Recipe book review: Mountain Berries & Desert Spices

I’ve come to baking quite late in life and still find it quite miraculous! You mix wet and dry ingredients, stick them in the oven and hopefully end up with some delicious treat. Like magic!

Mountain Berries & Desert Spices by Sumayya Usmani offers a whole new range of baking opportunities as a journey through the sweet treats of Pakistan. Many and varied they are too. The book starts off with explanations of the exotic ingredients used and moves from delightful fruity dishes through puddings, biscuits, breads, pancakes, doughnuts, samosas, pastries.

The recipes are easy to follow and all the ingredients are readily available in the UK. If you can’t find them in the shops you will online. Here’s a beautiful recipe to tempt you.

And you can win your own copy of this marvellous book – I have two to give away. Find out how to enter below.

Cardamom and rose water marzipan lace

(Badam ki jail)

This Hyderabadi sweetmeat translates as ‘almond lace’ and the name conjures up visions of delicate white fairytale lace. It’s a festive sweet for celebrations and gifts. The art is in its making as the traditional methods are laborious and badam ki jail is always made in abundance. The mixture resembles marzipan, but it dries out quickly so you must work fast.

Preparation 30–40 minutes + overnight soaking

Cooking 10–15 minutes

Makes 8–10

The ingredients

1kg cups almonds with skin on

2 tsp rose water

1kg caster (superfine) sugar

4–6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground

Butter, for greasing

500g icing (confectioners’) sugar, for rolling

To decorate

Edible silver or gold leaf

15g ground pistachios

The instructions

Soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight. The next day, the skins should come off effortlessly.

Place the almonds in a food processor with the rose water and grind until they are very fine and paste-like, then place in a heavy-based saucepan and add the caster sugar and ground cardamom. Cook over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and leaves the sides of the pan. Transfer the mixture to a greased glass dish, cover with clingfilm and allow to cool to the touch.

Now form the mixture into 2 balls. Roll each ball out as thinly as possible, dusting both the board and the rolling pin liberally with icing sugar. Using a 5–7.5cm/2–3-inch cookie cutter (flower shape is best) cut out 16–20 shapes. Divide the shapes into two equal groups. On one of the groups, cover the surface of the biscuits with silver or gold leaf. Then using a tiny cookie cutter (such as hearts), make holes in the middle of each shape in the second group. Place these on top of the silver or gold leaf covered ones.

Dust with ground pistachios and serve or store in an airtight container for 2–4 days.

Recipe extracted from Mountain Berries and Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani, published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group. 

I’m regularly delving into this amazing book. First I made these lovely little sweet puff pastry biscuits called Bakar khani. Very simple, made from puff pastry sprinkled with ground cardamom, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. Sweet, spicy exoticness.

Win a copy of Mountain Berries and Desert Spice

The prize

Two copies of Mountain Berries & Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani worth £20 each.

How to enter

Answer the following question in the comment section of Eating Covent Garden.

What country is the inspiration behind Mountain Berries & Desert Spice?

A India

B Morocco

C Pakistan

D Iran

Terms and conditions

Competition only for residents of the UK.

Closing date for entry will be Sunday 2 July 2017 at midnight.

The winner will be chosen at random after the closing date.

The winner will be notified by email.

No cash alternatives to the prize will be offered. The prize is not transferable.

The editor’s decision is final.

Barbecue, roast and smoke in the Char-Broil Big Easy

So today I’ve got something new and different for you. Isn’t that exciting? I have recently been delivered the UK’s first Gas three-in-one barbecue. It’s called the Char-Broil Big Easy and it’s a neat grill (barbecue), smoker and roaster with a stylish somewhat sci-fi look to it.

It’s now occupying pride of place in my garden and over the next few months I’m going to be telling  you all about it and publishing recipe ideas for this wonderful addition to my cooking alternatives. And you all know how much I love cooking outdoors – must be in my blood.

