Wednesday, 31 October 2012

i do give a fig

fig and pomegranate jam
fresh figs have always been somewhat of a novelty food for me. i cannot remember when i had my first fresh fig but the dried ones were a plenty especially in pakistan. my memory of these are of bone chilling winter afternoons made toasty and warm with gas heaters, because i would usually eat then as a snack at that hour. the dried figs were threaded on a rough textured rope. their skins were were coarse and wrinkled like the calloused hands of labourers and could sometimes be tough. but the flesh on the inside was crunchy with the seeds with a toffee like softness. mama’s friend used to make a lovely warm winter salad by macerating the figs with other dried fruits in juice. the hydration would refresh the skin and plump the flesh.

Monday, 29 October 2012

edible prague

meat in the kitchen at cestr
i wonder how a city like prague with beautiful and delicate architecture can produce such hefty cuisine. my abiding memory of eating in prague is of meat with veins of fat running through it, accompanied by large coins of bread dumplings that tasted like untoasted toast. it was the kind of food that endears itself to discomfort resting in the belly like stone. but there is one dinner worth talking about and that was at cestr. cestr is a modern czech canteen and is a mecca for red meat lovers. it is about uncomplicated and simple food executed to near perfection. the menu is cleverly designed like an invitation. when you lift the sticker to reveal it, there is a postcard detailing the ethos of canteen along with a cattle shaped guide detailing twenty-seven different cuts of meat. o chose the three course and i picked two first courses. to drink we had a czech wine called zweigeltrebe cepage that o had picked. it had a peppery bouquet that mellowed as it breathed. 

downton supper: pearl couscous casserole with preserved lemon & harissa

autumn
autumn in london has found itself suspended by a cold snap. outside the window of our flat a tree with yellow leaves sways gracefully in the wind. its grace is surprising as the winds are fairly strong and very cold, but it appears to be taking a stand for autumn saying it will not be hurried along. for me this is time to make casseroles or stews. such gentle cooking with spices and aromatics is good for the soul. it was only when i had finished cooking that i realised that the spectrum of yellow echoed the yellowing leaves outside. a garnish of roughly chopped parsley breathes freshness and is a reminder that the natural course of seasons will bring re-growth, even if it takes a while. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

culture kitchen at the london review of books

culture kitchen
you will forgive me for beginning at the end of lunch at sunday’s ‘culture kitchen’. it is because the brownie with a thick stroke of pumpkin and white chocolate ganache and a crest of corn flakes toasted in butter was one of the cleverest flavour combinations i have eaten in a while. the pumpkin smoothes the aching sweetness of white chocolate and the cornflake crunch balances the soft textures. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

a pakistani downton supper: chicken hara masala

chicken hara masala

green is the colour of renewal, of beginning afresh. i associate it with bright slices of foliage that cropped from the rock mountains in gilgit, the tentative appearance of spring in london - pale shoots and soft carpet of grass in the parks. green is the glossy growth of trees in the margalla’s refreshed by monsoon rain. green are the pine needles in nathia gali. this recipe is the colour of coriander, albeit slightly subdued in its brightness as it is lightened with yoghurt and cream. the heat also affects the shade. it is best with chicken on the bone as it intensifies the flavour of the masala. but in the interest of time and this being a downton supper i used boneless. i served it on a bed of steamed basmati. a sesame studded naan would be equally good.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

downton suppers: keema and channa pilau

keema and channa pilau
pilau is one of my favourite one-pot recipes. it’s the pakistani equivalent of a casserole and summons comfort and nourishment. i do believe that pilau is a genre of rice dishes given its many versions. my curiosity about its origins prompted a consultation with alan davidson’s oxford companion to food. apparently pilaf or pilau is a method of cooking ‘so that every grain remains separate, and the name of the resulting dish’. pilau can be plain but its popular renditions include flavouring from meat or vegetables.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

a more than perfect chocolate skillet cake

willow bird baking's perfect chocolate skillet cake
friday was the kind of day that i didn’t need. it was the kind of juggle that i associate with an uncomfortable dream where i am juggling a dozen eggs in a blank white room. i have to focus all my attention on juggling for fear of staining the walls with sunflower coloured yolks. you would understand how uncomfortable this is for someone like me who has never ever juggled. in no particular order here is what happened - a permanent marker exploded ink on my wooden table-top, i had to rush to meet two friends in totally different directions and p was due for dinner so i had to find a fix for the stained table. my caramelised sugar seized whilst i was making miso caramel so i had to start afresh and my soba noodles were over done because i was trying to get the caramel right. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

baba's dry beef with chillies; a dinner ritual

ginger, chilli and garlic paste
the ritual of dry beef with chillies as the concluding dinner of my trips to pakistan began when i left to attend university in twenty o one in the united kingdom. the ritual established itself without baba or i making a conscious decision. it is still very much alive a decade later, the only break in the pattern being the year i got married. that was the first time i had left pakistan without a last dinner of dry beef with chillies cooked by baba. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

an afternoon tea from diana henry's salt sugar smoke

salt sugar smoke signed for me
i discovered the world of food writing in the late nineties but it wasn’t until nigel slater’s toast that i seriously started drawing up lists of food writing that i wanted to read. over the last few years my food book rolls have come to include cookery books as well. this is because cookery books today are as much a pleasure to read, as they are to cook from. their prologues and prefaces hold much promise and often reveal the personality of the chef. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

eating pakistan

my annual trips to pakistan include an evolving list of things i want to eat. there are some constants. the first breakfast is always several cups of tapal tea with quarters of toasted roghni naan. the final dinner is always baba’s beef chilli dry with boiled rice. the space between is filled with homemade shami kebabs especially on toast with a slick of mitchell’s chilli garlic sauce and draped with adam’s cheese, afghani kebabs and mantu at kabul restaurant in jinnah, samosa chaat at mashallah chaat house in super market and kulfi from jamil. 

baba's beef chilli dry