14 Jul The recipe that reminds me of home | Food
The key to Somali cooking is xawaash spice mix – translated it means “the essentials”. It’s often described as in between ras el hanout and garam masala, which is how I think of Somali food: in between Arabic and Indian, with African thrown in. When you make it, it will come as no surprise to know Somalia was called “Regio Aromatica”, or the aromatic isles, by the ancient Romans.
Xawaash is made family to family, so my mum’s is the one I make, although she sometimes adds turmeric to hers. You adapt it depending on what you have, but I’ve got a consistent recipe that reminds me of her cooking.
My idea of home is tied in with my mum’s cooking. I was born in Kuwait. My mum was probably born in Ethiopia; she was a nomadic herder. My dad is from the city, from Hargeisa in Somaliland. They moved to Kuwait, had children and then they separated and we came to London in 1985. Civil unrest had been rumbling in Somaliland, so we didn’t go back. Mum wanted her daughters to be educated, and Somali culture can be sexist, although it also celebrates strong women. I named my supper club after Arawelo, a fearsome Somali queen who led a women’s army.
We lived in Harlesden, in north-west London, which had Caribbean and African shops. But Mum would also take two buses to get spices and things like fresh tamarind from the Indian shops on Ealing Road. I used to help her out in the kitchen when I was young but was rubbish at it. I felt that girls were expected to help with cooking but boys weren’t, so that pissed me off. When I left London I missed her food, so had to learn it for myself.
Ful – we call it maraq digir – is a great way to feed a big family. Beans are cheap, and the xawaash is a good way of adding lots of flavour. People know about ful medames from Egypt, but the dish goes all the way down east Africa to Sudan. We would have that for brunch on Saturday, made with tinned adzuki beans, fried onions and lots of green chillies, fresh coriander, fresh tomatoes – and the xaawash spice mix.
When my mum had less money she would get bones with tiny bits of meat left on. She was feeding so many – she’d make enough for 20 people a day. Us and our friends who’d be round, or people from the Somali community.
We didn’t eat much English food, and of course I wanted fish and chips and pizza. Now I appreciate it all. My mum taught us to have a palate. If I go into a fancy restaurant, I don’t have to like it. Not because I grew up poor, Somali or as a refugee, or because I don’t understand western flavours. I just might not like it. But if you’re outside that world you can feel uncomfortable trusting your own judgment. It sometimes feels like the food world is for a particular class, a particular place, a particular kind of person who is a “foodie”. Everyone eats food, so I don’t know what defines a foodie. My mum is an amazing chef. She’s illiterate, she grew up as a nomadic herder, but has an instinctive way of making food that is good and tasty. HO’N
Maraq digir Somali bean stew
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter
fresh coriander 1 bunch
tomatoes 3 medium
green chillies 1-2
ginger ½ thumb (optional)
dried adzuki beans 200g
onion 1, peeled and sliced
olive oil 1 tbsp
xawaash spice blend 1 dsp (see below)
tomato paste 1 level dsp, or to taste
salt to taste
For the xawaash spice mix (makes about 35g or 4 heaped dsp)
cumin seeds 2 dsp
coriander seeds 2 dsp
black peppercorns 1 dsp
flat cinnamon bark 2cm piece
cardamom seeds 1 tsp
whole cloves 1 tsp
To make the xawaash, dry heat all the spices in a frying pan on a medium heat for about 2 minutes or until they begin to give off a lovely warm aroma. Once you can smell this, take it off the heat.
Use a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar to grind everything down to a powder.
If you want to make a big batch, just double the quantities, and it should last in an airtight container in the dark for up to 3 weeks. It can last longer, but the potency deteriorates – I use a lot of xawaash, so I get through it quickly.
To make the maraq digir, whizz up the coriander, tomatoes and chillies in a blender. Sometimes I add fresh ginger to give it an extra boost. Put the mixture to one side.
In a saucepan, boil the adzuki beans for about 20 minutes. (You can also use tinned fava beans.) Fry the sliced onion slowly in the olive oil until slightly caramelised. Stir in the xawaash spice blend. Fry a little longer, then add the coriander and tomato mixture, with some tomato paste. Add salt to taste.
Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, adding a little water if needed. Add the beans and cook for another 15-20 minutes, then mash some of the beans.
I like it with feta and black olives and lots of olive oil on top. Serve with pita or naan bread, za’atar and olive oil.
