In this edition of Ancestral Eats, we’re so excited to be talking to Shreena Vara, a Gujarati mum of two from London ✨ You might already know her from Instagram as @shreepea! Join us as we talk about life as a British-Indian mother, her cultural family traditions, go-to festive foods and so much more. Plus, We’ve got a hearty flavourful khichdi recipe for you that's as wholesome and easy to cook as it is to eat 👀 A versatile recipe that’s perfect for all members of the family no matter what the occasion.
Read on to find out more about Shreena’s heritage, family and everything in between 👇🏻
Q. Hey, Shreena! Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your heritage...
Hiya! I'm Shreena :) I'm a 35-year-old mum of 2 boys! Dhian is 3.5 years and Devan is 11 months old. I live in Hounslow with my husband Prakash, we are both from Gujarat in India but we were born and raised in the London suburbs. I'm currently on the last week of my maternity leave before heading back to my day job in marketing.
Q. Describe your motherhood experience in five words...
Casual chaos, challenging, hilarious and joyful.
Q. We love seeing your life updates on Instagram! What inspired you to start your community and how do you feel knowing that over 13.1k people now follow you?
This was somewhat accidental. Prakash and I were on a reality TV series called Desi Rascals, the first episode was our wedding and it followed our journey as newlyweds and specifically me moving from my parents in Croydon to my in-laws in Hounslow after getting married.
I think it was a topic that related to many South Asian women & the following started from there. The show was short-lived and I didn't really have much to say on Instagram until I had Dhian in 2018 and found myself shell-shocked at new motherhood. Instagram became a place of comfort with so many wonderful people offering support.
There was just so much to learn and take in, especially being Indian that I needed an outlet & sounding board for the things I was enjoying and struggling with. I don't sugarcoat much and definitely overshare but I like highlighting the mundane or 'normal' sides of motherhood because it's what I enjoy consuming...I'm glad my kids aren't the only ones that throw tantrums 🤣
Q. What Indian cultural traditions did you grow up with and that you try and follow in your family home?
All of them! But I think it'll ring true to a lot of Gujaratis that half of the things we grew up doing unfortunately never, properly get passed down. But within our home, we make sure that we sometimes go to the temple for occasions or do pujas (Prayers) at Diwali, have no meat/vegetarian days. Myself growing up I didn't understand the whys and what fors when it came to these traditions. But I try my best to pass as much as I can down to the kids. Weddings were almost the centre of culture and I love an Indian wedding to this day for the food!
As Dhian has grown up it has become more important to me to instil some of our cultures in him but I definitely struggle to teach him accurately because I'm learning at the same time! We make a big deal over the festival of Diwali AKA the Hindu festival of lights. We do Lakshmi puja (a ceremony to the goddess Lakshmi), I read Diwali books in the lead-up to the day and we do lots of fireworks which he loves. Whilst I'm not a devout Hindu we also read him books about our gods, which he loves. Hanuman is his number 1!
Q. For Indians, family plays such a big part in the passing down of cultural values. How has your family helped with this for your little ones?
Omg, without my parents and my Mother-in-law (mil) I'd be lost. It takes a village to raise kids but to add the nuance of heritage, I really rely on our family for that. Praks and I don't speak Gujarati well which is a shame but I like my parents to speak to the boys in Gujarati, as our grandparents did for us, so they can hopefully pick it up over time.
For food, our families are actually essential in the boys getting a taste for Indian food. I am a pretty useless cook, I find it stressful. But there is nothing our mums enjoy more than giving the boys proper home food, particularly vegetable curries or rice dishes like khichdi or biryani. Dhian always asks my mum for Bhakri (a type of Chapatti) and Keri no Ras (mango pulp) and Devan will eat anything going in terms of Indian food, he really enjoys spices. When they visit my mum I ask her to make them things I can't so that they can explore and also build that association of grandparents’ food
Q. How did you introduce these traditional dishes and flavours to your children once they started weaning? What was the first dish they tried?
