Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Winter Warmers: Lasanyo Rotlo (Garlicky Pearl Millet Flatbreads)

Throughout the winter of 2014 I was in India on a clinical placement and, considering the mild winter we have been experiencing here in London, I can honestly say that our winters can be, at times, comparable. Especially so in the states situated more towards the north like Gujarat and Rajasthan, the latter of where I was finally forced to request an electric heater from the hotel reception after layers of socks, shawls, and clothing still had me shivering in my antique wood four-poster bed. Staying at a family home in Jamnagar I swear I could feel the cold in my bones at night, my nose and feet numb, since I was practically offered a charpoy set in the courtyard with just a mosquito net and a couple of thick blankets for company. For protection and sustenance during the colder months, warming and bulking foods have always been consumed as part of an essential winter diet on the Subcontinent, and this generally continues to be observed, at least among the older generation and the rural population who are known to adhere to long-standing Ayurvedic principles. Energy-rich pearl millet, or bājra, replaces wheat flour rotis, and are eaten with pungent pickles made sharp from the generous use of mustard and mustard oil. The heavy qualities of jaggery are appreciated over cooling sugar through moreish peanut and sesame brittle confectionaries, found in abundance during the cold season, and fiery garlic chives are added to everything for aromatic piquancy.
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Gujarati man taking a stroll on a sunny winter's morning
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Cardigans and shawls in Rajasthan

I was discussing such observations with the same friend that brought over the shrikhand, inspiring my post on yoghurt. She relayed to me that one of her favourite Rajasthani winter treats happens to be crumbled bājra roti mixed together with ghee and jaggery. In much of India these bread-based dishes are referred to as chūrma or chūrā (chūr literally means powder, but also indicates shredded and crumbled pieces of unleavened breads), and can be prepared as either a sweet or savoury instant snack with leftover roti. The recipe I am presenting today happens to be a favourite of Kathiawar, or so I have been informed. I had never heard of it before, having fiercely detested bājra roti as a child; it was too thick, too dry, and had an unpleasantly crude bitter and smoky flavour. In Jamnagar, I was served bājra rotis with a sweet and sour fruit pickle and spoonfuls of the richest, creamiest ghee I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The ghee had solidified in the cold, and had to be scooped up with a piece of the thick, rigid roti. This combination was taken as a light supper, along with mung bean khichri, cumin potatoes cooked in a simple tomato sauce, and a cup of hot tea. And it was delightful.

Funnily enough, I did not come across lasanyo rotlo in Gujarat. Instead, my cousin introduced it to me while I was in unbearably hot Mumbai for a short while. She has always loved cooking and impressing guests with her eclectic repertoire. On this particular occasion we had plans to go shopping in Bandra, and my cousin wanted to rustle up something quick and easy, yet nutritious enough to last us until dinner. “Hey, Cheraaaaaagh!” she exclaimed. “Have you had lasanyo rotlo before?” When I said that I had never heard of it she declared that that was exactly what we would have for lunch. The maid was asked to prepare a handful of bājra rotis, before being sent to the market to pick up a bunch of garlic chives. “And make sure you come back with a fresh, fat bunch! If you dare return with a withered yellow bunch like last time I’ll send you right back,” my cousin shouted after her. 

My sister was summoned to the kitchen and instructed to proceed crumbling the rotis. I was not looking forward to lunch, especially with it being centred on bājra, and must have been in a strop of sorts after my own suggestion for lunch was rejected. My cousin kept insisting I join them in the kitchen to observe, but I persistently found some excuse to keep away. Lunch was ready in a flash and, as she snapped at the maid to prepare a jug of lassi right away, my cousin brought a large serving bowl to the table. Upon lifting the lid, the tantalising aroma of garlic and coriander wafted towards me and started to make my mouth water. She served me a generous portion of what essentially looked like toasted breadcrumbs flecked with the brilliant green of freshly chopped herbs. “What do I eat this with?” I enquired. “You eat it just like that!” came the irritated response. And then, a little gently, “But you have it with lassi, otherwise it will feel too dry and heavy.”

