Thursday, 27 November 2014

spiced pumpkin pecan butter

spiced pumpkin pecan butter
i recently became part of the editorial team of foodand_; an on-line food journal that provides a community for talented individuals, creatives and cooks to collaborate and share their skills and stories with a wider audience. with thanksgiving round the corner, it seemed appropriate for the editorial team to work together on a series of recipes and features. we agreed that what we wanted was for to take traditional ingredients like pumpkin, cranberries and sweet potatoes and transform them into not-so-traditional recipes. this spiced pumpkin pecan butter was created in that spirit. 

i am unfamiliar with the tradition of thanksgiving, as i have not celebrated it. however, its theme of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest is one that resonates across cultures. in pakistan (which is where i grew up), the festival of basant shares roots with thanksgiving, as it too celebrates seasons and their bounty. basant marks the beginning of spring. in the flatlands of the agricultural punjab, the horizon is marked with fields of mustard flowers. friends and family come together to fly kites in the narrow streets of the old walled city in lahore. there is music, merriment and of course food. the traditional menu celebrates the crop of the season. sarsoon ka saag is a vegetarian dish made with mustard and spinach leaves cooked in a delicately spiced clarified butter and thickened with wholemeal flour. it is eaten with makai ki roti; a thick unleavened flat-bread of crumbly constitution made of maize flour and brushed with plenty of ghee.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

naan khatai, pakistani biscuits with a melting texture

naan khatai
i always remember our house being well stocked with biscuits. there were the regular and perfectly shaped ones from cardboard boxes that included peek freans peanut pik with slightly soft peanuts; cumin laced click and the plain jane marie. lu brand biscuits were crisper and more interesting – the scalloped shape of prince chocolate sandwiches was a kin to laser cut paper doilies. a snack pack of these often graced my school lunchbox. candi, a brown sugar biscuit had little bits of caramelised sugar. gala usually made an appearance when we had guests as they had a dainty design and a richer brioche like flavour. salt flecked tuc was the lone savoury classic. sometimes, there would be a blue tin of royal dansk’s danish butter cookies with an aroma of freshly baked pound cake.

Friday, 3 October 2014

pakistani spiced apple chutney + o's boarding school tales

m's pakistani spiced apple chutney
before i met o, much of what i knew about boarding school was from books that i inherited from mama’s childhood collection. there was roald dahl’s ‘boy’ with its rambunctious descriptions of boarding school. it spoke of a world inhabited by strict headmasters, stern matrons and care packages from home brimming with nostalgia and longing. enid blyton’s ‘malory towers’ was a detailed sketch of a british all girl’s boarding school and was much more gleeful than coolidge’s american ‘what katy did next’. as much as i loved the books, they did not inspire a love for boarding school. i could not conceive of being away from home in an environment of abysmal school dinners and strict teachers. it is perhaps the reason why i never understood o’s love for his boarding school days until i met andrew maclehose, his headmaster.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

edible genoa

tortelli with octopus ragu
we drove to genoa stopping en route in pisa to see the leaning tower. the expanse of grass that surrounds it was heaving with people trying to position their hands at an angle that would make it appear as if they were leaning against it. few stopped to admire its angled stance. after having looked at it, we returned to our journey. the landscape lining the autostrade varies, dipping into shallow hills and bends with splashes of green. every so often fields of sunflowers would appear on the horizon as rows of gold. the drooping posture of the large flower heads looked like sun bonnets curtsying in the breeze. the descent into genoa is on a circular road much like a ramp in large car parks. as the car descends a city of steps comes into view with the sea shimmering in the background. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

edible florence

ricotta and lemon tortelli at ristorante del fagioli
on our first evening in florence the sun set over ponte vecchio colouring the sky flamingo pink. the duomo was bathed in strawberry blonde and the river arno changed colour to ink blue. florence is much more compact than rome. but like rome it is marked by history and grandeur. piazzas with fountains, churches and old buildings punctuate its narrow cobbled streets. the ascent to piazzale michelangelo affords a panorama of the city and even here the duomo reigns supreme.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

