Weird Vegetables

Back in Uganda, the flat I lived in as a child was above the marketplace- boisterous and bursting with stuff, including new and weird vegetables to interest the many Asian Ugandans who were vegetarians. Like other consumers, their palates tired of the usual and wanted something different. So one time these pale green, long things appeared, looked a bit like a policeman’s baton. They were a kind of marrow. Indians called them ‘dudhi’ meaning milky because when you cut them open they were pure white and light- including the seeds.

Another white and large baton, much eaten in the Punjab- is the mooli, from the radish family. They can be two feet long. They are not usually cooked but eaten raw, sliced up and with Indian breads. The best can blow your mind- they are stronger than radishes and have that nasal lick like horseradish. Crunchy and strong  they cut through the richness and fullness of Indian food and it is said help digestion. But that may just be something ‘ethnic’ passing for wisdom. Where is the evidence? My friend, the scientist Simon Singh would ask and as usual I have no answer. Nor did my Aunt who just said; ‘ believe me, it works’.

Third, the most unusual- a very long, thin, green veg, which if it was a woman would look like one of those bony teachers who never smile and seem to hate food and kids. Anyway, wee call it ‘saragwo’. It is usually, like dudhi, added to dhals, to add interest and texture. You have to learn how to suck it, slowly from top to bottom, going all the way. It tastes like the love child of asparagus and artichoke.

You can buy all these in Indian groceries if you look and even Morrisons stocks them sometimes. We really are now the most varied marketplace in the world. Find any recipe for Dhal. Add chunks of dudhi or the thin ladies half way. They should be soft yet hold firm. And for your salad thinly sliced mooli with some lemon juice and salt. Suddenly that sometimes boring yellow soup, becomes the next big thing …

cheap peanuts

3 small pkts cheap peanuts

3 bunches corainder

fifteen mint leaves

1 tsp jeera poweder( cumin)

2 hot green chillies

salt and sugar to taste 

Every other week we go to one of those good value supermarkets like Morrissons and Lidl. Last week bought some packs of the cheapest  peanuts which turned out to be, well, inedible, shockingly so. GM probably. But one rule in this house is never to throw food away , certainly not brand new and still in shiny packets. So ethical cunnundrum. Th eanswer came in a green flash. Bought some bargain bunces of corianger from teh local Arab shop, and some green chillis, limes and mint. Whizzed in a processor with guilty peanuts, some powdered cumin, slat and a little sugar.

Put them into small plastic pots to freeze and used some on teh following:

1.As a crust for baked salmon and trout

2. Stirred into gaucamole – made fresh with avocado and tomatoes

3 Stirred into greek yogurt to make a wonderful dip

4 Added to an omlette with red onions and tomatoes

5. added to stir fried prawns

Must buy more of those cheeky peanuts again soon.

Impressing the well connected

Had fourteen to dinner last Friday and very nice it was, though tiring. I can’t count and thought we had twelve guests and an hour before realised I had it wrong. Nearly ran out of soup- but otherwise it was fine. I have realised cheap and cheery stuff goes down very well with some of the great and good, most of the great and good. They loved the top I was wearing. Didn’t know it was H&M £14.99. And were ecstatic about the peasant soup- not available at the Ivy and all the better for that. I borrowed the basic idea from the Moro recipe book and then changed it. You feel this soup must be renewing each cell in the body and will make you live a little longer. It does cheer me up too when I am most morose- which is often. Maybe I should send the recipe to the posh government which is busy promoting happiness to make us forget it is presiding over the most unhappiest of times. A Damehood would surely follow. 

Lentil soup with yogurt stuff
For 4 to 6
1 cup red lentils
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
½  tsp ground cumin
I Knorr chicken stock cube or any other sort
1 pt of water
2 tbsp light olive oil or sunolive oil ( a mixture of sunflower and olive, available in supermarkets)
Juice of half a lime
Salt to taste
½ cup defrosted frozen leaf spinach

1 cup Greek yogurt 
4 spring onions
4 radishes or white radish known as mooli
1 finely chopped green chilli- hot
½ tsp cumin powder

Chop the onions and garlic and sauté in the oil for six minutes.
Add the lentils, water and crumbled stock cube.
Cover and simmer over low heat for fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile puree the spinach in a food processor.
When the lentils are cooked but not mushy- you can check while they are cooking- stir in the spinach and add all the rest of the ingredients.
Cook for another five minutes.