Ready to go and looking good: My new Big Easy

Roast, smoke and grill

Okay, so here’s the low down. First up is the roasting option – and with the capacity to cook up to 11kgs of meat and vegetables in the basket insert you’ve got those large family gatherings covered. There’s also a special way to cook spare ribs by hanging them on four integrated stainless steel hooks – but more of that later.

For hot smoking, the Big Easy has a pull-out box to fill with wood chips of your choice – and who knew how many different types there were. I’ve ordered a selection in anticipation of some serious smoking coming up.

Finally, if all you’re after is a quiet barbecue, the Big Easy has a handy grill that fits to the top.

Rotisserie-style roast chicken

Today I decided to start with the simplest of tasks. My love of rotisserie chickens and my consumption of them (particularly in Spain) is widely known. And I had the thought that cooking a chicken in the Big Easy’s roasting basket would be a very similar process. So, keeping it simple like I said, I rubbed my chicken thoroughly all over with a little olive oil and propped it up in the basket. At 15 mins per 450g it was ready 35 minutes later. And perfectly ready! The aromas as I lifted the lid washed over me and transported me back to those rotisserie sellers in my favourite Spanish markets.

Char-Broil: chicken in the Big Easy

The chicken browns in the roasting basked

You can see from this picture how large the basket is. Having said that, it roasted with my smaller chicken (big enough for 4-5 people) perfectly. It’s also a really healthy way of cooking as your chicken isn’t sitting in any oil though it still comes out with lovely crispy skin.

Char Broil: Roast chicken in the Big Easy

Close up on the roasting chicken

Change the flavours of your roast chicken

Be adventurous and add international flavours to your chicken but making a butter or olive oil rub. Add fresh ingredients to butter, blend together and smear under the skin of your chicken or mix ground ingredients with olive oil and rub over thoroughly. Here are some ideas to get started.

Thai butter

Blend ginger, garlic, chilli and basil leaves with butter

Mediterranean oil rub

Mix lemon juice and dried oregano into olive oil

Moroccan butter

Blend dried cinnamon, cumin, saffron strands and fresh mint with butter.

Indian oil rub

Mix ground cardamom, cloves, coriander and curry powder with oil oil.

Watch this space for plenty more ideas on cooking with the fabulous Big Eas.

Up next I’m going to be smoking salmon – with some very special ingredients.

Find out more about the Big Easy and Char-Broil’s other products by clicking here.

Recipe book review: Saffron Soul

I love trying out new dishes in the kitchen and what better place to get inspiration than from a beautiful recipe book. I often sit on the floor surrounded by cookbooks trying to decide what to cook for dinner. Seriously, I can while away hours in a little food recipe world.

So I’m always delighted when I have a new book to try. I recently went to the launch of Saffron Soul by Mira Manek and was treated to some of her delightful dishes for breakfast. Most notably, the amazing tofu scramble with numeric and spices, topped with pink peppercorns and served with peppered sweet potato wedges and cumin tossed kale. Never has tofu tasted so good, like a spicy version of scrambled egg!

Mira’s quest in this book is to show us how Indian food can be healthy and delicious at the same time. Her range of vegetarian recipes are inventive, tasty and easy to make once you have all the relevant spices. She explains the importance and health-giving values of the main spices used in Indian cooking. For example, turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, cumin is good for digestion and fenugreek may help control blood sugar levels and cholesterol. And of course they make dishes taste fabulous, too.

I cooked several recipes including the amazing spinach parathas. A recent love of mine – I’d never cooked parathas and was surprised at how well they came out! The cauliflower and pea curry was crunchy and packed with flavour. But my absolute favourite of the dishes I’ve cooked so far is the Gujarati dal, an amazing dish made with yellow split peas and an orchestra of spices.

How to make Gujarati dal

Here’s Mira’s amazing dal recipe. You will note that she says some of the spices are optional – I would advise that you put absolutely everything on the list in as they produce an amazing depth of flavour.