I remember finding it weird at first, almost like eating a bowl of cereal without milk. But then the textures and flavours started to mingle and sing: soft and chewy with crunchy crusty bits, strong with garlic and onion flavours, and a deep earthy note, possibly cumin or asafoetida. Every now and then, you caught a tiny bit of green chilli to shake things up, and it was all washed down with silky smooth, creamy lassi. It was definitely a very filling meal for something that took such little time and effort to prepare, notwithstanding the dear maid.

The Ayurvedic view of winter is that the colder months provide increased energy and digestive power; it is the best time for growth and muscle development, and the time to take rejuvenative herbs along with food items that are high in fat and protein, and those that have just come into season. It is also a time to increase the consumption of unctuous and heavy substances; oils and butters to help moisturise the skin, rich comfort foods for sustenance.

Bājra is considered astringent and sweet in taste, with drying and heavy qualities, and a heating potency. As a result, it balances kapha and vata, and increases strength in the body. Because it can be difficult to digest, bājra is preffered to be eaten in the colder months, when our digestion is strongest; our digestive fires burning more effectively from the heat generated to counter the cold. It is recommended for metabolic disorders, obesity and weight gain, and to alleviate feeling cold. It also serves as a heart tonic. To assist the body during vata and kapha-dominant seasons like winter and spring, bājra works by virtue of its increased fibre content, encouraging the elimination of toxins, and for providing the extra energy required when exercising.

Pearl millet has the highest protein content of any grain, and that too with a balanced amino acid profile. Though it is a high-energy food, it contains fewer carbohydrates and more fat per 100 grams than what is found in both wheat and rice, which is specifically why the north-western states of India traditionally prefer bājra during the colder months. Pearl millet also contains twice the amount of iron than whole wheat, and more fibre than both wheat and rice. The consumption of pearl millet has been shown to greatly benefit those with Type 2 diabetes, as it has a low glycemic index. It has been found to inhibit the development of malignant breast tumours and colon cancer cells. Because it contains beneficial amounts of such essential nutrients as B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, the inclusion of pearl millet in your diet can assist in maintaining a healthy heart and reducing the risk of such metabolic disorders as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and weight gain. It is also a gluten free grain.

Bājra rotis tend to be on the dry side, which is why they are often served with lashings of ghee or butter, and eaten with lassi or a cup of tea. In this recipe, the crumbs are fried in a generous amount of ghee to not only encourage bulk and lubrication in the body during the cold, dry months, but to also give the dish its wonderful crisp and chewy texture.

If garlic chives are not available, I just use regular chives or spring onion along with finely chopped garlic. This way, you still get that satisfying vegetal crunch and the welcome aromatic pepperiness of garlic.

Lasanyo Rotlo

(serves 2)


150g (1 cup) Bajra Flour (pearl millet flour)
2 Tbls Whole Wheat (Chappati) Flour, plus extra for rolling
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Carom Seeds (optional)

2-4 Tbls Ghee or Unsalted Butter
½ tsp Cumin Seeds
1 pinch Asafoetida
1-3 Green Chillies, finely chopped (or cut in half for less heat)
100g Garlic Chives (or Spring Onions), finely chopped
3 cloves Garlic, finely minced
Large handful of Coriander or Parsley, roughly chopped

·  First prepare the rotis by adding the two flours, salt, and carom seeds to a bowl and mixing well.

·  Gradually add about 120ml (around ½ a cup) of warm water to the flour mixture and knead to a stiff but pliable dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave aside for 5-10 minutes.

·  Heat a skillet or frying pan over a medium-low heat. To make the rotis, divide the dough into four equal balls, and roll out into ½-inch thick rounds with the help of a dusting of chappati flour. Sometimes it helps to use cling film to roll out these rotis as the lack of gluten makes them rather sticky and fragile, and a bit of a challenge to roll out.

