the Women’s Cultural Group and her many books. | SUPPLIED

Indian Delights editor Dr Zuleikha Mayat died last week, but her legacy lives on through the Women’s Cultural Group and her many books. | SUPPLIED

Published Feb 10, 2024


Durban — Dr Zuleikha Mayat inspired generations of women with her sharp intellect and her famous Indian Delights cookbook.

The book, a collection of recipes both Indian and Western, was edited by Mayat and was a favoured wedding gift. For decades, it has been a staple in kitchens here and abroad, with offerings ranging from curries to roasts, desserts, pickles, baked goods, as well as convalescent and remedial foods.

Last week, Mayat, the author and activist who founded the Women’s Cultural Group, died in Durban at the age of 97. However, her legacy lives on through her various books (not just about food) and the thousands of meals prepared by people using them.

The first edition of Indian Delights sold like hotcakes in 1961, when 17500 copies flew off the shelves. The second revised edition saw 85000 books sold and over the years, each version continued to grow in popularity.

It’s safe to say that if you can have only one book to help you in the kitchen, this is it, for vegan and meat eaters alike.

But it’s not just the recipes, ranging from simple to complex, that make it a good read; the many anecdotes and tongue-in-cheek humour have even non-cooks chuckling.

“This book is dedicated to husbands who maintain that the best cooking effort of their wives can never compare with what ‘mother used to make’,” is what you encounter when you first start reading.

Mayat writes that when Indian Delights was first published, a cookery book was something foreign to Indian women because usually, each dish was taught and passed down from generations until daughters were as proficient as their mothers.

But the need for “a reliable cookery book was beginning to be felt since daughters were spending more time with studies and acquiring careers. Also owing to the break-down of the extended family system of living, daughters-in-law were called upon to manage their own houses at a much younger age”.

If you’ve ever wondered how people came to cover their tables with newspaper, Mayat writes that when the home-spun cottons brought from India were worn out and there wasn’t money to buy tablecloths, they instead used something “for free”.

“Armed with a pair of scissors and dexterously folding old newspapers, beautiful repeat designs soon emerged. Shelves and tables were covered with these and it is in memory of those days that we present this menu on our newspaper cover with its pretty crepe paper flowers for decoration.”

If you’ve wondered about the history of cooking, Indian Delights has a tale about that as well. Apparently the art of cooking was born when Adam’s chop fell into the fire where he and Eve were huddling to warm their numbed bodies.

The book says that after a quarrel, Eve found that the chop tasted better with the salt from her tears. Adam and Eve passed these experiences on to their children and so culinary art was born. The book also laments bygone days when grannies and aunties used to gather to make pickles for the clan. They arrived with sharp knives and mixing bowls or, if it was a papad-making session, they would be armed with a rolling pin and thali. The day’s work was a chance to share jokes, stories and folk songs, and there were huge pots of food to keep them going.

The gathering of the clan; a festive affair when aunties and grannies would spend the day making pickles or papads. Source: Indian Delights

With 400 pages of information, choosing recipes for this article was almost impossible, but Mayat solved the problem by referring in the book to a classic joke about khitchris. Apparently when house guests overstayed their welcome back in the day, they would be served khitchri and that was the hint that it was time to pack up and leave.

“However insofar as we are concerned, it can be relegated to the file of classic jokes, for young and old all love khitchri and its inseparable accompaniment khuri made of sour milk,” she writes. And so, here is the khitchri recipe.


What you need:

½ tsp jeero (cumin)

2 cups rice

1 piece tuj (cinnamon)

¼ tsp turmeric

2 tbs sliced onion

1 cup oil dhal (toovar dhal)

2 tsp coarse salt

2 elachi (cardamom)

2 tbs oil

1 tbs ghee

How to make it:

Wash dhal well, taking care to remove all outer skins. In 3 pints (1.7 litres) of boiling water (salted) add tuj, turmeric, elachi and throw in washed dhal and rice.

Boil rapidly and cook till done, but not mushy. Drain dry in colander. Put back in the pot with a few spoons of cold water and allow to steam for 10 to 15 minutes over low heat.

Just before serving, fry onion in ghee/oil and carefully distribute over rice. With handle of spoon, lightly stir inside to evenly coat khitchri with ghee. Serve with toasted papads, brinjal bharad and its essential accompaniment, khuri (sour milk gravy).


What you need:

500ml yoghurt

1 dessert spoon pea flour (gram)

*1 small bunch dhunia leaves

*2 tsp desiccated coconut

*2 cloves of garlic

*2 green chillies

*A few slices of onion

*1 tsp coarse salt

*1 tbs shelled peas (optional)

1 tbs ghee

Pinch of turmeric

½ tsp jeero (cumin)

How to make it:

Pound together all the ingredients marked (*), and add to yoghurt; add pea flour and turmeric.

Whisk all well together then put on stove to boil, stirring constantly to prevent curdling.

Meanwhile, fry a little onion in ghee till golden brown, and add to boiling khuri.

In the same frying pan in which onions were fried, add the jeero and braise it till it blackens; then add it to Khuri.

Boil till consistency of thin cream, garnish with mint or curry leaves.

Over the years, there have been numerous versions of the Indian Delights cookbooks, all giving people the tools to create their own bit of pleasure on a plate. Supplied


What you need:

1kg chicken meat (breasts, thighs, drum sticks with bones removed)

1 tsp ginger/garlic

2 tsp chilli powder

2 tbs oil

1 tbs green pounded pawpaw

1 tsp salt

1 tbs yoghurt

1 tbs lemon juice

1 tsp jeero (cumin)

How to make it:

Cut chicken in small-sized cubes and pound slightly to tenderise. Pound together the garlic, chillies and jeero.

Add salt, lemon juice and oil and mix this paste over chicken. Marinate for a few hours. Just before grilling mix in 1 tsp pounded green pawpaw.

Skewer meat on pins and grill or braai over coal. (While grilling, the leftover marinade must be poured over meat.)

Variation: Chicken must be disjointed, the paste spread over and then marinated. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Dot with a little butter and place the pan of chicken in the oven to roast till done.

Serve with aamli (tamarind) kachoomer and chutney.

Indian Delights says the world of kachoomers, chutneys and achars is rich and varied and one can – like jewellery dressing up the plainest of dresses – disguise a plain meal with the right type of relishes and salads. No meal is complete without them and no Indian would want to omit these entirely from his diet.


What you need:

1kg green mangoes

125ml tal (sesame)

500g peanuts

60g garlic

60g ginger

500g green chillies

2 tbs methi (fenugreek) coarsely crushed

3 tbs red ground chillies

2 tbs turmeric

1kg white sugar

250g tamarind

1 bottle vinegar (750ml)

1 bottle oil (750ml)

How to make it:

Cut mangoes in pieces (6 pieces from each mango) and marinate in a handful of salt overnight. Next morning, drain off excess moisture. Put mangoes in a large dish and add turmeric, red ground chillies and the coarsely ground methi to it.

Whip the mustard powder in a little oil and vinegar till frothy and pour over mangoes.

Then fry each of the following separately in small quantities of oil and add while still hot to the mangoes.

First, the green chillies cut finely beforehand; then the finely slivered garlic; then the finely slivered ginger. And last, the coarsely broken peanuts.

Put to boil and the pitted and cleaned tamarind with the vinegar and sugar, and when thick and syrupy add to the mangoes.

Mix all well together. Add the rest of oil (and more if necessary, but heat it first) and bottle tightly when cool.

The first edition of Indian Delights was published in 1961 and sold 17 500 copies. Several editions have appeared over the years and it can be found across the world. Supplied

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