I used yellow split peas which I bought from my local supermarket.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

The ingredients

200g toor dal, yellow split dal or pigeon peas

1.2 litres boiling water

1 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

Half tsp fenugreek seeds, optional

1-2 dried red chillis, slit lengthways

2 cinnamon sticks, optional

2 cloves, optional

On quarter tsp asafoetida

10-15 fresh curry leaves

5 fresh tomatoes, chopped or 5 tbsps tinned tomatoes

Half tsp ground tumeric

Half to 1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1.5 tsp sea salt

3 tbsps brown sugar

Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Juice of 2 fresh limes

The instructions

Rinse the split peas in a sieve under running water until the water is clear, then tip into a saucepan.

Add the measured boiling water and boil for 1 hour on a medium-low heat until the dal is a porridge-like consistency.

With a hand-held electric whisk, whisk the dal so that it becomes completely smooth or blend it in a blender until smooth.

In a large, non-stick saucepan melt the coconut oil, then add the cumin and mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. When the mustard seeds have popped, add the dried red chillies, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Add the asafoetida and curry leaves, then the tomatoes and stir for a minute.

Add the ground turmeric, red chilli powder, grated ginger, salt, sugar and coriander to the tomato mixture and stir.

Pour in the blended dal, squeeze the lime in and leave to simmer on a low heat for 10-15 mins until it turns orange-brown.

Taste the dal and add more lime or sugar, as required.

My copy of Saffron Soul is bookmarked with several slips of paper, ready for my next Indian vegetarian feast. This is a book I know I am going to be returning to frequently. And here’s how to win one of your own.

Reader giveaway

The prize

One copy of Saffron Soul by Mira Manek worth £13.20.

How to enter

Tell me what your favourite Indian spice is in the comment section of this post.

Terms and conditions

Competition only for residents of the UK.

Closing date for entry will be Sunday 28 May 2017 at midnight.

The winner will be chosen at random after the closing date.

The winner will be notified by email.

No cash alternatives to the prize will be offered. The prize is not transferable.

The editor’s decision is final.

Saffron Soul by Mira Manek is published by Jacqui Small, an imprint of The Quarto Group. Out now.

Available from all good retailers. Photography credit:  © Jacqui Small

To find out more, visit www.miramanek.com

Recipe: Orange and lemon polenta cake

Recipe: Orange and lemon polenta cake

I love baking – not that I do enough of it. Mix a few ingredients in a bowl, pour them into a tin and cook – and voila, you have something delicious on your plate. Okay, it doesn’t always work out quite that way – I’ve had my share of baking disasters. But I’m telling you that this is recipe is going to become a firm favourite. It has few ingredients, takes so little time to make and tastes spectacular.

Recipe: Orange and lemon polenta cake

The golden brown outside and a promise of the citrussy inside

It’s light, sweet and zesty. And the addition of polenta (which I have never used in a cake before) gives it a surprisingly pleasant crunchiness. Of course if you don’t have polenta you could just leave it out but I do think it adds a little something extra.

Recipe: Orange and lemon polenta cake

Deliciously moist slices of citrussy cake

The ingredients

175g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

50g polenta

225g castor sugar

225ml olive oil

4 eggs

Juice and zest of 1 orange

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

The instructions

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3.

Mix the flour, baking powder, polenta and castor sugar in a bowl.

Make a hole in the middle and pour in the olive oil. Break the eggs into the olive oil.

Mix well using a wooden spoon until there are no lumps left.

Add the orange and lemon zest and juice and mix.

Grease a cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Drop the mixture into the tin, smoothing it into the corners.

Bake for 1 hour, then check to see if it’s cooked by inserting a skewer gently into the cake.

If it comes out clean your cake is ready.

Let it rest for 5 mins before moving to a wire rack and removing the paper.

