Mother’s Day recipes from Mad Love

Mother’s Day recipes from Mad Love

Toronto-based chef Devan Rajkumar taps into his Caribbean heritage, South Asian roots, and global travels in his cookbook debut

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Our cookbook of the week is Mad Love: Big Flavors Made to Share, from South Asia to the West Indies — A Cookbook by Toronto-based chef Devan Rajkumar.

Jump to the recipes: roti, Mom’s dhal and saffron kheer.

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Chef Devan Rajkumar is always on the move. Based in his hometown of Toronto, he spends most of the year travelling. Each time, it’s something different, whether doing menu development in Scotland, training staff at a luxury resort in Turks and Caicos or cooking his Guyanese pepperpot smashburger for viral TikTok creator Danny Kim (a.k.a. Danny Grubs). “It all flows into one. It’s exciting.”

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Since Rajkumar started cooking in the late 2000s — increasingly drawing on his Guyanese, Caribbean and West Indian heritage — people have been asking for his recipes. “I think it’s because I have a unique take on food, and I always like to do things differently. In my head, a lot of things go together that are uncommon.”

Rajkumar’s diverse culinary influences define his cookbook debut, Mad Love (Figure 1 Publishing, 2024). The book reflects his global travels, his Toronto home, his parents’ native Guyana and his ancestral roots in South Asia. Recipes include twists such as Caribbean-inspired ceviche and palak paneer spanakopita, classic Guyanese chicken curry, cook-up rice and metemgee with duff, and South Asian saffron kheer.

Guyana is a South American nation in the Caribbean. Rajkumar’s ancestors were among the people the British transported from India to the Caribbean as indentured servants after the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. He has travelled extensively in India and Pakistan, retracing the roots of Indo-Guyanese dishes from childhood. Rajkumar moves freely between South Asia and the Caribbean in Mad Love and all his work. He might make malai kofta one day and coconut choka the next.

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He says it’s been a fun journey, and he feels a responsibility to continue innovating. Access to “a whole other world of cuisine” means there’s so much more to explore.

“I don’t know any other Caribbean or West Indian chefs who lean into South Asian food as much as I do. It’s not something that I’m trying to do to stand out. It just feels right to me. I grew up with so much South Asian influence in my life. I don’t want to be just known for cooking pepperpot and doubles and pholourie. I want to be known for keema parathas, dal makhani, shahi paneer, and all the wonderful things I grew up with.”

Rajkumar is proud that many know him as an ambassador. “Now I’m that Guyanese guy, and everybody knows that Guyana is Guyana and not Ghana,” he adds, laughing. “So, it’s really cool.”

Rajkumar built a large portion of his online following during the early days of the pandemic with his Chef Dev at Home social media series using staple pantry ingredients. He’s been teaching cooking since he was in culinary school and has appeared as a regular guest expert on the daytime talk show Cityline for the past decade.

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Along with the diversity of his culinary style, he wanted the recipes in Mad Love to be accessible to cooks of all levels. Smoked goat biryani is the most technical recipe in the book. The rest of the 100 — from shared plates, brunch and bread to vegetarian and meat-based dishes, fermented hot sauces and pantry essentials — are suitable for cooks with less kitchen experience.

Mad Love by Devan Rajkumar book cover
Mad Love is chef Devan Rajkumar’s first cookbook. Photo by Figure 1 Publishing

Rajkumar says that Mad Love would have been a different book if he had written it even five years ago. He trained in French, Italian, Mexican and Japanese cuisine, and it took him some time to return to the food of his heritage.

Watching Chef’s Table, Rajkumar realized that many of the chefs profiled left home to work and travel abroad. But in most cases, they returned to their homeland and the food they grew up with. Earlier in his career, Rajkumar thought that Caribbean food “couldn’t hold a candle” to the depth of the other cuisines he studied. “Until I realized that it could. And then I realized that it’s my duty and responsibility to not only showcase it but make it more accessible to the younger generations and present it in ways that the world will get to learn about it,” says Rajkumar.

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“It feels really good to be cooking the food I grew up with — food from my motherland — because you can’t take it away from me. It’s deep inside me. And it’s very fulfilling because I’m constantly inundated with feedback from the community, where they’re just over the moon that their children can learn, be inspired and get connected to the food that they grew up with back home in Guyana, throughout the Caribbean, and even in India.”

Rajkumar has visited more than 50 countries and grew up travelling with his parents, who opened a corporate travel agency in the early 2000s. He saw people living abroad or travelling extensively and wondered how they did it. So, he found a way to make it happen for himself, starting with travelling around the world for six months.

“When I got to Peru in the sixth month of travelling, I was couchsurfing. I was completely broke. But I was staging (working as an unpaid intern). I was cooking at (London’s) Borough Market. I was doing anything that I could to get experience abroad. And then, from 2016 on, when I came back to Toronto, I realized that people started to recognize me as a chef without boundaries,” says Rajkumar. “It’s a reality for me now.”