·  Place on the frying pan and cook until faint bubbles start to appear on the surface of the roti. Turn over and cook the other side, gently pressing down with a spatula or such implement to ensure even cooking. Repeat on the other side as necessary. Stack the rotis on a plate and smear with ghee or butter if desired.

·  Once cool enough, break the rotis into pieces and place into a food processor. Pulse the pieces to make rough breadcrumbs. In Indian homes, this process is meticulously done by hand, pinching the rotis to a coarse crumble.

·  In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the ghee over a medium flame, and add the cumin seeds. Once they darken and start to sizzle add the asafoetida, allowing to cook for a few seconds. Tip in the garlic chives (or chives / spring onion), the garlic, and the chilli, and stir fry for about 20 seconds, or until that raw smell of garlic just begins to cook out.

· Immediately tip in the breadcrumbs and salt. Increase the heat, stir frying and pressing the breadcrumbs to the bottom of the pan from time to time in order to catch and crisp up. Continue this for 2 to 4 minutes, until a warming, toasty smell begins to rise, and sprinkle generously with chopped herbs for added succulence and freshness.

·  Serve hot with a tall glass of cold salted lassi, or any available yoghurt drink. I tend to accompany this dish with spiced roasted aubergines for a complete meal; one of my favourite winter comfort foods.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Lusophilia: Lisboa, te amo!

Fado na Alfama, by Markus Lüske

I recently returned from a week in Lisbon. The holiday was an incredibly thoughtful birthday gift from a friend, as I have always had an unusual passion and interest for all things Luso. As young children, my parents took my sister and me on our first holiday to the Algarve. I cannot say what it was about the country and its wonderful people, but subsequently, I chose to do my first memorable school project on Portugal. In my late teens, I developed a taste for Brazilian electronic music, a deep enthusiasm for such artists as Suba, Cibelle, Fernanda Porto, and Céu, then branching out to baile funk music and Angolan kuduro, the latter genres being introduced to the international mainstream by Diplo and M.I.A. I loved Maria Rita, Bebel Gilberto, and Mylene Pires, and owned all the latest bossa nova compilations of both João and Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz. I discovered the intense beauty of Portuguese fado. It was from a desperate desire to understand Cibelle’s poetry and identify with Amália Rodrigues’ longing that I sought out a Portuguese language teacher in Neasden.

The music of my youth

My friend and I debated for a while over which part of Lisbon we should stay at, and upon learning of its status as the birthplace of fado, my friend opted for history and culture over nightlife, and booked a bijou apartment in Alfama. The eccentric owner of the flat, Maria, met us outside Santa Apolónia railway station on the Tuesday evening that we landed. She proceeded to guide us down Rua Jardim do Tobaco, and began relaying amusing anecdotes about previous guests, the neighbourhood, and her colourful personal life with gusto and an air of effervescence. As we followed her across the road opposite the Museu do Fado, we passed through a small public square to enter Alfama’s archetypal labyrinth of steep and winding, narrow streets. By the time we had ascended the first couple of cobblestone inclines and were tackling the first set of steps, Maria was already out of breath, her gravelly voice wheezing and panting between sentences. A few more turns and steps later, we had stopped outside a tall terraced house. Maria reached her hand through an open panel in the door to release the lock, assuring us that this was the only way to enter the building. A rather steep and narrow wooden staircase led to our room on the top floor, and it took another good fifteen to twenty minutes of Maria nattering before we were finally alone.

It was, by then, after 10 o’clock in the evening, and we needed to find something to eat. So we set off into the streets of our new neighbourhood and settled for an al fresco dinner at the first open restaurant that we came across, situated on a cobblestone side street. A fado performance went on in a small square behind us as we picked on pastéis de bacalhau and olives, awaiting our meals. We had ordered a jug of wine and, when our food finally arrived, my friend began to wax lyrical about his grilled sardines and boiled potatoes. I had initially found my own dish of bacalhau à bras to be quite bland, almost like a fish khichri of sorts. It was made up of shredded salted codfish cooked with sliced onions and strips of fried potato. But I soon began to appreciate the subtle flavours and textures, almost as much as conversing with the Nepalese waiters, speaking both in Hindi and in broken Nepali.