Arawelo Eats supper club in aid of the Leading Lights youth charity is on 27 July; araweloeats.com
Co-owner, Santo Remedio, London
Ever since I was little, I’ve craved new flavours. I always loved seafood, and this dish was my favourite. My mum or grandma prepared it on special occasions and it represents flavours from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
When I was growing up in Mexico City, living by the coast was the dream. In the late 1990s, places opened in Mexico City that evoked the marisquerías, the seafood restaurants of Veracruz, which is the state where arroz a la tumbada comes from. They weren’t glamorous but 20 years ago they were cool. They were neighbourhood places where the seafood was amazing and brought in from the coast. There is one called Contramar that’s still going, and is one of my favourite places. We’d go a lot, for the food, and the son jarocho, the music of Veracruz. Without travelling, I could be taken to the coast. It doesn’t matter where I am, arroz a la tumbada will send me to Mexico and give me that feeling of being happy.
There’s a lot of Spanish influences in our cuisine, so this is a paella adapted to Mexico. There are no rules for the seafood you use, as long as there’s a combination. Like lots of Mexican dishes, it’s created so people can adapt to what’s around. White fish, clams, crab, prawns – whatever you have is what’s perfect. Now that I live in London, I add fennel and dill. In Mexico we use parsley, coriander, Mexican oregano and epazote, a very aromatic herb that’s difficult to find here. Instead of long-grain rice I use arborio, which I think makes more sense, being closer to the Mediterranean.
I feel very grateful that I’ve had many homes. My wife Natalie is half-Mexican and half-English, she was born and raised and studied in the UK. When I go away, I miss London. But I still sometimes miss Mexico, and it’s mainly because of the food. Tacos and tequila are easy to get now, but the flavour that always lifts me out of homesickness is smoky chillies. If I feel homesick I can now get or make the food I want. At the beginning when I moved here I couldn’t say this, but London is home. HO’N
Chipotle tumbada-style (Rice with haddock and prawns)
For the rice
rapeseed oil 3 tbsp
unsalted clarified butter or ghee 6 tbsp
haddock 600g, skinless and sliced in thick chunks
king prawns 500g, shell on, cleaned and deveined
fennel 1 bulb, finely sliced
arborio rice 500g
tomato and chipotle recaudo 350ml (see below)
fish or vegetable stock 900ml, or half fish stock and half water
lemons juice of 2
dill leaves a handful
mint leaves a handful
flat-leaf parsley a small bunch
cherry tomatoes 100g
For the tomato and chipotle recaudo
beefsteak tomatoes 2, halved
vine tomatoes 3
white onion ½, roughly chopped
garlic 4 cloves
rapeseed oil 1 tbsp
dried chipotle chillies 2-3 (available online)
salt 1 tsp, optional
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Start by making the tomato and chipotle recaudo. Recaudo in Mexico is a special blend of spices, herbs and chillies, and like many dishes in Mexican cuisine, it is the secret of our abuelitas, our grandmothers.
Place the tomatoes, onion and garlic on an oven tray, drizzle with rapeseed oil and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.
I recommend using a variety of good quality tomatoes; seasonal local tomatoes during the summer in the UK are amazing, such as those from the Isle of Wight.
While the tomatoes are in the oven, place the dried chipotle chillies in a small bowl, cover with boiling water and rest until they become soft. Once softened, remove the seeds. Reserve the soaking water.
Take the tomatoes out of the oven and pour them with the juices into a blender, add the soft chipotle chillies, the salt and a little of the soaking water, if necessary, and blend to a very smooth paste. Set aside.
For the rice, in a paella-like pan heat a tablespoon of the rapeseed oil and 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the fish and prawns, season with a bit of salt and sear them until they get some colour on each side. It’s important to use a really hot pan and not to overcook them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan add the remaining oil and butter and the sliced fennel, and fry slowly until it softens and caramelises.
Add the rice and keep stirring. Once it is lightly fried, pour in the tomato-chipotle recaudo, add the stock a little at a time and stir frequently until the rice is fully cooked.
Three-quarters of the way through adding the liquid, and just before the rice absorbs all of it, add the seared prawns and fish and let them cook through. The rice should be al dente. Season with salt and coarse black pepper to taste.
Finish by generously squeezing the lemon juice over and add fresh dill leaves, a few sprigs of mint and parsley, and the tomatoes. Serve warm, making sure everybody gets some of the fish and prawns, as well as the fresh herbs and tomatoes. Enjoy with your family and pair it with a crisp, fresh lager or glass of wine.
The recipe for my grandmother’s omelette reminds me of West Sumatra, where I was born, and my first seven years living there with her. She did all of the cooking. My parents were teachers and they worked every day, so my grandmother gave us all breakfast. Sometimes she would make this omelette. We were an extended, multi-generational family living in one house, so there might have been my young uncle or cousin having breakfast with us. It is quite a filling omelette, so we could choose to have rice porridge or this, but some of my boy cousins might have both! Or, we might take it for lunch with rice.
