There is always room for one more book about food. I love that sense of anticipation. Will I find a recipe that I will cook many times? What ingredients will I need? Will I discover what makes a chef tick?
This month, I’ve been reading about desserts from Pakistan, healthy food from India and a fascinating glimpse of how a Michelin starred chef creates his dishes.
A Kind of Love Story – Tom Sellers
Tom Sellers is chef patron of Restaurant Story in London which has held a Michelin star since 2013. Tom was just 26 at the time. It’s not a recipe book. The photographs are all black and white. At first glance it may not look compelling. But I assure you, if you’d like to understand how a very driven chef thinks, this is the book for you.
Tom is brutally honest about his background and how he came to develop his restaurant and how Tom Aitkens influenced his cheffing skills. It’s a love story about food.
There are insights from his staff and from others (of course including Tom Aitkens). You’ll have a fascinating insight into how some of his signature dishes were created and a glimpse of the man who is continually striving for perfection.
I loved the book, his world feels very alien to me, very bloke-y even, but I certainly want to eat his food. And if you do visit, do take a book with you to add to their library.
Mountain Berries and Dessert Spice – Sumayya Usmani
Sumayya Usmani’s 2016 book “Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and memories from Pakistan” was a wonderful introduction to a cuisine that is little known. I was lucky enough to taste some of her dishes in Edinburgh when she was promoting the book. The flavours were gorgeous and complex and different. Now a year later, she’s written a book that is about desserts “sweet inspiration from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea: Mountain Berries and Dessert Spice.”
I always try out the recipes in books I review and there are usually some ingredients you have to buy in. Who knew it would be difficult to track down semolina? Perhaps not “in” ingredient at the moment. I eventually found it in a large Sainsbury’s with some help!
I define many of the recipes as comfort food. I love rice pudding, my husband doesn’t yet Sumayya’s recipes are made with basmati rather than pudding rice. The saffron infused zarda was delicious. Sweet rice topped with nuts and candied fruit. The texture of the resulting dish was so different from our standard rice pudding that he loved it. At last a chance to include rice pudding on our menu.
I also tried the Malpura semolina pancakes. If you make Scotch pancakes, these are similar in texture. The semolina, buttermilk, flour and spice mixture is left overnight before adding bicarbonate of soda. I did find these stuck to the pan rather, but eventually got the technique.
Definitely a book to dip into. The descriptions that accompany each chapter are fascinating. My tip? You might want to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipes and go easy on the saffron.
Saffron Soul – Health vegetarian heritage recipes from India – Mira Manek
Do you think of vegetarian recipes from India as aiding health? Mira Manek grew up with Gujerati cooking, But it took her quite some time to realise how many of the seeds and grains now promoted as healthy were ones her grandmother used in ages old recipes. This book is Mira’s interpretation of these recipes, some close to the original, others updated. I loved the favourite ingredients section introducing both familiar and unfamiliar ingredients. This leads on to key pastes and garnishes. The recipes are for two people rather than four throughout.
Apparently most of us eat the same breakfast, day in day out. Here is the chance to try something different. The suggestions for breakfast are wide. Homemade chai or a smoothie or quinoa and coconut upma?
For supper one night, I tried the Whole Mung Bean Curry and Mixed Flour Rotis. I had all the ingredients except fresh turmeric. The many spices blended to give a subtle flavour – definitely one I’ll be cooking again. (See the recipe below). I’d not made rotis before. Mira’s version is less fatty than the original and includes wholemeal, quinoa and chickpea flour. I ground up some quinoa in the coffee grinder which worked well. It’s an easy recipe and fun – especially rolling out the rotis.
Gujerati and Mira’s cooking is full of subtle flavours. I agree with Cyrus Toddiwala of Cafe Spice Namaste “I can safely say that Mira’s book will sit by the side of my desk and will get opened very often”,
Many thanks to the authors for their permission to include the following recipes.