The next morning was, for me, unbearably hot; during our stay the temperature refused to dip below 28°C. I had stupidly forgotten to pack my Kolhapuri slippers, and did not bring anything in the way of summer clothing. Desperate to get some airflow going, I was suddenly captivated at the east-facing window. The view was like a scene from a postcard. The terracotta tiles of Alfama’s rooftops blazed red before me, only to be offset by the brilliant white of the buildings they enveloped. To the left stood the serene Igreja de Santo Estêvão, and ahead a vast stretch of sea blue, almost like facing the edge of the earth: the celebrated Tagus river. 

View of Alfama from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol 

I stood there for a moment, the sun’s rays hitting my chest, breathing in Lisbon’s sweet air, taking in the beauty. After we had showered and got dressed, we set off for a pastry shop nearby that Maria had recommended in order to sample the famous Portuguese pastéis de nata for breakfast. Something about the narrow streets and the heat of the day reminded me of India, of Old Delhi and my walks around Jamnagar during the afternoon siesta. Of course, Alfama was nowhere near as busy and crowded as any Indian locality, but the clothes hanging to dry outside people’s front doors, the small square windows looking into quaint home kitchens, and the camaraderie between its residents; these little things caught my attention, reminding me of neighbourhoods in India.

A fruit stall in Alfama on the left, and a fruit seller in Rajkot, Gujarat, on the right

Front doors in Portugal and in Gujarat
Neighbours socialising in the streets

Many of the houses and buildings throughout the city itself were tiled with striking ceramic tile work known as Azulejos, an influence bestowed by the earlier Muslim inhabitants of Iberia. This too corresponded to what I had seen in Northern India, similar geometric shapes and floral motives adorning the grand buildings of the Mughal elite and the old towns. The many churches too were, quite naturally, of a similar design to the churches I saw in Diu, a former Portuguese colony until only 1961, just south of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. In fact, the Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa, which stood close by at the bottom of our street in Alfama, made me think back to my visit to the Church of St. Paul in Diu.

The Church of St. Anthony in Alfama on the left, and the magnificent Church of St. Paul in Diu on the right

We decided to walk to the Castelo de São Jorge, not too far from our apartment. Trundling up the steep steps of Beco de Santa Helena, we found that we had come face to face with the Cerca Velha, or the medieval Old Wall, and a bustling street bearing an imposing statue of São Vicente stood opposite the Museum of Decorative Arts. Following the tram tracks, we explored the town on our way to the castle, getting lost many a time along the way, discovering local life, walls decorated with bold graffiti, and more tiled buildings. The castle itself and the surrounding grounds also reminded me of Diu and its fort, while its structure and impressive size has similarities to the forts of Jaipur, albeit on a much less intricate and aesthetically refined scale. The amount of walking and the heat of the day saw us finally retiring at our starting point, the Miradouro das Portas do Sol. With a spectacular view of Alfama before us, we sat at a table on a vast balcony, the largest balloon glass of gin and tonic I had ever encountered, and a bottle of ice-cold champagne between us.

A tiled building in downtown Alfama

The Lisbon Cathedral on the top row with its Romanesque entrance, and the Mahabat Maqbara of Judagadh, Gujarat, below with its Gothic French windows: both buildings showcase an amalgamation of various Eastern and Western architectural influences.