Recipe: Orange and lemon polenta cake

The beautifully yellow and crumbly cake


Recipe: Slow-roasted lamb shanks

Slow-roasted lamb shanks

I have friends that just can’t get that I actually find cooking a lot of fun. It’s creative, relaxing and extremely satisfying when you produce something that everyone loves. I recently spent a day with my 10-year-old niece Kelly cooking dinner for the family and will always remember her smiling face as we sat around the table eating. She was so happy that she had created this delicious food.

Okay, entertaining can be stressful, so you need to plan carefully and make sure you are very organised. The dishes I most like serving are those that can be all prepared and in the oven before your guests arrive. So you can spend time talking to your friends rather than being confined to the kitchen the whole night.

These slow-roasted lamb shanks are one of those.They do take a bit of preparation but you can do all that ahead – and clean everything up, too. And the dish is absolutely delicious and, I think, rather an indulgent treat.

Working out quantities is also easy – one shank and two onions per person means simple serving – and no wastage either.

Do you have a favourite dish you like to cook for guests? I’d love to hear about it.

Recipe: slow-roasted lamb shanks

The melt-in-the-mouth shanks ready to be served

The ingredients

Serves 6

6 lamb shanks

2 tbsps vegetable oil

12 shallots, peeled

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

4cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 bottle dry white wine

2 tsps ground cumin

2 tsps ground coriander

3 tsps ground cinnamon

1 tsp cayenne pepper

300ml water

2 tbsps mint jelly

2 tbsps chutney

How to do it

Turn the oven on to 130C.

Fry the lamb shanks and shallots in the oil until they are browned.

Transfer them to a large roasting dish.

Sprinkle over the chopped garlic and ginger.

Pour the wine into a large container and mix in the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne. Then pour it over the lamb shanks.

Add the water.

Spread the mint jelly and the chutney evenly through the dish.

Season with salt and pepper.

Tightly cover the dish with tinfoil.

Place in the oven and roast for 5 hours. Check the dish regularly to make sure it is slowly cooking and to spoon some of the liquid over the lamb shanks. Gently turn the shanks over a couple of times during the cooking.

Serve with cumin roasted potatoes and your choice of vegetables.

My star anise carrot puree the perfect accompaniment, you can find the recipe by clicking here.

Recipe: slow-roasted lamb shanks

The browned shanks before the wine and spices are added

And you can find the recipe for the cumin potatoes (very easy and totally irresistible) by clicking here.

Recipe: cumin potatoes

Crispy little potatoes with deep cumin flavours

 

Recipe: Quick and simple star anise carrot puree

I learnt how to make this delicious star anise carrot puree on my lamb cookery course in Malton last year. It’s simple to make and tastes absolutely delicious with any meat. I even made it on Christmas day and it was perfect with turkey.

The star anise gives the simple puree a real exotic flavour. You can also add cream to the mix for an even more indulgent vegetable treat.

Star Anise Carrot Puree

Serves 4

1kg of carrots, peeled and chopped

Milk to cover the carrots in the pan

3 pieces of star anise

Two knobs of butter

Star anise carrot puree

Serving up the vibrant carrot puree

How to do it

Place all the carrots in a pan and cover them with milk.

Add the three pieces of star anise.

Bring to the boil and cook on simmer until soft, about 15 minutes – check they are soft before you blend.

Remove the star anise

Add in the butter and use a hand blender to blend the carrots to a puree.

You can make your puree well in advance and simply heat it over a low heat when you are ready to eat.

Star anise carrot puree

The star anise makes the carrots delightfully aromatic

My beautiful little bunny plate is from Ceramix who do a fabulous range of largely animal-inspired ceramics that come in many different shapes and sizes. I love this one for serving up vegetables and snacks. Find out more at www.ceramix.co.za

Star Anise Carrot Puree

The freshest of vibrant carrots bursting with flavour

I bought my beautiful carrots from the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. You can read all about my visits there by clicking here. It’s open every Saturday from 9am to 2pm at Granger Bay Boulevard, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.

You can also read more about  my lovely trip to Malton in Yorkshire last year where I had the privilege of doing a lamb butchery and cookery course. Simply click here.