Tapas-style treats from Sapna Anand's modern Indian kitchen

For culinary teacher and cookbook author Sapna Anand, Deepavali is the occassion that brings the good food and great company together.

For culinary teacher and cookbook author Sapna Anand, Deepavali is the occassion that brings the good food and great company together.

Cookbook author Sapna Anand believes that a touch of mod is great for entertaining this Deepavali.

Growing up in Goa, India, Sapna Anand’s childhood Deepavalis revolved around family and food. Lots of food. Scents of curries and spices permeated the house and “there was always so much food on the table.”

The table got laden almost magically – some of the dishes were prepared by her mother and some seemed to appear from nowhere. “Sometimes we didn’t know where the food came from!” said Sapna, who now calls the Klang Valley home.

These days, she’s the one putting the magic on her dining table. The food enthusiast and keen cook has become known for modern Indian cooking with the publication of her debut cookbook, New Indian Kitchen, released earlier this year by MPH Publishers.

While she has a pastry art certificate from Le Cordon Bleu (Bangkok), Sapna is largely a self-taught cook. Having lived in the United States and Britain, she has developed a rather adventurous palate and it shows in her cooking.

For Deepavali, for instance, she may surprise her guests with Indian-inspired tapas – such as the three recipes featured here. “I know it is unusual to serve tapas at a Deepavali do, and in Malaysia people do tend to expect traditional Indian food,” said Sapna.

But for a celebration among friends and peers who may also be experiencing a little festive fatigue let’s be honest – her modern Indian fare is refreshing.

“My friends know that when they come over to my house, there is always something different to expect.

“But as much as I like to do things differently, for Deepavali at least, I always make sure that there is an Indian element to the food that I prepare. I believe that it is okay to experiment and come up with the best dishes for your guests,” said Sapna, who has a growing following for her cooking classes.

Her modern tapas are supplemented with traditional festive staples such as carrot halwa, semolina laddoo and payasam which she never fails to serve.

Sapna loves these tapas because they can be made ahead, leaving her time to play the perfect hostess.

“And that is the secret to having a good time at your own party,” said Sapna. “Nobody wants to be slogging in the kitchen when friends are gathered in the living room. And you don’t want to look like you’ve been spending the whole day in the kitchen! None of my recipes are complicated – I just won’t do anything difficult and time consuming.

“The Pav Bhaji can be made two days in advance; the Goan Crab Cake can be prepared and frozen for up to a month and the spiced carrot and coconut green chutney for the sandwich can be made the day before.”

Sapna first made the crab cakes for her children who found the crab cakes in America too bland.

“We were living in San Francisco then and I wanted to make crab cakes with a taste of Goa by adapting a traditional Goan recipe. Then I added a dip using Sriracha sauce – one of America’s favourite chilli sauces – as the vinegary hits complement the crab meat. Sriracha sauce on its own would have been too overpowering so I blended it with a bit of mayonnaise. This way, it gives the sweet, smooth and well-spiced flavour of crab cakes.”

“That day, when I was preparing the crab cakes, my daughter walked in and said, ‘I smell Goa. Something Goan is happening here.’ I think that’s what food should be about – reminding you of the good times.”

Culinary teacher and cookbook author Sapna Anand, Deepavali is the ocassion that brings the good food and great company together seamlessly.


Goan red spice paste
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 cloves
10cm cinnamon stick
8–10 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
5cm ginger, sliced
4 dried red chillies, soaked
1 tsp turmeric powder
2–3 tbsp white vinegar or juice of 1 small lime
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
1 onion, thinly sliced

Crab cake
1 cup crab meat
2–3 sprigs coriander leaves, chopped
2 stalks spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup Panko or breadcrumbs + 1 cup for coating
1 egg
vegetable oil for pan frying

Sriracha dipping sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise, mixed with
2 tbsp Sriracha or chilli sauce

For the Goan red spice paste

Heat a pan on low heat, dry roast the black pepper, cumin and coriander seeds, cloves, and cinnamon stick, for about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil on medium heat and sauté the shallots, garlic and ginger, and dried chillies, for about 10 minutes, until shallots are lightly browned.

Blend the dry roasted spices, the sautéed shallots, turmeric powder, vinegar, sugar and salt to a thick paste, using just enough water to move the blender blades. Ensure paste is smooth and thick.

Heat 2 tbsp oil and sauté the onions until lightly browned. Add the spice paste and sauté for about 7 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated. The paste should be thoroughly cooked, and it will start to lift off the pan while you stir. Remove from heat.

For the crab cakes

In a mixing bowl, combine the crab meat, coriander, spring onion, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of the Goan red spice paste. Mix well and make lime-sized balls; flatten each ball slightly and arrange on a tray. Cover with cling film and chill the cakes for about 20 minutes to firm them up.

