Making cooking simpler through art: UK-based Goan chef uses illustrations to share grandmother’s special Indian recipes

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Emma's illustration of the essential Indian spices

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Emma’s illustration of the essential Indian spices you need in Indian cooking.
Image Credit: Emma Diniz-Ryan

Feeling adventurous in the kitchen? Ready to whip up that dish you are craving for, only to be thrown off by a confusing, wordy recipe on the internet? Before you end up ordering out again, London-based Goan chef, Emma Diniz-Ryan, might have just the solution you need. Emma combines her love for cooking, and her expertise in art and illustrations, to help people who find recipes intimidating. “Recipes can often be long and daunting, with so much information that they sometimes seem unapproachable,” says Emma, who shares her culinary illustrations on social media.

Working from home: From illustrator to chef

The 32-year-old who owned an illustration business before she became a chef said she always enjoyed cooking. However, it was after she started working from home in 2015 that she really began exploring cooking. She told Gulf News: “I found I was spending hours experimenting in the kitchen. I started to find it very therapeutic, and I would gravitate towards the kitchen more than anywhere else. I found myself always thinking about what recipes I would invent that day and was constantly experimenting with new cuisines.” Soon, she was having so much fun that she started toying with the idea of training as a chef.

“Eventually, in 2019, after thinking about this for a while, I visited the open day of one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the UK, and I loved it. I decided to enroll, and then in September 2019, I embarked on a year-long Culinary Diploma, where I trained to be a chef and learned classical French Cookery,” she said.

Emma Diniz-Ryan
Emma plans to share articles, recipes, illustrations and cooking diagrams about Goan food, to shed a light on Goan cuisine.
Image Credit: Supplied by Emma Diniz-Ryan

“Before training as a chef, I worked as an illustrator. I ran a creative agency from 2015-2019 in which I helped businesses to communicate their ideas with their clients using illustration as a medium. Many people are visual learners and can retain more information and memorise things that contain images rather than text alone. This proved to be very effective in the corporate world. I realised after training as a chef that the same could be true of cooking. I want to strip recipes back and display them as much visually as possible to make them more accessible and more enjoyable to follow,” she added.

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So, using illustrations, Emma began sharing recipes on her personal Instagram page.

The illustration process

Talking about her creative process, Emma explained: “I start by drawing and labelling all of the ingredients required. Then surrounding these, I display it step by step of how to put the dish together. This can be particularly helpful, where you need to show the method of something that is complicated to explain and needs to be shown visually.”

“I also create Venn diagrams (illustrations that use circles to determine the relationship between two items) for recipes which rely on very specific quantities and are more formulaic, bread or cakes for example. Many people have found the Venn diagrams particularly helpful as they stick in the memory and make quantities easy to remember,” she added.

In terms of what recipes she decides to illustrate, she said: “I illustrate whatever I am cooking. I find that any recipe has the potential to be illustrated, as long as it is first broken down simply into its component parts so that it can then be turned into a drawing.”

The positive response Emma received for the illustrated recipes inspired her to take it a step further. “At the end of 2020, I created a set of illustrated recipes and sold them as gifts, and since then, I have been getting lots of requests to produce more.”

Emma started a separate Instagram page, My Illustrated Kitchen, where she began selling prints of her illustrations. She said: “My followers, and people who have purchased my drawings, have said that seeing the ingredients and recipe in an illustrated form has made the recipe much easier to follow. Even those who tend to shy away from the kitchen told me that they were more inclined to follow an illustrated recipe than a written one as it seemed much less daunting. Another common piece of feedback I receive is that you can get an overall sense of a recipe before you start, so the process is often quicker as you don’t have to keep going back to a recipe to read long paragraphs.”

Love for Goan cuisine

Emma often shares cooking illustrations to show recipes that come from the coastal Indian state of Goa. Growing up in London, she never really visited Goa, where her Indian roots lie. She told Gulf News: “I am half Indian. My mother’s family comes from Goa. My grandmother Emeliana Diniz’s family is specifically from Betalbatim in South Goa. She migrated to Nairobi in Kenya, which is where my mother, Rosinha Ryan, grew up.”