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He and his mom, Bhano Rajkumar, still travel a lot together, and she makes regular appearances on his social media. As a child, he followed her around the kitchen as she experimented with new ingredients she’d picked up on frequent trips. Many of the recipes in the book came from Bhano’s kitchen, including her signature okra, dhal, and roti (accompanied by a step-by-step two-page photo spread).

“My mom is a big, big influence. She’s always been my ride-or-die. She’s always been the No. 1 person in my corner.”

When Rajkumar saw the first finished copy of Mad Love, he brought his mom in to show it to her and filmed her reaction to share on social media. “I remember when she flipped through to see one of her recipes — this is a big deal for her. And it’s just an amazing way for me to give back to her. Everyone knows that we’re really, really close. So, my hope with this is that it’ll bring us even closer. And bring other people, mothers and children, closer around the world.”

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ROTI

Roti
Devan Rajkumar’s mom, Bhano Rajkumar, learned this roti recipe from her mother and passed it down to him. Photo by Suech and Beck

Makes: 4

1 cup flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup ghee

Step 1

Combine all ingredients, except ghee, in a bowl.

Step 2

Form a well in the centre, then slowly add 3/4 cup water and mix with your fingers to form a dough. Cover with a damp paper towel and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces and roll into balls.

Step 3

Dust a dough ball with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the ball into an 8-inch disc. Brush a thin layer of ghee over the disc and sprinkle with flour. Using a knife, make a straight cut from the centre of the disc to the outside edge. Take one cut edge and fold it back over the dough. Fold over again and again, around the disc, until you create a cone shape. Tuck the tip into the centre of the cone and wrap into a ball. Slightly flatten into a small disc and cover with a damp paper towel. (This will help ensure the layers don’t separate when the dough is rolled out again.) Repeat with the remaining balls of dough. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.

Step 4

Heat a griddle or tawa over medium heat. Dust a disc with flour, then roll out to about 8 inches in diameter. Add to the pan and cook for a minute, until bubbles start to form. Flip with a spatula, then lightly brush ghee over the surface and fry for another minute or so. Flip again, then lightly brush more ghee and flip. Fry for another minute, until puffed up and lightly golden brown on both sides.

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Step 5

Transfer to a clean, dry dish towel. Clap the roti between your hands so the layers separate a little and it becomes flaky. Repeat with the remaining roti.

MOM’S DHAL

Dhal
“It’s the perfect expression of my family,” writes Devan Rajkumar of his mother Bhano Rajkumar’s dhal. Photo by Suech and Beck

Serves: 4

Dhal:
1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 Wiri Wiri chili peppers, to taste (see note)
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin, toasted
1 cup baby spinach leaves
Roti to serve (see recipe)

Chunkay (see note):
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

Step 1: Dhal

Add 10 cups water to a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Stir in split peas and salt. Add garlic, Wiri Wiri chili pepper(s), onion, scallion, curry powder, turmeric and cumin. Mix well. Cover partially, then simmer for 35-40 minutes, until split peas are softened. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Stir in spinach.

Step 2: Chunkay

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add cumin seeds — they should sputter once they hit the oil. Cook for 30 seconds before adding garlic, then fry until golden brown.

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Step 3: Assembly

Carefully pour the chunkay into the dhal. Cover with a lid and set aside for 2-3 minutes to trap the aromas. Stir, then serve.

Notes: Chunkay is a way of tempering aromatics before they’re added to a dhal. East Indians have something similar called tadka or tarka.

Wiri Wiri chili peppers can be substituted with half the amount of Scotch bonnet or habanero chili peppers.

SAFFRON KHEER

Saffron kheer
Growing up in Toronto, Devan Rajkumar helped his grandmother (“and all the grandmothers”) on Sundays at a local Hindu temple by stirring the kheer and scraping the bottom of the pot. This recipe for the South Asian rice pudding is one his mom and grandmother made as a sweet finish for a home-cooked meal when he was a child. Photo by Suech and Beck

Serves: 4

1/4 cup basmati rice
2 tsp ghee
4 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups whole milk
Pinch of saffron, plus extra to garnish
5 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chopped nuts (such as cashews, almonds, pistachios), plus extra to garnish
2 tbsp golden raisins
1 tsp rose water
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Step 1

Rinse rice under cold running water, until water runs clear. Soak rice in a small bowl of room temperature water for 30 minutes.

Step 2

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine ghee, drained rice, cardamom and cinnamon. Toast over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes, until fragrant.

Step 3

Pour in milk and increase heat to medium. Bring to a gentle simmer, then stir in saffron.

Step 4

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Cook rice, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent burning, until tender. Fold in sugar, nuts and raisins. Simmer for another 5 minutes to infuse flavours. Stir in rose water. Remove from heat.

Step 5

Serve warm or chilled, garnished with nuts and saffron.

Recipes and photos excerpted from Mad Love: Big Flavors Made to Share, from South Asia to the West Indies — A Cookbook by Devan Rajkumar. Photography by Suech and Beck. Copyright ©2023 by Devan Rajkumar. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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