Summers Under The Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani
Summers Under The Tamarind tree is an evocative look at Pakistan through the eyes of a child growing up in Karachi who is now a cook, celebrating the aromas and flavours of a land influenced by it’s many neighbours and historical invasions. Despite its current troubles, Sumayya conjures a land of plenty, full of fresh produce, wonderful spices and learning to cook at her mother’s and grandmother’s side.
The opening chapters introduce Pakistan through it’s history and flavours, it’s cooking techniques and spices. “Its all about personal creativity.” says Sumayya. But to help you along there are six family-recipe spice blends to use. Most of the dishes can be created from the nine spices that many people will already have in their spice racks.
“Spice shouldn’t be viewed as a daunting enemy- let it be your companion.”
Each of the eleven recipe chapters has a tempting, evocative title telling of time spent in the country, Awakening The Senses – Breakfast, Meaty Markets And Weekday Bazaars, – Beef, Lamb and mutton and Breaking Bread And Sharing Rice. An Intro page tells of the fragrant dishes to come or in the case of street food, a memoire of the hustle and bustle of the city street vendors rousing the senses, each page tempting you with recipes that look very achievable.
The photography is lovely with wonderful expressive lifestyle images from Pakistan scattered with family photos. Almost every one of the one hundred recipes has an image, beautifully styled and photographed by Joanna Yee, each helping you to understand the dish better.
Despite there being chapters on both meat and fish there are plenty of vegetarian options too, enough to make this book worth exploring for a non meat eater. I particularly like Cholay Ka Salan – chickpea curry with tomato and Mummy’s Dahi Baras – soft lentil dumplings topped with yogurt and tamarind. My favourite recipe, though not vegetarian, it is meat free is Mummy’s Whole Fish a delicious colourful red snapper dish. The recipe is below.
This is a celebration of food, beautifully written, opening a door into both a country that has more to offer than it’s troubles and a food that is as much to do with a way of life as it is with nourishment.
- 1 whole gutted red snapper (or fish of your choice)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 5-6 tbsp vegetable oils
- 1½ tsp cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 red onions, cut into rings
- ½ tsp ajwain seed
- 5 large tomatoes on the vine, chopped
- 1 tsp tomato purée
- To garnish
- ¼ bunch coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped
- 2.5cm/1 -inch piece ginger, peeled and cut into julienne
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Rub the fish with lemon juice, salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Place on a plate, cover loosely and set aside until ready to cook.
- Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and allow to splutter for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds; do not allow to burn. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, or until slightly caramelised.
- Add the ajwain seeds and chopped tomatoes and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the oil rises to the top. Add the tomato purée and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until everything is red and bubbly. Turn off the heat.
- Top the fish with the tomato mixture, then place the fish in a large baking dish, cover with foil and cook in the hot oven for 45 minutes if the fish is whole, 15-20 minutes if the fish is in pieces. Check to see if the fish is cooked through. For the last 4-5 minutes remove the foil and allow the topping to caramelise.
- Garnish with chopped coriander, green chilli, ginger julienne and a squeeze of lemon and serve hot.