To fry crab cakes

Preheat enough oil (about 1cm) for pan-frying in a large, non-stick pan. Beat the egg with 2 tbsp water. Dip each cake in the egg mixture, coat with the breadcrumbs and pan-fry the cakes on medium heat until golden brown on both sides. Drain the cakes on paper towels.

Serve warm with the dipping sauce.

Notes: The spice paste can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to two months. Additional paste can be used as marinade for fish or chicken. Crab meat can be replaced with any white fish.

spiced carrot and coconut green chutney sandwich (I can use rustic bread or multi grain bread

(Mumbai-style spiced potato and vegetable mash on baguette)

Pav bhaji masala powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
10cm cinnamon stick
4 dried red chillies
4 green cardamom seeds
4 cloves

Parmesan chips
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 large potatoes
5–6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 heaped tbsp Pav Bhaji masala powder
1 large tomato, chopped
salt to taste
dry mango powder (optional)
kasuri methi (fenugreek leaves) (optional)
juice of 1 small lime
chopped coriander to garnish

For the Pav Bhaji masala powder

Dry roast all the spices on low heat for 4 to 5 minutes until aromatic. Grind the spices into fine powder. Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate for a longer shelf life.

To make Parmesan chips

Preheat the oven to 170℃. Line a baking tray with baking sheet. Spoon 1 heaped tablespoon of grated parmesan on the lined tray and press down with the back of a spoon to flatten it slightly, making sure the cheese is not scattered too much.

Repeat to fill up the tray – make sure you leave plenty of space in between the heaps of cheese for them to spread during baking. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and melt to form a lacy crisp. Remove tray from the oven and leave to cool.

To make spicy mash

Boil the potatoes in their skin until cooked. Peel, and mash while still hot.

In a large non-stick pan, heat 3 tablespoons butter on low heat. Toss in the finely chopped onion, and sauté until soft. Add the ginger and garlic paste, and continue to stir for another minute. Add the red pepper followed by the cauliflower, and sauté for 10 minutes.

Add the turmeric and chilli powders, and pav bhaji masala. Stir to mix, then add the tomato. Cook for about 5 minutes. Season with salt, mango powder and fenugreek leaves, if using.

Add the mashed potatoes. Mix well. Using a masher or back of a spoon, mash all the vegetables. Add in 1½ cup of warm water.

Adjust seasoning to taste and continue to cook, covered, on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, and cook uncovered, for another 10 minutes until the masala thickens and darkens in colour and starts to roll off the pan when you stir. Add in 2 tablespoons butter and lime juice. Mix well.

To finish

Butter the baguette slices liberally and toast until crisp. Top the bread with a heaped spoonful of Pav Bhaji and garnish with coriander leaf, an additional squeeze of lemon juice if liked, and parmesan chip.

Notes: Parmesan chips can be made a day in advance. The Pav Bhaji masala powder can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. The secret to the most delicious Pav Bhaji is the use of butter, so be generous with it. Ensure the bhaji masala is cooked thoroughly and gets its dark deep red colour. Green peas, yellow or green bell peppers and carrot can be used as vegetables for this recipe. Ready Pav Bhaji masala powder is also readily available in Indian spice stores.

spiced carrot and coconut green chutney sandwich (I can use rustic bread or multi grain bread


1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
2 large carrots, grated
¼ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp freshly grated peppercorns
salt to taste

Green chutney
½ cup freshly grated coconut
½ cup coriander leaves with stalks
½ cup mint leaves
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1 fresh green chilli, sliced
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 small lime
salt to taste

salted butter
wholemeal or multi-grain sandwich slices
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated or sliced

For the filling

Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat and add cumin. When it starts to bubble, add the garlic and onion, and sauté until onion is soft.

Add the green pepper, sauté for another 5 minutes, then add the grated carrot. Stir-fry and season to taste with turmeric, salt and pepper. Cook on medium low heat for about 10 mins.

For the green chutney

Blend all the ingredients to a paste, seasoning to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble

Butter the outside of the sandwich slices. Spread the sandwich slices generously with green chutney, and top it with 2 to 3 tablespoons of carrot. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese and cover with another slice of bread, buttered side up.

To grill

This can be done stovetop or in the oven. Stovetop: Heat a grill pan and place the sandwiches on the grill over medium high heat until crisp and browned – press the sandwich down lightly with a spatula for better browning. Flip over to crisp the other side and don’t forget to press down lightly with a spatula. Oven: Preheat the oven on grill function or 200℃ and grill the sandwiches until top is lightly browned and cheese has melted.

Serve immediately.

Notes: The sandwich filling can be made a day or two in advance. Carrot can be replaced with grated beetroot. This also makes a great sandwich for the school lunch box.

Taste , lifestyle , Deepavali , Sapna Anand , food , Indian food