The playful yet seriously talented Kankana

As you all know by now I am pretty much in love with Instagram. Its not just eye candy but its also a soothing balm for the soul. How? Coz of the amazing people you meet there! I have been very lucky to have met women who inspire me in more ways than I can count through Instagram. Today, while we are talking about people who inspire, I am going to introduce you to my first blog crush!

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So, continuing on with “My Blog Guest” series! If you’re just joining in now, this interview series takes place once a month and is a way for me to have a little rendezvous, to sit together on that virtual couch, steaming cups of coffee and croissant in front of us as we take a trip down their food memories and get to know these amazing people a little better. Often we forget that these people, these beautiful creators and intensely talented photographers are just as human too. They have their own struggles, insecurities, triumphs,bad days and so much of the work that goes on behind the scenes and more. Through this series I wish to bring a glimpse of their lives, of their wonderful shining souls to you guys in the hope that they inspire you just as much as they have me.Lets take a look into their realities, delve a little into their past and share a meal with them. Just them, me and you, ears cocked, wine bottles ready and all snuggled? You ready?? Here we go!

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If you are a foodie or someone who spends anytime on blogs (I assume you are coz hello…you are here!), you must know of Kankana Saxena. A trail blazer in her own right, Kankana started this beautiful blog of hers in 2011 with the help of her techy husband Arvind who set it up for her. What started as an impulse soon became a passion and the result is infront of our eyes. Today she is one of the most well known Indian food bloggers, a brilliant food stylist and still remains one of the most humble and fun people to be around! I love the fact that the name of her blog “Playful Cooking” seems to be tailor-made not just for her blog ethos but also suits Kankana to the hilt. From having received the coveted “sites we love from Saveur” to multiple mentions on Huffington Post, Kankana has been setting fire to the blogging space while being nonchalantly true to herself and her work.  When she’s not blogging or cooking, she plays the most adoring mum to one of my favorite kids, her baby boy Avyan. He is such a munchkin, and one can’t help falling in love with these two. Kankana its been such a privilege having you over here and thank you for sharing this beautiful dish with us today.

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Here are a few snippets from our conversation.

1. Why “Playful” cooking for the blog name? 
Cooking was never my thing. And then it became my favorite thing. I don’t cook because I have to. The day I feel like I have to cook, I go for take outs. I cook, because I love the entire process and I like to add a little twist, make it fun and hence the name of the blog.
 
2. I would love to know Kankana a little better. Tell me something about yourself that isn’t mentioned in your About page.
I don’t like watching 3D movies. It freaks me out. I prefer watching the movie than being a part of it. That’s my excuse 😉 
 
3. What drives your obvious love for food?
 My husband’s love for food. Before meeting Arvind, food was not my best friend. I was super thin LOL! Arvind inspires me. Thankfully none of us have any dietary restriction and we both enjoy trying new dishes and flavors. 
4. What was your first job?
I worked in a call center for an insurance company. It felt like the best job back then, because the team was amazing! 
5. You influence so many people with your delicious food and beautiful photography. What has been the most influencing factor in your life?
Thank you! That means a lot 🙂 Well, blogging started more as a way to kill time and share everyday cooking with the world. It then turned into a passion! I never knew I could enjoy cooking or photography to this extend. There is not just one influencing factor, that inspires me. It’s all the beautiful blogs I visit, their stories, the cookbooks I read, those inspiring chef’s, my family, my friends, they all inspire me and made me what I am today. 
6. One precious childhood memory that you will always remember.
 Wow, there are so many! I come from a big family. Lots of uncles, aunties and cousins. Although we never lived together like a huge joint family, we are very close and whenever school vacations arrived, a travel was planned. One of my masi (mom’s elder sister) lived in this beautiful independent house. That was before my Uncle retired. I so very clearly remember that house. The frontward where I and my brother used to play all day long with our cousins and the backward where my Aunt used to garden. They had this huge grape fruit tree and every afternoon, my Aunt used to make a spicy, zesty grape fruit salad. I and my brother used to sit on the varanda and finish the entire bowl of the salad in one sitting. It became our everyday, post nap snack. I was probably 6 years, but I remember every corner of that house so clearly, specially that grape fruit tree and the post nap snack ritual.   
7. What was the first thing you ever cooked that made you believe you are good at cooking?
 I don’t think there is any one particular dish that convinced me. It was more of the journey, the passion that started growing in, one dish at a time, which made me try new recipes. And then when my family and friends started enjoying the food I prepared, it gave me the confidence that I am doing better. 
8. What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?
Post dinner, when we relax for about half an hour, just watching Avyan play or dance, or say rhymes. Sometimes we join him too. That’s is my favourite part of the weekdays. Weekends are always the best.
 
