Author Spotlight – Shehar Bano Rizvi for ‘Virsa’

Author Shehar Bano Rizvi with her first book ‘Virsa’. Picture supplied by Shehar Bano Rizvi.

Shehar Bano Rizvi is the author of the internationally renowned cookbook ‘Virsa’ that has caught everyone’s attention! This book has taken taken the culinary world by storm and is nominated in multiple categories at the very prestigious Gourmand Awards.

Shehar Bano is the voice behind the well known blog ‘Diary of a PMP Mom’, which is a lifestyle blog and she writes about life, home improvement projects, recipes and many other aspects of Pakistani expat living in Doha. Along side she runs a successful photography business as well. A lady of many talents I must say!

I wanted to chat with Shehar Bano about her cookbook, and ask her a few questions for this author spotlight. I am excited to share what she has to say! A heartfelt thank you to Shehar Bano for taking the time and sharing her responses with my readers.
If you would like to read my book review of Virsa, please click here.

If a reader had to host a dinner, could you suggest a complete menu (including dessert) based off, of the recipes in your book that would be perfect for guests.

Shehar Bano: When hosting a dinner, I would suggest a simple formula. Pick one thing from each section of Virsa! I usually would pick a raita, a type of kabab from the snack section, a lentil, a vegetarian dish, one or two from the meat section, rice, bread, and a couple of desserts. The other thing I like to keep in mind when planning a dawat is that I try to keep one salan with gravy and one bhuna hua salan and try to have a variety of meats like chicken and mutton/beef on the menu.

There are a few set combinations in our family, like Qorma & Daal Maash always go together, or Pulao will always have Zarda with it. Also it’s always a one dish party if it’s Paaye or Haleem on the menu – we don’t like to take away the limelight from them.

I’ll give a couple of sample dawat menu options.

Menu Option 1 : Green Raita, Shaami Kabab, White Daal Maash, Bhindi Fry, Chicken Qorma, Mutton Stew, Pulao, Chapati, Zarda, and Kheer.

Menu Option 2: Baigan Raita, Kachay Qeemay ke Kabab, Channa Daal, Aaloo ki Bhujia, Chicken Karhai, Nihari, Biryani, Shahi Tukray, and Kulfi.

We know that the recipes in the book Virsa, have been passed down from generations. Have you over the years, created any shortcuts for yourself that work better for your family?

Shehar Bano: To be honest, I never changed or modified a family recipe. I have always followed it to the tee, to have the same taste of nostalgia of Ammi’s cooking. However, I have recently started doing some of these recipes in the Instant Pot and modifying it a bit process-wise.

There is no doubt, that Virsa has gained worldwide success. Congratulations! After reading it myself, I know why. But did you ever wonder if people would want to buy a cook book, when so many recipes are available online? And why do you think it is resonating with so many people all over the world?

Shehar Bano: Thank you! Honestly, I didn’t anticipate a response like this at all. When in this digital age there are so many wonderful food blogs and recipes available online for free, I did question myself if people would be interested in buying a book. But I am pleasantly surprised to see how well the audience received Virsa. There are a few reasons why I think Virsa is doing so well.

I think there is a vast gap in good quality coffee table style Pakistani cookbooks, so Virsa hit that sweet spot.
Secondly, Virsa has resonated with people on an emotional level. I complied the simple ‘ghar ka khana’ in this recipe book, which is actually made in every Pakistani household (may be with a little variation). These recipes have reminded people of the dishes that their grandmothers or mothers used to cook. It has reminded the audience of their family heritage & childhood and stirred up all those emotions.
And last but not least, the book’s success is because of the intention behind it. It’s a book to celebrate my mother, while the profits go to LRBT to continue my father’s legacy and fight blindness in Pakistan. And I think because of that not only Allah has been kind, but people have come forward and bought the book to support the cause.

Do you have any plans for authoring another book, that you can share with us?

Shehar Bano: Yes, I do have a couple of book projects in the pipeline. One is a similar genre and is related to food, while the other is an entirely different genre and an emotionally difficult book to write. I can’t talk about both of them just yet. But extremely excited and nervous to start working on my second book.

If you are not cooking Pakistani food, what is your go to cuisine to cook at home and to eat at restaurants?

Shehar Bano: I think the go-to cuisine to cook at home is either Chinese or Italian. And if eating out, I love eating Thai, Japanese, Lebanese or Turkish food.

If you had to cook a meal for someone famous (perhaps Shahrukh Khan), and were meeting for the very first time, what is the one ‘must’ dish that you would cook from your cookbook and why?

Shehar Bano: OMG! Cooking for Shahrukh Khan – I feel nervous already! I think I will go in research mode and see what he likes to eat first! But if I am hosting someone for the first time in my home, I always tend to make my mum’s mutton stew. I have had the honor to host and cook for Arshad Mahmud Sahab, and I made Ammi’s mutton stew, which he loved! It’s a MUST try dish in the book!

You had started blogging for a number of years before publishing this cookbook. What impact did the recognition of your book have on your platform such as Instagram and your blog.

Shehar Bano: I think it won’t be fair to say that the book impacted my blog as it is not one way. Starting a blog was a step in finding myself again, which helped pave the book’s path. The book would not have been possible without the blog. I think my blog audience has played a significant role in making this book a success. They have been a part of and supported me throughout my journey of writing, photographing, and publishing this book. Of course, on the other hand, the book’s success attracted more media attention to my social media channels and blog, resulting in many new people who have joined me on my social media.

And a quick fire round

tea or coffee

ebooks or paperbacks
Paperbacks always. I love to hold and feel the pages. Its not the same with ebooks.

jalebi or gulab jamn
Gulab Jamun, though I am not a big dessert fan

biryani or nihari
Difficult one but Nihari is first love!

last book you read
Currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama

Favorite Chef
Giada De Laurentiis / Shireen Anwer

Favorite Pakistani drama
Tanhaiyan, Ankhai and Dhoop Kinaray

Author Shehar Bano Rizvi with her cookbook ‘Virsa’. Picture provided by Shehar Bano Rizvi.

I look forward to your comments!

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