edible rome

aperol spritz at ai tre scalini
rome displays the passage of history through her architecture, a wealth of art and culture. her timelessness is expressed as her being the eternal city. her streets and alleyways lead onto piazzas and fountains or fortified walls and monuments that hold the secrets of her past. it is these secrets that whisper to people all over the world, drawing tourists in hoards. even in the enervating heat of july, queues of people snaked around the walls of the vatican and the curvaceous structure of the colosseum. there were moments when both o and i were swept into tour groups feeling like cattle being herded by sheepdogs. at others, we had to wait to see pieces of art that were being admired through the click of a lens. i would have loved to have the leisure to be present in rome’s past without vying for space with those who had the need for constant preservation in pixel form.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

gajjar ka murabba; a pakistani sweet carrot preserve

gajjar ka murabba; pakistani sweet carrot preserve
the long, languid days of the pakistani summer always remind me of vacations in lahore. when our schools would close, mama, m and i would take the coach to lahore to spend time with our extended family. lahore (also known as the cultural capital of pakistan) draws its heritage from the mughal and the raj era. its broad boulevards are bisected by the muddy brown waters of the lahore canal. in summer throngs of boys and young men swim in those muddy waters, their shalwars blooming into mud stained balloons. in winter, it is often shrouded by thick fog, the kind that severely obscures vision. the tresses of weeping willows that brushed the canal have long since disappeared, to make way for larger roads for an ever expanding populace. the city has changed so much since the days of my girlhood.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

on seasons and their flavours + a recipe for elderflower fritters

elderflower fritters
seasons have flavours. winter is citrus. i associate it with the bitter fragrance of seville oranges. these are the kind of oranges that require a generous amount of sugar to make them edible and are best preserved as marmalade. autumn is for apples, pears and quince. they love warming spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anise. spring is for rhubarb whose tartness loves sweet and crumble. summer is a combination of strawberries and elderflower.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

baby beets with a walnut rose dressing

baby beets and fennel with a walnut rose dressing
this recipe was developed for natoora who sent me some beautiful baby beets (candy and yellow) and fennel to play with. i paired them with a nutty walnut oil dressing subtly fragranced with rose water. it lends itself to becoming a full meal with the addition of chickpeas, labne and toasted walnuts. the recipe appears on natoora's blog here.   

chard with white balsamic + yoghurt and almonds

rainbow chard with white balsamic
i have guest posted a recipe for rainbow chard with white balsamic for natoora. head over to their blog for it.  

Saturday, 14 June 2014

a note to baba on father's day + crème caramel

crème caramel for baba
my paternal grandfather died before i was born, so my memories of him are derived from family recollections. my favourite is of him taking my baba for hand churned ice-cream when he was little. over the years baba and i have come to share rituals similar to those that he shared with his father.

these have included banana splits at yummy 36 in pindi. the ice-cream parlour was a sleek space with booths and large scale pictures of sundaes and milkshakes illuminated in light-boxes. in summer, the air conditioning would make the marble table-tops colder than the ice-cream itself. when i think back, i realise that this was my first brush with americana. baba and i would share a banana split served in a stainless steel boat-shaped dish. the lengthwise split banana sandwiched a trio of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice-cream; their bright colours boldly proclaiming their artificial colouring. it was decorated with a crown of whipped cream, sprinkled with nut debris and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

on how to eat watermelon the way baba does

watermelon with maldon salt
there used to be a fruit wallah at the corner of college and kohsar road in f-7 in islamabad. he displayed his produce in pyramids on his rehri. in the summertime roughly hewn crates holding cherries, apricots and mangoes would be added alongside. baba would stop to buy fruit from the khan after picking us up from school. the heat would encourage the produce to release its scents, leaving the air heavy with sweet. this would attract a colony of wasps and bees, their business lining sound with a constant buzz. i was afraid to roll down the window for fear of being stung. 

over time, i came to recognize the fruits by their fragrance. apricots were delicate like blossom honey. peaches like light caramel. mangoes were a collective of two and sometimes sickly sweet. hard skinned fruits like cantaloupe and lychees gave nothing of themselves. a trait they shared with watermelon contained by its green exterior. i always thought it reticent and secretive.

