I have never visited Pakistan; it might have been possible some years ago, but now with the Foreign Office recommending that travellers avoid several areas of the country, it sadly seems unlikely that I’ll be going in the near future. My parents, however, went some time ago and came back rhapsodising about the apricots grown in the Hunza valley, which is a reminder that while the news might be all doom and gloom, life for the local residents rolls on, and a love for good food and good ingredients is universal. The traditional food of Pakistan isn’t something I know much about, so Summers Under the Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani is a welcome introduction.
Sumayya was born and raised in Karachi and her love for Pakistani food shines through this book. I really like the introductory chapters, giving away the family spice blends as well as painting a picture of her childhood, and learning to cook with her mother and grandmother. It’s not a cuisine with which I’m intimately familiar, but I’m inspired to learn more, starting with some of these recipes. I really like the look of red onion, mint and green chilli Hyderabadi-style samosas, Mummy’s dahi baras (soft lentil dumplings), sweet potato and squash parathas, Dadi’s puris, Afghani lamb pulao, Rose garam masala mutton chops, Hunter beef, Lahori fish, Crispy bhindi, Nani’s salted lemon preserve, Pomegranate and raspberry chutney, hibiscus and Himalayan pink salt, and Mango and chilli papper. It’s really noticeable how much more frequently meat turns up in these recipes than in Indian cook books; it seems as though Pakistan is much more carnivorous than India (with, obviously, unlike in India the Hindu prohibition on beef not applying.)
There are over 100 recipes with many, but not all, illustrated by full page photos. They are clearly explained, with preparation and cooking times given as well as the number of people served. Ingredients are in a side-bar, using a small font that might challenge the eyesight. Recipes are divided between 11 chapters, with a further six chapters giving Sumayya’s background and some details of Pakistani cooking techniques and use of spices. Recipe chapters are: Awakening the senses (breakfast), Tantalising the taste buds (street food and snacks), breaking bread and sharing rice, meaty markets and weekdays bazaars, birds from the Empress (the Empress market in Karachi), sailing the seas (seafood), my grandmother’s garden (vegetables, fruit and salad), home-grown guavas (chutneys and pickles), under motia-filled sky (celebration feasts), the sweet taste of mango heaven (desserts), and chai-pani (hot and cold drinks).
Authentic Pakistani food doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, and I look forward to remedying this oversight with the help of this book.
Crispy Bhindi (Chickpea batter okra) from Summers Under The Tamarind Tree
- 250 g /9oz gram flour
- 50 g /1¾oz rice flour or cornflour cornstarch, optional
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dry-roasted cumin seeds
- 50 ml /2 fl oz/scant ¼ cup water
- 50 g /1¾oz okra washed and dried completely before cutting, top, tailed and cut lengthways into 4 thin strips
- 250 ml /9 fl oz/1 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1 tsp chaat masala
- ½ lemon
- Mix all the dry ingredients (except the okra) together in a large bowl and add the measured water or enough to make a very thick batter.
- Dip all the okra into the batter and turn until it is coated. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the okra a piece at a time into the oil and cook until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
- Serve hot with a sprinkling of chaat masala and a gentle squeeze of lemon juice
Recipe and images extracted from Summers Under The Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani, photography by Joanna Yee. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20).
We received a review copy of Summers Under the Tamarind Tree. All options our own.