Who is Manjula Mishra: I’m the co-founder of Simply Lentils with my business partner Amrita Burman.
Best recent dining experience: After four years in Canberra, we finally had a chance to dine at Daana in Curtin. It was the best Indian food I’ve had in Australia. The Mangalore mavina saasmi – ripe mango in a sweet, sour, spicy and tangy curry – is a complex medley of flavours and I’ve never eaten anything like it. Using ripe mango in a curry sauce without losing the delicate flavours of the fruit and maintaining the aromatic flavours of the sauce is difficult to achieve. Also, the mango sorbet from Messina is vegan and to die for. Now I know why there is such a long queue for their ice cream!
Most embarrassing pantry item: I take pride in the ingredients I stock in my kitchen, but sometimes I’m lazy and tired and want to enjoy some instant noodles. My go-to is Maggi Masala, which takes me back to my childhood. Growing up in a small town in India, instant noodles were a luxury, and we would get them only once every few months.
Must-buy ingredient: Herbs and spices are essential to enhance the flavour of anything I cook. As a child, whenever I cooked, my mum would say, “Manjula is in the kitchen; now my spice cupboard is going to be empty!” I love fresh ginger and coriander and use them extensively.
Next big thing: Plant-based products are definitely the next big trend. People are getting increasingly conscious about the planet, sustainability and their health. I feel plant-based foods are the foods of the future.
Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: I am a new vegan, and these days I am on the hunt for a great vegan brekky (I am so over toast and avo as the only vegan option!) I recently had breakfast at Eighty Twenty café in Braddon and had the vegan buckwheat waffle. It was filling and delicious. And having ice cream on a warm waffle for breakfast is a guilty yet divine pleasure.
My Canberra food secret: Before I went vegan, our weekly Thursday dinner ritual was a prawn hand roll from Urban Fresh Sushi in Greenway. The Bite CBR makes awesome pretzels – you can find them every Sunday at Haig Park Village Markets in Braddon. I also love their yuzu iced tea – it’s so refreshing after a tiring day at the markets. Amirtham Tasty Food in Phillip is another hidden gem if you like authentic and tasty South Indian or Sri Lankan food. Their idli and appam make me nostalgic for my travels in South India.
Biggest culinary influence: My mother. I remember her listening to the radio and writing down recipes that she later experimented with in the kitchen. I have certainly taken after her as I love experimenting and creating new recipes. I consider Shaji Mathradan, executive chef at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra, my mentor, and I learnt a lot when we worked together at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne.
Favourite cookbook: These days, I think food blogs and YouTube are the best “cookbooks”. I started my cake business just by watching YouTube videos before I became a qualified pastry chef. My favourite channel is VahRehVah from chef Sanjay Thumma for authentic Indian recipes. I learnt to make a perfect biryani by watching his simple and entertaining videos.
Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: Altina is changing the way Aussies drink by introducing Zero Proof cocktails using local ingredients. Their cocktails are so refreshing and crisp you won’t need any alcohol to enjoy your special occasion. My favourite is Light Me Up, which has forest berry and wattle seed as key ingredients. Another Canberra-based brand stirring up the drinking scene is Heaps Normal, which specialises in non-alcoholic beer. I still suspect it has some mystery ingredient because it gives me a high whenever I drink it!
What’s on the menu this week: LENbites, our premix for lentils. It makes great tasting, crunchy nuggets that are vegan, gluten-free and so easy to make – a winner with grown-ups and kids. They make amazing vegan burger patties as well.
Where I’m going next: I really want to go to Monster Kitchen and Bar in NewActon since they have a completely vegetarian menu. Vegetarian meals are underrated and I applaud the restaurant’s decision to go herbivore.
Death row meal: I love desserts and would be happy to have a dessert buffet before I die, with a piece of dark chocolate shoved in my mouth before I take my last breath!
My COVID-19 response: Our response to COVID was launching our business. We had planned an event with guests for our launch but instead had to do it on Facebook Live. This not only saved us money, time and effort, it also increased our reach to thousands of people through Facebook.
My really simple recipe tip: Our Simply Lentils Yogi Bowl is a really easy and beautiful risotto-like Indian Ayurvedic meal. You simply add vegetables, herbs and a little oil to the ready-made premix and spices, then cook as per the instructions on the packet and you’ll have a delicious, nutritious meal for the family in under half an hour.
Simply Lentils was born of a desire to introduce more people to the health benefits of legumes, pulses, dhal and lentils while saving time on cooking. Find out more at Simply Lentils.