Friday, 23 May 2014

memories of a persian dinner + a whipped ricotta and radish tartine

o's whipped ricotta and radish tartine
 radishes – plump, squat globes the colour of ruddy pink cheeks, much like those of my kashmiri relatives. i buy bunches of them at my local grocer, their leafy heads tied so tight, it evokes memories of the ponytails mama used to style my hair into. radishes look pretty shaved into thin rounds that show their contrasting crimson rim and white interior. they are presented whole at my parent’s lunch table. baba bites the crunchy flesh, alternating with curry scooped with roti. their peppery heat compliments whole spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric and red chilli that are an essential feature of pakistani food.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

reworking a childhood favourite for food&_

labne, honey and zaatar
i have written about my childhood favourite dahi cheeni, literally translated, yoghurt sprinkled with sugar and its reworked version of labne, honey and zaatar on food and. the story begins at my parents house when 'i sat down to a breakfast of yoghurt drizzled with honey with a sprinkle of roba’s mother’s palestinian zaatar. i ate it with toasted roghni naan, a clay oven baked flat bread made from dough enriched with milk, sprinkled with sesame seeds and brushed with ghee.' 

read the full piece and the recipe here.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

edible barcelona: chocolate, churros and turrón

praline hot chocolate at escriba
the italian operatic tenor pavarotti once said - "one of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." it is as if this was written for o, whose love for sightseeing must be tempered with ample breaks along side the customary three meals of the day. my tourist map therefore always includes circles around streets with cafes and patisseries. in barcelona these assume the form of granja’s, xurrerias’ and turrón boutiques.

we had espresso cups of hot chocolate stained with praline and crushed nuts at escriba, a fourth generation pastry shop founded in 1906. spanish hot chocolate is thick like french hot chocolate but with a mellower richness, as it is made with cocoa and thickened with cornstarch. escriba’s façade is done up with tiles in candy colours with gold writing. there is a display of delicate and refined patisserie along with bags of powdered hot chocolate, one of which travelled home with us.

Friday, 11 April 2014

edible barcelona: tapa, montadito and pepito

tuna tataki and white fish ceviche at tapaç 24
o and i were in barcelona in early december last year and were instantly charmed by its cheerfulness. the cold was mild and there was plenty of warm custard coloured sunshine. some of gaudi’s architecture dotted around the city is reminiscent of the candy-esque colours of the witch’s house in hansel and gretel. even in the barri gòtic (gothic quarter) the sun illuminates the otherwise grey-black architecture giving barcelona lightness. our five days featured a whirlwind of museums, la sagrada família, park güell and of course plenty to eat.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

salted chocolate olive oil granola + fauji cornflakes

salted chocolate olive oil granola
breakfast cereals never fascinated me as much as they did my brother m. i had a brief affection for frosties but looking back that had more to do with the novelty, rather than the taste of them. baba first bought them from a bonded warehouse where diplomats used to purchase the familiar tastes of home. they were a treat rather than a breakfast staple. perhaps m liked cereal more because he was from the generation that did not have to eat fauji cornflakes; the military brand of cereal that was lacklustre and limp at the first introduction of milk. my dadi would eat them with hot milk. m’s particular favourite were coco pops, a talking cereal that crackled like popping candy in milk. the puffed rice grains would relieve themselves of their sugary chocolate coating colouring and flavouring the milk to a nursery like chocolate milk.

Monday, 3 March 2014

breakfast rituals + salted hazelnut butter

toasted hazelnuts
on sunday i will have breakfast at my parents’ home in islamabad. this first breakfast is ritualistic; there shall be numerous cups of hot cardamom laced tea to erase the sleepiness of a disrupted night and quarters of roghni naan toasted till crisp in the toaster. two hopeful and expectant cats will anxiously await their share of breakfast. mama will give them titbits of bread and adam’s cheese. before we sit down to eat i will bring forth bandaged and bubble wrapped jars of homemade preserves and condiments that i will have carried for my parents.

when i was little weekday breakfasts were a fraught affair. there were boiled eggs to contend with along with my dadi’s insistence on drinking a glass of buffalo milk. she would claim that it was strained but i knew that was untrue. little pieces of cream and skin that would make me gag would prove otherwise.