Mix the chilli, onions and radish and stir into yogurt with the salt and cumin. It is the cold accompaniment to the soup. Serve the soup and pass round the yogurt and some bread.

Repaired Fishcakes

Jena, my mum and her mates were in awe of English recipes- ‘so healthy’ they said, ‘made those people so strong they ruled the world’ But, they agreed, the dishes had no taste. So they worked on them, adding this and that. Here is their ‘repaired’ fishcake recipe. I made it on Monday and we were still scoffing them on Wednesday. Dead cheap; dead good and should make the English proud. They gave us railways, flushing loos and bland fishcakes we could make into our own.

1lb of fish fillets- you can mix salmon and cod, whiting and trout fillet, or just use any white fish without too many small bones.
10 medium sized floury potatoes
Half a bunch each of fresh parsley and fresh coriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala – you can get this powder at Indian foodstores or the large supermarkets
Juice of I lime
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 small eggs
Sunflower oil to shallow fry

Peel the potatoes and cut into big chunks
Boil till soft
Drain. Add chilli powder, lime juice and salt and mash till smooth.
Bring to simmer 2 inches of salted water in a covered pan. Add fish and cook for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the cooker and leave the fish in the water for another 5 minutes. Drain and flake.
Chop the herbs finely add to the potatoes with the garam masala and fish
Now mix it all with your hands for two minutes and shape into fat patties.
Beat the egg in a wide bowl
Get a large plate or board and sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs
Dip each fishcake into the egg and roll in the crumbs till fully covered.
Cover and put into the fridge for half an hour
Heat 1 inch of oil till very hot- it should sizzle a little when you put in the patties.
Cook on one side for three mins and turn over carefully.
 Cook the other side for the same time. Drain on kitchen paper towels.
East with ketchup. You can add some chilli to that to repair that too.

Ramadhan Indulgences

I have been a weak, stupidly pathetic old woman this year during Ramadhan, didn’t even try to fast in the first fortnight because the summer daylight hours are so long. Usually I try to fast for some of the moth- the whole month affects concentration and energy too much. How I admire those Muslims who positively celebrate this month of abstinence, have immense self control and seek out, day after day, hunger so you know how the starving suffer. Some are young teens who have more staying power than I do. I struggle to keep to the no food, no liquid test – my own culinary jihad. So on Sunday guilt and shame came to visit and here I am on Monday fasting. And thinking of nothing else but food. That’s what happens – you feast in your imagination and when the day ends most of us feel we will fill ourselves but really can’t all that much. Some can and actually get fat during Ramadhan, not what it is about at all.

So, at midday dreaming away, what do I imagine I want to scoff? What we used to call Khima-mayai, literally means mincemeat and eggs- the real mincemeat not that sweet Christmassy filling. And thin rotlis with a tomato and onion salad.

Here, then, is how to make it. Finger licking good and you do have to eat it with your hands…

1 lb very lean minced beef
2 thinly sliced onions fried until brown in ½ a cup of sunflower oil.
1 tin chopped tomatoes
4 eggs
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp mixed coriander and cumin powders
1 chopped hot chilli
1 tsp mixed fresh crushed garlic and ginger
1 tsp garam masala
½ cup sunflower or vegetable oil

Put the onions into a fresh pan with 2 tbsp of the oil used for frying

Heat gently and add mince- break it up fine as it cooks
Add all the other ingredients except for the eggs and cook with lid on for 30 mins over low heat
Transfer to an oven proof dish, flatten and break eggs over the top
Cover with tin foil and bake in a low oven till the eggs have set.
Eat with rotlis. Recipe next week

Nine more hours before I can eat- this has been sado-masochistic pleasure

Pleasing the Old Man

Here goes then, treading tentatively into my first blog. About eating and surviving in this odd household and unpredictable country. What an adventure is this marriage between two people from conflicted histories. Like others in his nation whose tongues crave excitement, my Englishman cannot resist eastern food. Whenever spicy aromas waft to the door as he comes in, he rushes to the kitchen, as if his senses have picked up culinary pheromones and he is high with desire. Soon the pots are opened and he is dipping in his fingers, burning them, making a grab before dinner and then at dinner and afterwards too. Nothing else matters, not even the stains on his smart shirts and suits. So, yes, that’s what trapped him all those years ago and keeps him here. But there are times when I sense that he is (briefly) out of sorts in our urban cosmopolitan home suffused with African, Asian and modern British cultures.  They are ghostly feelings, orbs fleeting around. He remembers his boyhood in Brighton, the dinners his working class mum made, pies and puddings- his disappeared world and self.


