We are back again with another Ramadan feature. Today, we have Sumayya Usmani of My Tamarind Kitchen, who is a food writer and teacher, lending us her advice on adopting a balanced food diet and sharing two delicious recipes with us.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and how you started My Tamarind Kitchen?
I am a food writer and teacher based in the UK, but I have lived most of my life in Karachi, Pakistan. I grew up in a family where food was central to living, growing your own, cooking, creating recipes and preserving heritage ones. I never learnt cooking in a conventional way. Picking up the concept of flavour, spice combination, cooking techniques merely by absorbing conversations between my mother, grandmothers and aunts, talking over the dining table or in the kitchen. I always knew my food as Pakistani, nothing else. It is when I moved to the UK about 9 years ago, I realized that not many people understand the differences or the subtleties of my country’s cuisine and how to distinguished it from others of the region. This is the passion behind My Tamarind Kitchen, to bring the flavour that defines my homeland to people.
You are specialised in Pakistani Cuisine, what would you say is the best thing about Pakistani cuisine?
I would say that the most definitive thing about Pakistani cuisine is that is a rich confluence of the region; the cuisine is a melting pot of regional cuisines, imprinted by invasion, migration, and geographical position and ethnicity diversity. It is this unique disparity that makes Pakistani cuisine distinctly different to others in its region. Our food is influenced by Arabian, Persian, Pakistani regional, Mongol, Central Asian and Indian, so it is indeed quite unique. Our cooking techniques are based in layering flavour, spice and the methods of cooking are what distinguish many of our recipes from other Sub-Continental ones with similar names.
Balance is key in everything we do. What would be your advice in leading balanced food pattern during the month of Ramadan and beyond?
The key is to ensure that your body is not deprived of essential nutrition. So, as much as we crave deep fried, sweet and sugary foods, we mustn’t forget that we essentially only missing one main meal, therefore the focus must be on eating food that has an ability to release energy slowly and can keep us going through the day mentally, physically and emotionally – as a result harbouring unhealthy cravings!
Could you share two of your favourite foods to have for iftaar?
I love my mother’s Kalay Chanay (black chickpeas) with poppy seeds and tamarind.
They are healthy and slow release, and are a wonderful iftar dish. I personally love halva made from vegetables, though not without sugar, a little is great after opening your fast. I love my grandmother’s recipe for Carrot Halva with pistachios and cardamom which is also a perfect Eid treat.
Please tell us about the current projects over at My Tamarind Kitchen?
I have just finished writing my cookbook called “Summers Under the Tamarind Tree”(Published by Frances Lincoln) which is out in Spring 2016. This is a memoir-based cookbook, which includes the recipes I grew up with and others I have created inspired by my heritage and also includes my food memories growing up in Pakistan. This book will be the first book on Pakistani food in the UK and I am very excited about it’s launch. I hope that it will bring create a passion for the flavour of Pakistan.
Kalay Chanay Recipe
500 grams uncooked dry black chickpeas (available in most South Asian stores)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp white poppy seeds (available in most South Asian stores)
1 -2 red onions, cut into fine rings
100 ml tamarind chutney – you can use ready made tamarind chutney, or make your own, combine tamarind pulp, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp dry roasted cumin, 1/2 tsp black salt (kalanamak) or chaat masala
Chopped green chillis
1 chopped tomato
Raw red onion rings
1. Soak the black chickpeas overnight in tap water. Drain and boil in water (enough to cover them) until soft – note these don’t get as soft as regular chickpeas and retain a slight texture.
2. In a saucepan, heat the oil, add the cumin, nigella and poppy seeds for about 1 minute until they pop. Now add half the red onions and cook until just slightly soft, allow them to retain a little crunch. Now add the boiled black chickpeas and stir through.
3. Turn off heat and add the tamarind chutney and garnish. Serve warm or cold. Keeps well in fridge covered for unto 7 days.
CARROT HALVA WITH PISTACHIOS
500 g carrots, peeled and grated
400 ml double cream
100 ml fresh milk
100 g caster sugar
5 cardamom pods
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tbsp roughly ground pistachios
to garnish – coconut, pistachios, silver leaf (optional)
red food colour (optional)
Boil the milk and cream together, add the grated carrots, cloves and cardamom seeds. Cook on low heat and keep stirring occasionally and keep an eye on the pan. Cook this until the milk/cream gets absorbed into the carrot (takes about 25-30 minutes on medium low heat). Now add the sugar and keep stirring until it is all mixed in well. Add the coconut and ground pistachios.
Once the halva is thick, deep red (you could add a little red food colour if the carrots are a bit pale) and all the cream/milk and sugar is absorbed, pour into a serving dish, decorate and either serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream or serve cold.
We would like to thank Sumayya for her time, wish her well with her cookbook, and hope to have her again on Haute Arabia in the future.