Friday, 21 February 2014

desi omelette; the perfect weekend brunch

weekend brunch
an omelette is a blank canvas for breakfast, lunch or dinner. at its simplest and most frugal, a briefly whisked mixture of egg seasoned with salt and pepper is poured into a well-buttered hot pan, nudged with a spatula to make soft gentle curds and then left to set until just cooked. the centre should remain tender. it can be made substantial for lunch or dinner by way of fillings. almost every country has its version, from the crêpe like french one to thick italian frittata's akin to crust-less quiche or the intensely herbaceous baked iranian kuku. a desi omelette is the sub-continental version.

eggs and i used to have a complicated relationship. when i was younger i disliked yolks (especially soft-boiled or sunny sideup). mama on the other hand saw them as essential nutrition and insisted that both m and i have one for breakfast. i can remember the dread of a soft boiled egg as it if it were yesterday. mama would bring them to the table in their shells, nested in an egg cup with buttered toast on the side. i would sit and watch the egg warily hoping that the need to get to school on time would do away with breakfast. that of course was wishful thinking as mama would make sure that i would eat before leaving. i loved all manner of omelettes, pancakes and baked goods though since the yolks in these were camouflaged. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

tartine's salted chocolate-rye cookies

salted chocolate-rye cookies with a cardamom laced tea
meet the cookie that tastes as good as its raw dough. the truth is i usually bake so that i can indulge in the dough or batter. it almost always tastes better than the baked version. this is not the case with tartine’s salted chocolate-rye cookies. these slightly irregular discs spread a little in the oven; their surface cracks intimating an interior that is dark and fudge like. the pinch of salt on its mound is savoury at first bite and then sweetness floods the mouth.

in my growing years, it was the biscuit and not cookie that reigned supreme. i met my first chocolate-chip cookie in chicago in the summer of 1999 and was instantly smitten. cookies command an easy affection because they are a little bit everything that is good about baked treats. they are soft and crisp, fudge like without being cloyingly sweet and they can be studded with chocolate chips and nuts. whilst i still love a biscuit of sturdy constitution, one that holds itself even when dunked, there is nothing i love more than a warm cookie with a milky coffee.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

on how kichari soothes an upset stomach

i remember a complex set of rules and regulations about eating out from my childhood. pakistani tap water is unfit for drinking and therefore we always had boiled and eventually filtered water for this purpose. when we ate out we always bought mineral water. at casual and street-food like dining places we were not allowed to eat salad (because this was likely to have been washed with tap water) and there was no to be no ice in our cold drinks. ingredients that spoiled easily, especially those requiring refrigeration like diary and seafood were only to be eaten at trusted places. these rules were meant to protect us against water borne diseases and diarrhoea.

the lack of salad did not trouble me as much as being unable to drink mango milkshakes so thick that they would require effort to be pulled through the large straws inserted in them. the same is to be said of club soda with fresh lime and seven-up. also off bounds were the treats from the mooli wallah outside my school gate. i envied my classmates who would get long juliennes of mooli heavily anointed with chaat masala. this snack with its sharp, chilli and chatpata flavours would make the lips tingle and the mouth pucker but fell foul both on account of the ‘tap water’ and food hygiene rule. by secondary school i had worked out a way in which to eat mooli without my parents finding out. fortunately my stomach was sturdier than that of my sibling and rarely suffered setbacks. m often had an upset stomach and at times like these mama had to keep him from his favourite foods like mangoes, biryani, pulao, channa dhal and saalan chawal. she would also prepare kichari. kichari has the disposition of nursery food. it is gentle with a mere suggestion of spice. some may even call it bland but its restorative qualities are well known to the sub-continent and are echoed in other cultures that have similar rice based dishes. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

o's favourite kedgeree and its relations with kichari

m's kedgeree
it is a well-known fact that kashmiri’s love rice. my maternal family has kashmiri heritage and it is here that i first witnessed rice being scooped up with naan. babcia often found this trait peculiar given that it involved eating two forms of carbohydrates together. years later when i married o i discovered that he has similar loves. in fact i sometimes wonder whether he is secretly a kashmiri given his love for rice, eating two or more carbohydrates together and even kashmiri tea whose dusty rose colour i love but whose thick milk skin crusted with pistachios i cannot abide. when it comes to pakistani food he loves the labour intensive biryani with a heady masala base, a simpler and judiciously spiced chicken pulao or even the gentle and nursery like kichari intended to soothe poorly constitutions. he is partial to italian risotto, spanish paella, korean bibimbap and chinese egg fried rice. it should therefore come as no surprise that he took instantly to kedgeree.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

chicken pulao and biryani friday's

chicken pulao with cucumber raita
when he was a boy, my brother m designated friday lunch to be biryani. we were living in our f-7/2 house at that point and our cook-cum-driver siraj was in charge of cooking. he was sindhi and had a fiery temperament that was reflected in the spicing of the biryani. in addition, his shoddy kitchen habits caused mama much discomfort. fortunately we had a lean-to kitchen annexed to the house where siraj was encouraged to cook. it often resembled a battlefield when he was done.