Sumayya Usmani’s Bejewelled Parsi Wedding Custard
Custards are not really a typical Pakistani dessert, but this Zoroastrian/Parsi celebratory one is called ‘lagan nu custard’ and is flavoured with nutmeg and cardamom and topped with dried fruit, nuts and rose petals. It’s eaten mostly at wedding parties, but sometimes at the end of a Sunday meal.
Preparation 15 minutes + 2–4 hours chilling Cooking 1 hour 15 minutes | Serves 8–10
1 1⁄2 litres/2 1⁄2 pints/6 1⁄3 cups whole milk
200ml/7 oz/scant 1 cup condensed milk
200g/7 oz/generous 1 cup caster (super fine) sugar
ghee or butter, for greasing 4 small eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
3–4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
a handful each of whole cashews, blanched almonds, nely chopped pistachios, raisins, dried apricots and dried rose petals
Bring the milk to the boil in a non-stick heavy-based saucepan. As soon as it is boiling turn the heat down to low and add the condensed milk and sugar. Stir for 15 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the milk is thick and sticky. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 110°C/220°F/gas mark 1⁄4 and grease a 20 x 15cm/8 x 6-inch baking dish. Using a balloon whisk, beat the eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and ground cardamom in a steel bowl until frothy.
The milk should be tepid before you attempt to stir in the eggs. Slowly stir the eggs in and once it is all combined, pour into the prepared baking dish and bake in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the custard is set and the top is brown.
Allow to cool a little, then chill in the fridge for about 2–4 hours. Decorate with nuts, raisins, and rose petals to serve.
Recipe extracted from Mountain Berries and Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani, published by Francis Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group
Mira Manek’s Whole Mung Bean Curry
I used split mung beans and reduced the quantity to 150 grams for two and served with roti rather than rice. As I did not have fresh turmeric, I added two extra teaspoons of powdered turmeric instead.
This warming, homely and hearty curry is bursting as much with flavour as it is with goodness. It’s great for winter evenings, giving the body a hit of protein and fuel. The fresh ginger and turmeric not only brings out the flavour, but also adds a layer of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
For the rice
200g brown rice
1 litre water
For the mung beans
200g mung beans
1 litre water
For the curry
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, optional
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
10–12 fresh curry leaves
2 dried red chillies, optional
2 onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, Ginger, Chilli and Turmeric Paste (equal measures finely chopped)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons Himalayan salt or sea salt
1 tablespoon jaggery or coconutsugar
handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon passata
juice of ½ lime
sliced cucumber, carrots and radishes, lime wedges and chillies
Rinse the brown rice in a sieve under cold running water, then place in a saucepan with the measured water and ideally leave to soak for 2–3 hours so that it begins to soften. Bring to the boil and boil on a low heat for around 40–50 minutes until soft, then drain. If you boil it without pre-soaking, then increase the cooking time to an hour.
Place the mung beans and measured water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Simmer over a low heat for about 30 minutes or until the mung beans are soft.
Meanwhile, make the base mixture of the curry. Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds and the fenugreek seeds, if using. Once the mustard seeds are popping, add the asafoetida, curry leaves and dried red chillies, if using, then immediately add the onions.
Cook the onions over a medium heat until slightly browned, then add the Garlic, Ginger, Chilli & Turmeric Paste, ground turmeric, cumin and coriander, salt and jaggery. Stir together for 1 minute and then add the coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped tomatoes and passata.
Add the mung beans, once cooked, and the cooking water, to the curry base. Mix together and add a little more water if needed to create a soup-like consistency. Leave to simmer over a low heat for around 10 minutes, then squeeze in the lime and serve with the brown rice, sliced vegetables, lime wedges and chillies.
Recipe extracted from Saffron Soul by Mira Manek, published by Jacqui Small, an imprint of The Quarto Group
Many thanks to Quarto for review copies of Saffron Soul and Mountain Berries and Desert Spice and for featured photos.