It was around last week that indefinable longing (he sharply denies this) and so I decided a bit of lemon meringue pie would console him. We were taught to make it in domestic science lessons back in school in Uganda, during the days of empire, a piece of back home for the teacher who missed Buckinghamshire. 
You can buy perfectly good sweet pastry cases in supermarkets which saves a lot of time. As you cook the filling, it slowly turns, feels and looks like a soft yellow face cream. And gives off the lemony scent of a Mediterranean summer. Magic. You then cover it with meringue, white and shiny as a bridal dress and stick it in the oven until it turns stiff and colours slightly. Oh he loved it and his mum did too, Vera, now in a nursing home in Brighton. She turned all wistful. Like England so often does. I think it helped- this homage to a disappearing world by the immigrant who came to stay. 


Lemon Meringue Pie


You need a small electric beater for this and many other desserts. It is cheap and indispensable.


A standard sized pastry case


For the filling


2 lemons
2 ½  tbsp cornflour
4 oz castor sugar
1 oz butter
2 eggs, separated 


Grate the lemon rind
Squeeze the juice and in a jug add cold water to make the liquid up to ½ a pt
Blend the cornflour in a small bowl with a little of this liquid
Put all the ingredients EXCEPT THE EGGS into a saucepan and heat over gentle heat, stirring until it thickens  
Take off the heat
Beat in the yolks
Cook for another couple of minutes, again over gentle heat.
Pour carefully into the pastry case, leaving an inch to spare for the meringue.




2 egg whites
4 oz castor sugar


Beat the white with the electric beater using the whipping ‘arms’
When it is white and stiff and peaks, start adding sugar, 3 tbsps at a time and beating each time before adding some more.
It starts to glisten and stiffen further
When all the sugar has been added, spread the mix over the top of the filling, taking it right to the edge. You can make swirls and waves.


Bake at medium temperature – around 190 Celsius or gas mark4


Bake for 15 minutes – it should start to lightly tan. Leave to cool before eating.

empty nest cooking

So she’s flown away, our daughter, gone to uni and the best years sof her life. So, what do we eat now? How do I cook for 2? We sit on that long table each evening with her absence as present as the air and sounds of birds we hear so clearly now that her pop music isn’t blaring all day long. Week one was impossible- I couldn’t bear to cook much. Now I do but not the stuff she loved. She hated green peppers so here is a green pepper dish I made up as if to say huh I don’t care, at least we can now eat these peppers without her complaining… but it is  all a pretence. I would promise never to buy a single green pepper to have her home. Love you my girl.

Green peppers with mince and couscous

4 large green peppers
1/2 cup boiled rice of any sort really
a tbsp pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1/2 ib mince beef as fat free as possible
1 onion
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 stick cinnamon
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 hot green chillies
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp olive oil

Cut the peppers in half and rub over with the olive oil

In a pan cook chopped onions in the sunflower oil until they start to brown

Add the cinnamon stick

Throw in the  mince and break up to the smallest bits with a wooden spoon as it as it cooks

Add the chillies and carry on cooking

Then add tomatoes and let it all simmer for 6 minutes.

Mix in rice, nots or seeds and season with salt and pepper.

Place the peppers in a graesed baking tray and stuff with this mixture

Dribble a little olive oil over each

bake for 20 mins and eat with crusty bread and grren salad. She hated crusty bread too.

So English Potatoes and Eggs

Hi folks- sorry I haven’t written for a fortnight. Been incredibly busy and a piss poor time manager- hardly had half an hour to eat let alone cook. So had to come up with some quick stuff and here is one dish that is brill, fast, tasty, cheap and impressed that God of all things foodie, A.A. Gill. He wrote in his restaurant column about my memoir The Settler’s Cookbook. ‘Refugees find particular comfort in food: it is often the only thing they can carry with them. It is a taste of home, but a home that is a moveable feast. Home is always more than terroir , more than the mud the house stands on. I particularly liked a recipe for red, roast spicy spuds: simple and basic, a collection of cultures. Best, Yasmin says, served with white bread and a fried egg. So English.’

All my recipes are for four.

