MONALI Raleraskar is on a mission to demystify the misconceptions surrounding spice.

And her food is already giving diners across north Essex quite a kick - with plans to open a restaurant of her own within the year.

Former barrister Monali, who moved from London with her family to Colchester, admits she had always loved cooking but having worked within the law for 15 years it was to this she returned after having each of her three children.

But having grown up cooking traditional Indian dishes, inspired by those cooked in Mumbai and Southern India, she began thinking about giving her cooking more time.

She says nursing her mother at the end of her life gave her a new perspective and made her take a new direction.

"My mum passed away two years ago and I nursed her in her final days which gave me a different perspective on life.

"We lived in London and when my first child was born I thought then about going into business, although that was baby food, but I fell back into law because it what I knew.

"But with losing my mum and looking at life in a different way I thought I would give it a go because I could always go back to the law afterwards," she says.

That seems unlikely since Monali has already been building up a following for what she describes as "fusion food."

Echo: Treat - Chilli Chocolate brownies

"It is Indian food but not rice and curry as you would normally expect it.

"There is nothing wrong with rice and curry of course, but what I am trying to do is show people what you can do with spices.

"People can sometimes be a bit scared by spice, they think it automatically means heat but that is not the case and so I suppose I am trying to demystify the use of them in that sense," explains Monali.

She has taken recognisable cuisine which might not necessarily crop up on an Indian menu, such as sausage rolls and croquettes, and given them a spicy twist using the contents of her spice cupboards.

The result is a selection of tapas style plates which people can sample as part of a taster menu which has already proved popular with foodies at the most recent Bazaar food market held at First-site every two months.

"The dishes that were particularly popular, judging on the sales and the feedback, were things like the minced lamb croquettes with coriander and star anise and the sausage rolls and scotch eggs with star anise."

And there is a long-term plan in mind using the feedback Monali is receiving.

Echo: Flavour - Tropical cheesecake

She is already planning to launch a restaurant which will be called Purple Elephant, the brand she is already trading under, and will feature the dishes currently being served up at the foodie events.

"The dishes that do really well will go on the menu so I am already looking at what I will feature.

"I have started to look at suitable premises but I am hoping that the word will be out there and I will have built up a following," says Monali who will be appearing at the Colchester Food & Drink Festival in Castle Park at the end of June.

"I do all the cooking fresh and I already do cookery demonstrations so I like to cook it as people are watching.

"Purple Elephant is also an outside catering company as well.

"I thought a lot about the name and I wanted the branding to be modern and clean and I think elephants are something people associate with India and they are very recognisable, and purple is my favourite colour so that is why I chose that."

Monali says India is such a big country, and has so many culinary influences and idea, she is still learning herself.

Echo: Sweet potato with chickpeas and sausage rolls

"I am always researching and reading so my influences are not just from there.

"My ideas are from everywhere but spices and things like that are more regional," says Monali who as set herself the challenge of opening her Purple Elephant premises within a year.

"I am already looking at promising places but I wanted to make sure I got on and did it so I have launched the branding now and am trying to build up a following for when I open."

* The Colchester Food & Drink Festival takes place in Colchester's Castle Park on Saturday June 23 and Sunday June 24.