Ria Mathew has been a food blogger for 12 years and released her first cookbook last month.

An image of a roast chicken on a platter with vegetablesRia Mathew
Features Food Wednesday, January 06, 2021 - 13:46

When Ria Mathew started working on her first cookbook, she knew she didn’t want to feature only traditional Kerala recipes. Instead, the book had to reflect her own life and family: from her grandmother’s knowledge of Malaysian food and her mother’s roots in Kuttanad, to her own childhood in Kannur and her current home in the United States. 

“I’ve never stuck to one particular cuisine. That’s the only way I know how to cook,” she said. “I feel like it takes away the boredom.” 

But she also needed her book to stand out, while appealing to cooks of all levels. The result is Five Ways, published on December 4, 2020, which features 75 sweet and savoury recipes made using five different methods of cooking — baked, fried, steamed, chilled and stirred. That includes garlic and mushroom tarts, chemmeen unda puttu, marbled roasted eggplant and mushroom lasagna, scotch eggs, unniappam, fried cheesecake wontons and so much more. 

Ria, who currently lives in Minneapolis in the United States with her family, started food blogging 12 years ago under Ria’s Collection, but her culinary journey began much earlier on. “I was predominantly in the kitchen from a very young age,” she said. 

She recalls days when she would assist the grown-ups in the kitchen, scraping coconut from the shell for lunch preparations or rolling out chapatis. Then when she was in the ninth standard, she entered an inter-school competition to cook as many dishes as possible in three hours using only basic pots and pans, and a kerosene stove. She ended up cooking 34 dishes. “It was so chaotic,” she recalled. 

Her passion for food led her to Le Cordon Bleu, where she specialised in baking and pastry arts, training at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis and a teaching position at a cooking school. 

To make the book truly her own, Ria looked to influences and connections from her own life to fill its pages. There's crispy spinach chicken, first eaten at a Chinese eatery in Bengaluru, her mother's vegetable biryani, and cappuccino cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting baked for a friend's birthday.

It also included southeast Asian flavours from her grandmother, such as a soy and ginger baked chicken, which still remains a family favourite. “Mamma was an excellent cook and could cook pretty much from every cuisine with the same ease that she could cook our nadan Kerala food,” Ria writes in the cookbook. 

There are also Bournvita biscuits — “A crisp brown biscuit with caramel undertones and a little bit of sticky Bournvita on the top" — which Ria recalls her cousin bringing back from a bakery in Goa during their college days in Bengaluru. Years later, she recreated the biscuit in her home in the US during a snowstorm before it wound up in the cookbook.

“Everything has an attachment to my past,” she said. 

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