Omelettes are quite universal. I debated when I wrote this recipe whether its origin is Chinese or Dutch. Probably in my household it would be the influence of the Dutch. Both my parents were educated in Dutch schools. My grandmother never went to school – she was rich enough to have teachers at home – but I am not sure where she learned to make this omelette. You never know with Indonesia. When I started to write my cookbook I didn’t know the origin of quite a lot of Indonesian food. Some seems to have come from the Arab countries, through India. A lot of our curries are Indian, and our snacks are very similar to Middle Eastern snacks like borek and falafel. With the Dutch we started making cake, and before the Dutch arrived we had influence from the Chinese. Fried rice was originally Chinese but now it’s famous as Indonesian nasi goreng.
After my husband Roger and I got married in Indonesia we came to live in the UK. My children were born here, and this is very much my home. When I moved to the UK, I had to make adjustments to my cooking. I first came here in 1964, and from then until 1969 we did our shopping in Holland. Indonesian food was already being imported there but not to the UK. So I travelled a lot to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or the Hague. We’d go with empty cars and come back with the boots full. And there were quite a lot of Indonesian restaurants to visit; there were only two in London.
I never really got homesick for Indonesian food, because I’d cook it myself. I could never recommend Indonesian restaurants in London, so whenever friends asked, “Where is the good Indonesian restaurant?” I’d say: “It’s here, in my home.” When I was writing books – I’ve written 15 – I’d give parties as a way of recipe-testing. It was a good excuse to do both. I’d put it in my household budget: my party, an anniversary, Roger’s birthday, or just a party for wanting to give a party. You can’t eat everything yourself.
I’m now staying in a care home. I’m not quite settled yet. I have a two-bedroom apartment, but hardly any kitchen. I can still cook for the two of us, me and Roger, and I can still give parties. And I can still make my grandmother’s omelette. I don’t think I put enough garlic in my recipe, so when I make it now for myself, I put a lot of coconut, and a lot of garlic and spring onions so it’s garlicky and oniony as well. I’m very fond of my grandmother and her food makes me feel at home. It gives me comfort, a feeling of, “this is what I’m used to”. HON
Telur dadar padang
My grandmother’s omelette
This is one of my grandmother’s treats for breakfast. It looks like a cake, and to make the omelette thick she used freshly grated coconut, grated potato or sweet potato. And she would add a dollop of her sambal lado to spice it up. I use sambal ulek when I make this omelette at home. It is made by crushing fresh red chillies with a little salt, using a mortar and pestle. It is available ready-made from Asian food stores and supermarkets.
If you want coconut but can’t use fresh, you can use desiccated coconut. It’s a bit sweeter and drier, so you need to soak it for a few minutes and include a little of the liquid.
Serves 4 for breakfast or as a light lunch with some salad
shallots 2, finely sliced
garlic 1 clove, finely sliced
sambal ulek 1 tsp or ½ tsp chilli powder
freshly grated coconut or grated potato or sweet potato 100g
salt ½ tsp
milk or cold water 1 tbsp
duck eggs 6
peanut (groundnut) oil 2 tbsp
Mix together all the ingredients, except the eggs and oil, in a large bowl. Then beat the mixture thoroughly with the eggs – it needs more beating than an ordinary omelette and should be quite fluffy.
Heat the oil in a wok until hot. (I find a 25cm non-stick frying pan an easier alternative to a wok.) Carefully spoon the oil over the sides, or tilt and turn the wok or pan so the sides are well coated with oil. Pour the omelette mixture into the hot wok or pan, and while it is still liquid swirl it around so that the omelette is not too thick in the centre. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn it over carefully (it should be perfectly circular), and cook slowly for another 3-4 minutes until the middle, which of course is still the thickest part, is firm and the whole omelette is lightly browned. The edges should now be delicately crisp.
Serve hot or cold, cut up into slices like a cake.
From Indonesian Food by Sri Owen (Pavilion Books, £20). To buy a copy for £17.60, go to guardianbookshop.com
Until I was 13 or 14, my grandparents owned a Greek-Cypriot restaurant called Dirlandas in Tufnell Park, north London. I was born upstairs and lived there for the first few years of my life. Even after we moved out, the restaurant remained the centre of our universe. My dad worked there, and during Christmas or Easter, when the restaurant was shut, everyone would congregate there to celebrate. It was a proper Cypriot taverna with tablecloths and plastic strip curtains. My grandmother would make stuffed vine leaves from scratch for the mezze. And, of course, it had grills where they cooked steaks, chops and souvlakia.