9. Name five ingredients that you simply must have in your kitchen/refrigerator?
 Oh this is a tough one! Never really thought of it. I guess, egg, milk, flour, salt and fresh cilantro.
10. Cooking or food photography, which would you choose? 
Food Photography! 
11. Are you a planner or a wing-it kind of woman?
 I like things organized and so I like planning, even if I cannot stay to the notes all the time. 
A few quick ones: 
 Favorite spiceNigella seeds
 Favorite tune to dance  to (or hum) while cooking – No favourite, it keeps changing. These days, Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You
 Baking or cooking –  Cooking
 Are you a purist or do you prefer fusion food – Sometimes purist and other times fusion food
USP of your beautiful blog – Playful Cooking is not restricted to a certain cuisine, or dietary guide. It’s fuss free recipes that can be prepared by anybody. It’s a playground, where I like to blend flavors, ingredients and create memories one dish at a time. 

IMG_5455She has prepared one of her favorite dishes, a nostalgic one for us today and one that I will happily eat anytime!!  I am going to let Kankana take it over for now. 

“Thank you Swayampurna for inviting me over. I hope you enjoy this dish, one of my childhood favorites, as much as I do. As a kid, I was not much of an eater and Ma still tells me tales of how she struggled to put any food in my mouth. In addition to that, I was an extremely slow eater. In the hopes of making me eat faster, Ma eventually made this rule that the last one to finish the meal would clean the table. But, nothing changed! There were, however, a few such dishes that I used to eat without any fuss and on those days, I was the first to finish the meal.
Pumpkin has always been my all-time favorite ingredient. Especially, when it prepared along with fish head. It sounds bizarre to many but it is a delicacy in Bengali cuisine! A vegetarian version of the same dish would be to add an abundance of spinach instead of the fish head and it is called Kumro Palak.
Of course, Ma makes the same dish using the pumpkin leaves and stems. But, I couldn’t find those leaves or stems out here. Also, out here in US, I find the taste of pumpkin not as sweet as the ones that I grew up eating. The taste of acorn squash matched much better and it pairs quite tastefully with spinach. One of the key spices that I tend to always use with pumpkin or squash is fennel seeds. It’s highly aromatic and gives a sweet warm aroma. If you can’t find it, a good substitute would be to use cumin seeds or caraway seeds. I try not to over spice the dish and instead keep it subtle with just a few whole spices and pinch of chili powder. I also like to keep the squash bites chunkier but you could always mash it. With steamed rice on the side, it’s a meal that always takes me back home. 
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The playful yet seriously talented Kankana
 
Prep time
Cook time
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acorn squash with spinach
Author:
Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 1 acorn squash, cut in to bite size with skin on
  • 3 cups roughly chopped spinach
  • 1 medium size red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ inch ginger, finely grated
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon
  • ghee
  • salt
  • oil
Instructions
  1. Heat some oil in a pan and drop the fennel seeds. Once they start to sizzle, drop the bay leaf, garlic and ginger. Give it a stir and scatter the onion. Sprinkle some salt and cook onion for a couple of minutes.
  2. Drop the acorn squash into the pan and sprinkle some more salt and turmeric. Give it a mix.
  3. Place a lid on the pan, lower the heat to medium low and allow it to cook until acorn squash gets softened and tender. If you find acorn squash sticking to the bottom of the pan, just sprinkle some water.
  4. Once done, add cumin powder, chili powder and scatter the spinach leaves.
  5. Give it a stir and cook for a few more minutes. Check for salt and add any, if required.
  6. Finally, pour some ghee and serve warm with steamed rice or roti.

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