every once in a while mama, baba and i would encourage m to alter the friday menu and on days like these he would concede to chicken pulao. i must confess that i much preferred the chicken pulao. i often think of it as a distant relation of biryani. it is true that it lacks the chilli spiciness of biryani and its base is pared down in comparison. but made well, it shares the complexity of flavours and like biryani is a one-pot meal. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

baba's tomato chutney with hard boiled eggs

baba's tamatar ki chutney with ublay huay unday
baba would make his tamartar ki chutney on lazy sunday afternoons. it would often appear at a time that was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, upsetting the balance of the day’s meals. but it did not matter because it is a firm yusuf family favourite. the tomato chutney has an element of umami with bright sparks of heat lent by thin rounds of fresh green chilli and coarse black pepper. the protein in the hard-boiled along with the velvet yolk is a soothing counterpoint to the sharper flavours of the chutney.

baba would cook this in a karahi that has been in my parent’s kitchen since the past decade. its bottom is black with consistent use over a naked gas burner, and its insides are well seasoned like that of a much used skillet. he would boil eggs simultaneously and since he prefers them very well done, the yolk would always be rimmed with a blue-black halo. this is my only point of departure from his recipe because i like firm whites and yolks that are velvet like. a hard long boil makes the white rubbery and the yolk dry. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

brownies for sk and the best of friendship

alice medrich's best cocoa brownies
sk, do you remember your bedroom in the f-7 house, the one with the lilac walls? you always emphasised that it was lilac and not purple. we spent long summer afternoons there when the sun blazed relentlessly. my dadi used to say one should stay indoors in the summer because the lu (hot air) could give one heatstroke. i remember that the concrete on the front porch would get so hot that when water was thrown on it, the heat would rise from the ground and the water would evaporate almost instantly. your air-conditioned bedroom was a sanctuary of cool.

Friday, 10 January 2014

making truffles and remembering childhood confectionery

chambord truffles
i love making truffles. the process starts with the slow, sensual surrender of chocolate to hot cream (or sometimes wine) after which comes the addition of flavours – a hint of spice, the familiar comfort of vanilla or something savoury like salt to amplify sweetness. a box of handmade truffles has become a december custom usually dispatched with some family member or friend en route to pakistan. baba says they should be consumed in moderation and would prefer to stretch their existence; mama is an inveterate chocoholic and finds it hard to resist them. my brother m will exercise restraint for a while and then consume several in one sitting. and a (my sister-in-law) covets the boxes and jars they are packaged in. this year i tried my hand at paul young’s truffles that include muscovado sugar. i love muscovado for its treacle tone and bitter sweetness. 

the yusuf family has a strong affection for confections and morsel sized sweet things. i can map my childhood in relation to these with some recollection of my parents and sibling's favourites. when i was little mama would sometimes tuck a packet of choco-chums into our school lunches as a treat. i loved these oval shaped biscuits whose hollows had a smidgen of chocolate. my brother loved candyland jellies. these came in an assortment of cola bottles, bears, abc’s and rounds coated in crystallised sugar. mama would buy a pack that was intended to be shared between us. but according to her m would work through them greedily so that by the time i was retrieved from school there would be little or none left for me.

Friday, 3 January 2014

babcia's pea soup with some additions

pea soup
when i was growing up we had a maali to tend to the garden. in springtime he would assemble a trellis made from thick cotton thread to support our sweet pea plant. its fragile flowers smelt so intensely of sweetness and had filigree-like tendrils. sometimes i would pick the flowers and place them in the porcelain bowl on our lounge coffee table. they wilted fast but left traces of their fragrance in the air even after their petals closed and shrivelled.

during the winter, peas were bought by the kilo from the sabzi wallah and my dadi would sit in the shade of the veranda with a plastic basket shelling them. baba and i had to be kept at bay because we would eat them faster than they were shelled.

one of my favourite meals was a fragrant pea pulao made with basmati rice and accompanied by a cooling cucumber raita. a variation of this was aloo matar ka salaan (pea and potato curry) on a mound of steamed basmati. and on the weekend a brunch of keema matar (beef mince with peas) scooped with flaky parathas and minted yoghurt was the definition of satisfaction.