That smell of meat over coals is so evocative but when my grandparents shut the restaurant in the mid-90s it disappeared from my life. Around that time, I became vegetarian. My dad had also given up meat and my mum didn’t eat much of it. But when I started working in food in my early 20s, I began eating meat again. One day, during a shoot for a Jamie Oliver book in Athens, someone was cooking souvlakia on the grills and it was like a slap around the face. Never before had a smell conjured up such strong images and emotions. It was like I was back in my grandparents’ restaurant.
My grandparents on both sides moved to England in search of a better quality of life and better opportunities. My mum’s dad was an orphan and so poor that the people in his village outside Nicosia would feed him and give him shoes. When he got married to my granny, they moved to England and he got a job in a Wall’s sausage factory. The manager of the factory lent him the money to open up his first deli in Holloway, and he went from nothing to owning a few shops and houses around London. My dad’s parents moved over a bit later. Before they opened the restaurant, my granddad was a barber and my grandma a seamstress. They’re both still alive. My gran is 79 now and she still cooks for our entire family twice a week.
My sister and I helped out at the restaurant, but mostly we got in the way. My gran would get us to fill the salt and pepper shakers, or pod peas and broad beans. Food was the centre of our world. It took me a while to realise that, actually, not all 19-year-olds read cookery books all the time or spend three hours making moussaka on a Saturday night when their friends are out getting drunk.
My mum made a lot of Cypriot food at home. Any occasion was a feast. Now I’ve taken over that role. For Greek Easter this year, I had everyone round to mine and spent two days making flaounes, the traditional Cypriot Easter pastries, as taught to me by my gran. I love that I’ll be able to pass these traditions on to my daughter, Persephone – she has no choice!
Not only do I want to document my family’s recipes, I also want to preserve a sense of our culture and traditions. In my generation, out of all my cousins, only one other person is interested in food. When my grandma finally passes away, who else is going to keep all these food traditions going?Home means lots of noise and chatter, and it always revolves around cooking. As a housewarming present , my dad bought me my own foukou, the motorised grill used for cooking souvlakia. It’s my pride and joy, and that smell is just amazing. It’s my childhood, it’s my grandparents’ restaurant. KF
Herby pork souvlaki with mustard sauce
pork tenderloins 2, around 400g each
rosemary a few sprigs
thyme 1⁄2 a bunch
garlic 2 cloves
olive oil 100ml
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
For the mustard sauce
Greek yogurt 125g
mayonnaise 3 tbsp
honey 1 tbsp
English mustard 1-2 tbsp
red onion 1
flat-leaf parsley a few sprigs
pita breads 4 × round, fluffy
sweet smoked paprika a pinch
tzatziki (see below)
chips (see below, if you want to make your own)
Cut the pork into even 2-3cm chunks and place in a mixing bowl. Pick and finely chop the rosemary and thyme leaves and add to the pork. Peel and finely grate in the garlic. Season well, then stir in the olive oil and red wine vinegar and cover. Refrigerate and leave to marinate for at least half an hour, longer if possible. If using wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water first to stop them burning.
If you are making chips (see below), get them on the go now.Get the sides ready. To make the mustard sauce, mix together the yogurt, mayonnaise, honey and mustard to taste. Season to taste, cover and set aside till needed.
Chop the tomatoes and peel and finely slice the onion. Mix them together in a bowl and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Finely chop the parsley and scatter over the top. Set aside until needed.
When you are ready to cook, preheat a griddle pan to a high heat (or get your barbecue going). Thread 4 large skewers (or 8 small ones) with the marinated pork, being careful not to push the pieces too close together, so that they cook thoroughly all the way through. Cook the meat on the hot griddle pan for around 10-12 minutes, turning evenly, until they are charred and cooked through. Warm the pita breads on the side of the griddle or barbecue for a few minutes at the end. Serve everything together and let everyone build their own kebabs – but be sure to finish with a sprinkle of paprika.
Talattouri – Mama’s tzatziki
The cucumber is salted and drained, a small step but a key one, as it gives you an intensely creamy dip – it shouldn’t be at all runny.
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
garlic 1 small clove
dried mint 1 tsp
Greek yogurt 500g
extra virgin olive oil
Start by draining the cucumber. Trim it and coarsely grate it into a mixing bowl. Mix in 1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt (if using fine sea salt, use ½ teaspoon), then spoon it into a clean, fine sieve. Leave it to drain over the mixing bowl for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to remove all the liquid.
