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Bioinformatics and culinary delights

Laxmi Parida talks about her book, Purba Feasts from the East

Passion for life usually manifests itself in many areas of personal interest, allowing people to explore different areas of expertise. Our learning continues long into life after we have taken our last pop quiz or final. Exploring new outlets for knowledge outside our comfortable realm allows us to progress in areas previously foreign.

This is certainly true for Laxmi Parida, an IBM researcher in bioinformatics, who has momentarily traded in her ThinkPad for an apron and a spatula. Written by Parida, "Purba Feasts from the East" is a unique collection of culinary delights originating from eastern India in the state of Orissa. We asked Parida to share some of her experiences concerning the writing of her first cookbook.

Why write a food book instead of one more prevalent to your field of work and study?
The two are not mutually exclusive. Even as dedicated research scientists we pursue other interests. I wrote the food book when I believed I had a fair understanding of the subject matter and had something substantial to share with others, which was not otherwise readily available.

What was the inspiration for the book?
The people who introduced me to the Oriya kitchen. As a young child I watched my mother and my grandmother cook. They were basically who I learned from.

Was there a reason this cookbook was specifically designed for Oriyas cuisine?
Indian cuisine is regional say like the Italian cuisine. Cuisines from certain regions of India are more widely known than others. Cuisine from eastern India, including Orissa, is not so well known outside as well as inside India, despite having an extremely rich array of food and cooking techniques. Also, being from Orissa, I have intimately known Oriya cuisine from childhood and I felt that it deserved a broader exposure than what it currently has. There is also a void in the marketplace for this particular cuisine of recipes being published in English. This book is the only one of its kind as far as I know.

What types of things can readers expect to find in this unique catalogue of recipes?
I think that the book should not be viewed as a catalogue of recipes. I consider it to be a "food book", in which a food enthusiast would find common principles in techniques from around the world, but focusing mostly on Oriya cuisine. Of course, there are plenty of recipes in it suited for beginners as well as experts, and I hope people enjoy these. Also this particular region is very well known for its desserts, so you will find a large section dedicated to them.

Where can people find your book?
It is easiest to find at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Was there a way you found you could incorporate your job as an IBM researcher into the creation of this book?
The book is written from a scientist's viewpoint: it is algorithmic in nature. Also, I think that my scientific training inadvertently influenced my writing style and the treatment of the subject matter. Interestingly, my original manuscript is in LaTex, a format familiar mainly to mathematicians and computer scientists. You can see science in the way I construct my recipes.

Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
I have a simple, yet exquisite recipe to share. You could substitute the blossoms in the recipe with zucchini or squash blossoms. The bara normally accompanies the main course but can be served as an appetizer as well. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Kakharoo Phula Bara (Pumpkin Blossom Patties)

1 dozen pumpkin blossoms
1/4 cup of rice, soaked for two hours
Salt to taste
Chili powder to heat
Oil to shallow fry

Grind the soaked rice to a pasted in the blender and add the seasonings. Clean the blossoms, remove stems and stamens. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Delicately dip each blossom into the seasoned rice paste and shallow fry till light brown. The coating is thin like a tempura, rather than a fritter.


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