Sav Winslow's home-cooked vegetarian Indian treats

A mother's quest for her son leads to organic vegetarian projects, writes Angharad Hampshire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 9:37am

It wasn't until Sav Winslow left India that she really appreciated the culture of her native country and the large, bustling home in which she grew up.

"I never thought I'd miss my roots like that; I missed the warmth, the congeniality, the people and the food," she says.

She and her husband, Peter, met while working for express delivery company DHL in Delhi and set up home in the Indian capital. But when their eldest child, Josh, was born with Down's syndrome about 20 years ago, they relocated to Australia so that he could have access to better facilities for special needs children.

The move also honed Winslow's skills in Indian vegetarian cooking, which she now teaches at weekly classes here, and sparked her passion for organic produce.

Brought up vegetarian, she says she found dining choices were very limited when she first moved Down Under. "I'd go to a barbecue, where the only vegetarian food was a bit of salad, which just wasn't enough."

Fortunately, hosts often asked their guests to bring a platter, so she started making homestyle Indian dishes to ensure there was something she could eat. To her surprise, meat eaters loved the food, too, and started asking for recipes, boosting her confidence and inspiring her to expand her repertoire.

Winslow, a mother of four, learned about zesty Indian cooking from her own mum, a passionate cook and "party person".

"Mum never cooked complicated dishes; they were always simple meals but so full of flavour that everyone was always keen to come round," Winslow says.

Their home in Delhi was constantly brimming with people, noise and food, and there were usually two or three extra people at the dining table - neighbours, friends or other members of her parents' large extended family.

Away from India, Winslow often found herself calling home for recipe tips and emotional support from mum.

It was after her husband's work took the family to Singapore that she began incorporating organic ingredients into family meals. The dietary change was largely driven by a special home-schooling programme they adopted that is designed to help children with brain injuries achieve their full potential.

Devised by the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, it required the family to visit the US every six months for intensive immersion. Nutrition was a key component. "Josh had to be yeast free, gluten free, egg free, wheat free, pesticide and chemical free," Winslow says, recalling how she had to throw out most of the food in her pantry.

Although they abandoned the programme after 31/2 years, she credits this exposure with igniting her passion for organic food.

"It was so drilled into my system that I decided we could never go back," she says. "The good thing is that a lot of Indian food is vegetarian, organic, gluten free, and so on. I had more respect for what I had been brought up with."

When the need to give Josh better care and education took the family back to Sydney, Winslow decided to join two friends in remedying the dearth of dining options for vegetarians. They set up Daal Connections, a venture offering home-made Indian meals.

"We wanted to show people that you can actually make a vegetarian meal that is tasty, filling, nutritious, with no nasties in it - that you don't have to have meat with every meal."

Their dinners were so popular that the team had more work than they could cope with, but the business eventually closed when one partner left to have a child and the other moved abroad.

"We hardly made any money, but we had so much fun," says Winslow. "But I could not do it by myself, so we had to shut down."

When her husband's career brought the family to Hong Kong in 2009, Winslow was keen to get back into action: "I knew I wanted to work and that I wanted to do something with food."

While mulling her choices, the unexpected death of one of the mothers at her daughter's school spurred her to act.

"It was quite a shock and really made me think about the unpredictability of life. It drove home that you only live once, should take a chance and not let life pass you by."

That's how Sav's Cookery Classes were launched two years ago. She conducts the 21/2-hour classes on Wednesday mornings from her home kitchen in Chung Hom Kok and keeps the number of students to a maximum of six so they remain intimate. "We cook, we chat, we eat. It's like my mum's house," she says.

A typical meal features dhal palak (spinach cooked with lentils), ghiya ki sabzi (curried bottle gourd), mango lassi (a yogurt drink) and misi roti (a kind of tandoori bread). The menu is predominantly vegetarian and always organic. Everyone gets a goody bag to take home containing exact amounts of all the dry ingredients so there is no excuse not to try the recipes.

Winslow now hopes to take her organic home-cooked food in another direction by running a private kitchen.

"Everybody always asks me what my favourite Indian restaurant in Hong Kong is. But most places here use ingredients I would not eat and you never know how fresh it is. That bothers me," she says. "I know I can produce food that is really fresh, tasty and organic. If there's a market for all that junk, then there's a market for this."

For details of the classes, e-mail