Devan was a true Indian and his first food was chomping on a mango stone 🤣 tropical fruit plus teething aid, it was a win. Both boys had khichdi as their first Indian taste. It's one of my fave foods to this day, a comforting rice dish that's pretty easy to cook and just wholesome. Dhian is definitely more suspicious of Indian food but I've exposed Devan to stronger flavours earlier by just taking the chillis and salt out of curry and he loves it. If I could be more organised I'd have Saturday be an Indian food day like Sundays are for roasts, that'd be a little tradition I'd like to get to.
Q. What Are the festive Indian traditions/celebrations that you as a family celebrate?
Going to the temple at Diwali is a must. Last year was the first time we took Dhian to the Neasden temple and he was in awe. It's so beautiful and it's a place of calm for me that I want them to have to.
Q. Being a British Indian mother, how are you finding the juggle of teaching your children about their cultural identity? And what do you think helps?
It's so hard, I often feel like a fraud but I'm so proud to be a British Asian that I try to make sure they see themselves in lots of things from books to cartoons. Dhian knows we're from India and we're taking them at the end of the year, so I hope they'll get a good understanding. Keeping them exposed to really simple things from our childhoods also helps I think, so eating simple curries, getting dressed up in Indian clothes, using religious greetings when they see our parents.
Q. Some parents may worry about introducing strong flavours to their little ones, what are your thoughts on this?
The sooner the better. I was definitely slower introducing Dhian to spice early on whereas Devan I just went straight in and he's been so receptive. He responds so well to flavourful Indian food it's a joy to watch and makes me want to cook traditional food a bit more.
Q. What Indian-inspired dishes would you like to see Mamamade add into the mix?
You can't beat a good vegan curry and rice. I also think that's gujis, so snack foods things like potato or onion bhajis or far far (like a crisp) are so great to have around.
Last question! Can you share your go-to Indian weaning recipe with us?
A basic but a staple khichdi! You can add vegetables, tomatoes, onions, garlic and all sorts to khichdi depending on your tastes. It's such a great one-pot comfort food meal that reminds me of home!
Rice – 3/4 cup
Yellow moong dal - 3/4 cup
Water – 5 cups
Turmeric powder – 1/2
Salt – 1 teaspoon (optional)
Ghee – 1 tablespoon (optionally more for topping) (can use any oil)
The above is all you need for the basic khichdi. But if you want to add a hand full of spices, you can add these to the ghee:
Black pepper corns – 10 Cloves
4 Cinnamon - 1-inch stick
Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
Wash the moong dal and rice together several times by changing the water till the water runs clear. Soak the washed rice and dal in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes. Then drain the water.
Add a tablespoon of ghee in a heavy bottom pan and heat unit melted.
Once hot, turn the heat to low and add to it a teaspoon of cumin seeds. As soon as they start to pop/crackle, add in the optional whole spices: cloves, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns.
Add the drained rice and dal into the pan and cool for a minute. Add the turmeric and mix all the ingredients together until coated. Then add 5 cups of water into the pan.
Bring it all to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer. Don't go too far as you don't want the rice to stick or burn. Keep checking and stirring the pan every 10-15 minutes. I prefer to give the boys a wetter/runnier khichdi so if it's drying out just add a bit more water to the mix.
Continue to cook for about 25 minutes, or till the rice and dal have softened and come together. Let the pan stand on a lower heat and cover for another five minutes.
Thank you so much to Shreena for joining us and sharing her Ancestral Eats story 💜 I can't wait to try the khichdi recipe myself 🧑🏽🍳 let us know if you’ve given this recipe a go by commenting below or sending us a picture of your dish on Instagram.
If you’ve been loving our Ancestral Eats stories be sure to check out “Ancestral Eats with Deborah Ajaja - Nigerian Culture + a BLW-friendly Jollof Rice Recipe” and “Ancestral Eats With Sophie Baron A Mix of Culture, Recipes And Jewish Family Traditions”.
Oh, and one last thing share your own Ancestral Eats story with us + your go-to recipe for a chance to get featured on our blog and Instagram - and we might just reward you with some Mamamade loyalty points to use across our website 👀 Comment below or send us a DM on Instagram