When it is ready, spoon it into a larger mixing bowl. Finely grate in the peeled garlic clove and add the dried mint and a good pinch of ground black pepper.
Spoon the yogurt into the fine sieve. You don’t want to press it through, just to remove any excess liquid. When it’s drained, spoon it into the bowl with the grated cucumber, drizzle in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, squeeze in a little lemon juice to taste and mix everything together well. Serve finished with a little drizzle of oil on top and sprinkled with a little extra dried mint.
Homemade oven chips
This only makes a small quantity, enough for a few chips in the kebabs. If you want more, to eat alongside your meal, then double or triple the quantity.
potatoes 600g Maris Piperor King Edwards work best
Preheat your oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cut the potatoes into chips, around 1cm in thickness. Cook for 2 minutes in the boiling water, then drain in a colander and steam-dry over the hot pan.
Place the chips in a large roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Use your hands to toss everything together, making sure that every piece of potato is coated in seasoned oil. Place in the oven for around 35-40 minutes, turning the chips halfway through, until cooked through, golden and crisp all over.
From Taverna: Recipes From a Cypriot Kitchen by Georgina Hayden (Square Peg, £25). To buy a copy for £22, go to guardianbookshop.com
When I was a kid in Bombay, I tried growing a lime tree in a pot on a windowsill at home and it didn’t work out too well, yielding only one fruit. But now that I live in California, it’s much easier. In Oakland, where I live with my husband, Michael, all the focal points in our back garden are citrus trees – we’ve got makrut lime, bearss lime and the tiny Mexican key lime. I make a point of using limes in my recipes. In India, it’s the citrus you use when you want to add acid to a dish. And in a cobbler – a southern American dish I learned from my mother-in-law in Virginia – lime makes perfect sense with blueberry and ginger as a way of amplifying the flavour.
The food I grew up with in Bombay was not very connected. My mother is Catholic and her family comes from Goa, whereas my dad is Hindu from Uttar Pradesh, so her cuisine was more tropical and heavy on coconut, meat and seafood, while his was more vegetarian. Most Indian kids I know were rooted in a single culinary region, but I never had that. I think it makes it easier for me now, as a food writer, because I never worry about things needing to be done in a certain way.
My biggest influence was my grandmother on my mother’s side. She showed me a lot of techniques – teaching me to cut vegetables to the same size when making a stock, for example, so everything cooks in a uniform way.
I started cooking aged 10 or 11 because I was sick of eating what they were serving at home. But there was an experimental side to it as well. It made me very curious and I’d wonder what would happen if, say, I used vinegar instead of lime. Around that time, I found out that I was gay. I was scared to live in India because I’d heard my parents talking about gay people getting arrested, so I wanted to move to a safer place, and my only way out was through science – chemistry and biology were my strong points. In 2002, I got a scholarship to a college in Cincinnati to study molecular genetics. Six months after moving to America, I came out.
A lot of my classmates asked me for Indian food, but after a while I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to cook food that reflected my present as well as my past – and I started writing about this in my blog A Brown Table.
California definitely feels like home now. But after 17 years away, does Bombay still feel like home? That’s a hard question. For 12 years I didn’t go back at all. Going to Bombay with my husband Michael for the first time was stressful, at least to begin with, because it brought back all those memories of why I left. I knew my family was fine with me being gay but there were friends and relatives who didn’t know. I didn’t want to hide anything, but thankfully we were there for a wedding and we got completely absorbed in it. The next time there was no wedding, and that was more challenging, but by then India was becoming much more vocal about gay rights, which made things a little easier.
India has changed so much. The first week I’m there is fine, but after that I start to feel like I’m out of place. I feel like I’m a stranger in India. That’s when I realise America is more my home now. KF
Blueberry, ginger, and lime cobbler
unsalted butter 115g, chilled and cubed plus extra to grease the dish
blueberries 600g, fresh or frozen
crystallised ginger 50g, chopped
jaggery or brown sugar 50g
lime zest and juice of 1
cornflour 2 tbsp
fine sea salt ½ tsp
plain flour 280g
sugar 2 tbsp
baking powder 2 tsp
whole milk 240ml
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 20 x 28cm rectangular baking dish with a little butter, add the blueberries, ginger, jaggery, lime zest and juice, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Fold to coat evenly.
In a large mixing bowl, dry whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and the remaining salt. Add the cubed butter and mix by hand until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk until just combined. Scoop the batter over the top of the blueberries with a teaspoon, covering as much fruit as possible.
Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until the juices are bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with a scoop of a good vanilla or cardamom ice-cream.
Season by Nik Sharma is out now (Chronicle £25). To buy a copy for £22, go to guardianbookshop.com