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But, Emma loves Goan cuisine. It is the food that she grew up eating, which her grandmother and mother made every day. “Goan food is so unlike the rest of India. I grew up trying exotic dishes like Xacuti (also spelt Xaccuti), a spiced curry prepared with sliced or grated coconut and large dried red chilies, with meats such as chicken, lamb, or beef, and Bebinca, a multilayered cake made of coconut milk. For breakfast, the pancakes I ate would be laced with cardamom, and kokum petals would swim in the fish curries at dinnertime,” she added.

“Goan food is nothing like the Indian food found here in UK restaurants,” said Emma. According to her, sourness is a trademark of Goan cuisine. Ingredients such as vinegar, tamarind, kokum or Garcinia indica and raw mango provide a unique tartness to Goan dishes. “Balanced with jaggery and often cooked in a base of dried red chillies, Goan dishes are rich and mouth-watering, with spiciness, sweetness and sourness balanced beautifully to create moreish curries,” she added.

Emma also explained that the uniqueness of Goan food comes from the fact that it is a hybrid of the original Indian cuisine of the state, and the influence of Portuguese cuisine from the 450 years of colonisation, which began in 1510. “It was the Portugese who brought in ingredients such as tomatoes, potatoes, cashew nuts, papayas, sweet potatoes, guavas, mangoes, pineapples and chillies, as well as some dishes, which originated in other colonies such as Brazil and Macau,” she said. It is said that the famous Goan Sorpotel (a spicy meat curry) is from the Brazilian Sarapatel and that Chicken Cafreal (a dish in which chicken is marinated with a flavourful, green-spice paste known as cafreal masala), was originally made by the soldiers serving under the Portuguese in the colonies of Africa. One of the most famous examples of Portuguese fusion is carne de vinha d’alhos, known around the world as Vindaloo, she further added.

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Talking about her favourite Goan dishes, Emma said: “Goan cuisine has lots of amazing starters and appetisers, and as someone who loves anything crispy and fried, I’d have to say samosas or Goan potato chops. I also love Prawn Caldinho, which is a Goan coconut prawn curry.”

“The memories of Goan food eaten as a child motivated me to learn more about Goan food and pass on that knowledge to others,” she added. “My focus going forward is currently on Goan cuisine and Indian cooking techniques as this is the food I was brought up with, and what I am most interested in cooking and teaching others.”

Recipe for onion pakoras (onion fritters)

Emma also illustrated a Goan recipe by her grandmother, for Gulf News readers. She said: “The dish of my grandmother’s I have chosen to illustrate is onion pakoras with a tamarind and carrot chutney.”

Onion pakoras with tamarind
Emma’s six step recipe illustration for her grandmother’s special recipe – onion pakoras with tamarind and carrot chutney
Image Credit: Emma Diniz-Ryan

“My grandmother used to make pakoras for me when I came home from school and I would eat so many of them. The sauce is for me what makes this dish really special. It is so simple and made of only two ingredients – juice from tamarind pulp and carrot. The tamarind is sour and soaks into the very finely grated carrot which is naturally sweet. It works perfectly with the spicy, crispy pakora. It’s a really unique and delicious combination of flavours and textures and also a very quick and easy snack that I would recommend anyone to try to make,” Emma added.

Ultimately, Emma’s plan is to write a Goan cookbook, a project which she started during culinary school. She said: “I plan for there to be plenty of illustrations included. My current project which I aim to launch this spring, is an email newsletter called Yesterday’s Curry. The name comes from Kalchi Kodi, the classic Goan fish curry from the night before which tastes even better the next day. In my newsletter I plan to share articles, recipes, illustrations and cooking diagrams about Goan food, and in doing so, hopefully shed a light on Goan cuisine.”

Try the recipe for a version of the Goan Murg Xacuti that uses kashmiri red chillies for the colour. Read here 

Recipe for onion fritters

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