Virsa – a culinary journey from Agra to Karachi by Shehar Bano Rizvi

When Shehar Bano came over to my house for the very first time about seven years ago, she brought me two cookbooks. One of the books was ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and the other was a recipe book for ‘Sweets & Hard Candy‘. I instantly thought that was such a lovely and personable hostess present, as she knew I was fond of cooking. However, little did I know a few years later I would be holding Shehar Bano’s very own authored cookbook in my hands!

I would like to add a disclaimer here. Though I received ‘Virsa’ at it’s book launch event, this book review expresses my own personal opinion and views.

As I held the book in my hands, I was in awe of it’s gorgeous hardbound cover. Photographed with a variety of spices and antique silver spoons, it was subtly stimulating and visually appealing.
That one cover picture depicts and captures the essence of this book. A collection of authentic recipes that have been passed down from generations, and made fragrant with the aromatic spices from India and Pakistan.

The book portrays Shehar Bano Rizvi’s personal journey and that of her family dating back to partition days. It chronicles their life in Karachi and how Shehar ventured into unknown territory for her – the kitchen. She shares the history of her family heritage, and the influences that played a part in helping create this wonderful masterpiece.

The story narrated is deeply personal and one cannot help but imagine the family story as it unfolds. A lovely touch to this personal journey are most definitely pictures of her grandparents, her parents, other family members along with a nice little glossary that explain family relationships in both English and Urdu.
I absolutely loved reading Shehar Bano’s mother –Cheena’s handwritten letter. It highlights how ancestral recipes were a combination of instinct, experience and a love for food and family.
I think what brings this book to life and makes it read like a wonderful family story are the beautiful family pictures and small anecdotes that are sure to bring a smile to your face.

Carrying on after sharing her personal journey, the book has some wonderful and useful cooking guides. There is an English to Urdu ingredients guide, a homemade spices guide, information and pictures on cooking techniques and a lentils guide. These are detailed and definitely beneficial as you read through the recipes.

Each recipe is prefaced with a small introduction, which is concise and helpful. It tells the reader what to accompany this dish with, how to store it, quick tips, possible alterations and also which family member helped create the recipe.

As someone who looks at many recipes throughout the week, I can safely say the format itself is straightforward to follow and the recipes themselves are uncomplicated.
My personal favorite part about this book, is that every recipe is accompanied by a picture. I think that not only does this provides a visual appeal, but as someone who is cooking any recipe, it is good to see how it should actually turn out. The pictures are all photographed by the author herself and are extremely vibrant and vivid.

I particularly enjoyed the story where Shehar Banos’ mother tells her that eating beetroot (chuqandar) turns the cheeks pink! I giggled to myself a little when I read that, because we as mothers have said similar things to make our children eat their vegetables. On a personal note, my mom said taro root (arvi) were potatoes (aloo) for the longest time so I would eat them.

It would not be fair to review a cook book without trying out the actual recipes. So in a quest to be more authentic and remain transparent, I tried the following recipes and I can say that each one came out perfect. These are definitely one of the ‘no-fail’ recipes.
Tamatar Ki Chutney (Tomato chutney)
Bun Kebab (Potato and Egg Burger)
Aloo Gosht Qorma Style (Spicy Mutton Curry with Potatoes)
Lemon Chicken (Chicken Curry with Lemon)
Aloo Ki Bhujia (Potato Curry)

Pictured here is Tamatar Ki Chutney and I have put it together just as it is in the book. As you can tell, this is a pretty close match. The flavor of this simple dish was enhanced using curry leaves and garnished beautifully with boiled eggs.

When I first heard about the Virsa cook book, I had thought, it was merely a collection of recipes. However, after reading this book, I realize this is so much more than a cookbook. Whether it is for yourself, or to give to a friend as a present, or to display beautifully on your coffee table, it is definitely one to keep!

To read more about the very talented Shehar Bano Rizvi, please visit her blog at https://diaryofapmpmom.com/

To order your very own copy of Virsa, please visit, https://virsacookbook.com/

You can also connect with her on Instagram by visiting https://www.instagram.com/thepmpmom/

1 thought on “Virsa – a culinary journey from Agra to Karachi by Shehar Bano Rizvi

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