12 medium sized potatoes- washed, peeled and parboiled
Salt and chilli powder to taste
½ tsp garlic puree
2 tsp jeera ( cumin) powder
1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
3 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp paprika
A little lemon juice if you like

Cut the potatoes into big wedges
Mix all the other ingredients and with your hands ( washed please) rub in the paste into the potatoes.
Line a roasting tin with tin foil ( to reduce the washing up after)
Spread the potatoes on the paper and roast in the oven which has been preheated to 180 degrees C or gas mark4.
After ten minutes gently turn the wedges
7 minutes later they should be crisping up.
Serve topped with fried or poached eggs and crusty white bread.

Hondwo – Indian savoury cake

This is one of the hardest things ever to make. Takes hours, patience, an absurd number of ingredients. But once in a while, put on that apron and enjoy being a domestic angel for  day and a half. I was taught it by an aunt who said it would bring me many husbands. It did bring me two. And one even stayed. 

I have adapted this one from a lovely recipe book called Cooking With My Mother-in-Law by Simon Daley and Roshan Hirani. Believe it or not it is simplerthan the one Aunty taught me.

1 tbsp vegetable oil for greasing
14 oz corase semolina
4 oz besan, chick pea flour
12 fl ozs plain yogurt ( not creamy or Greek)
8 fl ozs vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp crushed ginger/garlic
3 green chillies fairly hot
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 carrot
2 onions
1 red pepper
1/4 finely sliced white cabbage
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coranider with the stems
2 oz frozen peas
2 tsp castor sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp salt
3 tsp mustard seeds
12 curry leaves
1/2 tsp asafoedita
2 tsp baking poweder
1/2 tsp Enos Fruit Salt ( you cab get them at good Chemists shops)
1 tabps sesame seeds
 (PHEW! Told you. I am exhausted already)

Oil a 9 inch cake tim or better still line with parchment paper and grease under and over that.
Mix the besan, semolina, yogusrt and half the oil.
Clean and chop all the vegetables, quite small
Chop the chillies really small
Add all the vegetables to the batter
with ginger garlic, chillies, peas, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Mix with your hands ( clean of course)
Heat the rest of the oil in a small suacepan until hot and add most of the mustard and cumin seeds, curry leaves and asofoedita
Turn on the oven to preheat to 200 degrees C or gas mark 5
When it starst popping pour into the batter
Add 2 fl oz of hot water to the mix and now beat witha wooden spoon.
Add baking powder and enos beat again quicky and pour into the prepared tin
sprinkle with the rest of the mustard and cumin seeds
bake for fifteen minutes then turn down the temperature to 180 degrees or gas mark 4
Cook for an hour and a half.
The cake should be be springy and dark brown on the outside. Do not burn.

Remove and cool before cutting into wedges. Great with yogurt or ketchup

bad week- bring me Khichri

In my memoir The Settler’s Cookbook I describe khichri- a simple concoction that Asians believe to be the first and bestest power food in the world. My children ( now 33 and 18) were given a few spoonfuls with milk when they were being weaned and can still go all babyishly excited when I cook up pot. It doesn’t look that appetising- a bit like greying porridge really. But smells like comfort and tastes like a mother’s hug. Mixed with butter or yogurt or cold milk and sugar, it makes you feel alls well with the world and your stomach.
When my mother Jena was dying in hospital, her friends brought her little plastic boxes of khichri, as if that would bring her back to stay around a little bit longer. Her time, sadly, was up. I brought home the containers and wept.  
Last week was tough, little time, too much work and two failed dishes- one because I bought beef when I thought I was buying cut leg of lamb- so red, I thought, no fat at all. Stupid or what? The beef-that-was-not-lamb was still dry and tough after three hours. Fibres still lurk between my teeth. Then I forgot to add soda to my soda bread having gone to three shops to find buttermilk. What a waste. Even the hungry birds don’t touch it. And it was five years since Jena died.
 So khichri it had to be. It took away the frustration and brought her back to me.
1 cup pudding rice
1 cup moong bean lentils un-hulled
 2 tbsps butter
1 pt water
Heat water to boiling point in a pot with a lid and add salt.
Add the rice and lentils and lower the temperature to simmer for forty minutes.
Check half way- if too dry add a cup of water. More if you need. You can cover it with a lid but leave an opening to stop it boiling over.
It should go soft and grey.
Take the pot off the heat. Put on the lid firmly and leave for ten minutes.
Then beat in the butter and mush.
Eat with yogurt and chilli powder, milk and sugar or just with the butter. Or chopped red onions or anything really.