For many nights, we longed to observe a live fado performance. Earlier on in the week my friend and I resolved to have dinner at the Museo do Fado restaurant, opting for a table outside after being encouraged by the balmy weather and the throng of patrons enjoying drinks and conversation outside the restaurant. It was only after the chatty and beautiful waitress had brought us a basket of bread accompanied by garlic butter, olive tapenade, creamy farmer’s goats cheese with a home made fig conserve, and an octopus relish as appetisers, that we noticed everyone beginning to take their seats inside the building in anticipation of the performances. We made up for our dismay by getting absolutely slaughtered bar hopping across Bairro Alto later that night, and ending up at a live jazz bar where I was allowed to smoke indoors and where I had my first taste of luscious ginjinha.

Ginjinha (Source)
One night, after visiting the Sé Cathedral, sauntering around the vicinity of the striking lemon and white Praça do Comércio, and dining at a pizza restaurant for a change from seafood, we sat down at a fado restaurant for dessert and ginjinha just in time for their late night performances. We had stopped here earlier to refresh ourselves with lime juice, and had got chatting to one of the waitresses. She had enquired if we liked music, and that she and her husband were both singers, that we should come and watch them perform that evening. The maître d’, a pushy mature lady with a honey-blonde beehive, brought over my chocolate mousse and a tiny glass of ginjinha just as the first performance commenced. A trio of men started tuning their elegant and striking Portuguese guitars, like noblemen training oriental crested pheasants; they introduced the performance with a couple of songs. Then, a tall and graceful woman in a coral strapless silk dress and a black lace stole joined the guitarists. She was incredibly beautiful and refined in appearance, with her dark hair tied into a neat bun, a precise flick of eyeliner framing her sparkling green eyes, and alluring scarlet lips that seemed to be set in a placid smile.

I took a spoonful of the chocolate mousse and sipped on the ginjinha. The rich, dense mousse coated my mouth in a blanket of bittersweet bliss, followed by the intense sour cherry liqueur: deep and luxurious, syrupy, burning my throat and chest. The fadista began to sing. Her voice was crystal clear and slightly high pitched. She moved and sang perfectly, her actions and eyes matching the mood of the song; one slightly jovial, the next more melancholy. The restaurant was lit with candles, and a warm pink glow had settled on everything, the strapping guitarists, the doll-like singer, the glasses of alcohol, and the mesmerised faces of the seated diners. It may have been the ginjinha, but I was starting to feel very warm. The performance ended to wild applause, and I went to pay for our bill. Behind the bar, washing dishes in the kitchen, I spotted the waitress from earlier. She caught my eye and managed to wave. I told her that we had been waiting to hear her sing, that we had come especially for that reason at her own request. She appeared hesitant for a moment. Then she lifted her index finger and came to the bar. “Let me speak to my boss,” she told me. Perhaps she could organise something. I ordered another round of ginjinha and returned to my table. The guitarists looked as though they were set to head home, and I could see the waitress almost pleading with the maître d’. Finally, the guitarists returned to their places and began to play as one of the men sang to warm up. The waitress entered the performance space and began whispering with the guitarists nervously. With a song decided upon, the soul stirring strumming commenced. Out of nowhere, a powerful and slightly husky voice boomed across the room. As she found her feet, the waitress’ voice oozed from the depths of her very core out through her mouth. The honeyed words trickled like heavy but reluctant tears onto the audience, the words of sadness and longing, of love lost and better days. She looked as though she was breaking down, the microphone bearing her frustration, her feet stamping on the tiled floor. And then, once the performance was over the agony on her face disappeared, and the awkwardness and nerves returned in contemplation of the next song.

The night at the restaurant with the waitress

That night I was blown away. The two performers had such different styles, personalities, and performance deliveries. Where the first singer stood with poise and cool confidence, her vocals precise with a restrained playfulness, the waitress displayed humility and a sweet charm, desperation to some minute extent, whilst her singing alluded to personal loss and suffering. It was like watching a film, one of those old Indian films set in a brothel or a royal palace, where you view the lives of two artistes of different social classes and levels of expertise, and their journeys through love and privilege. Being lucky enough to observe a few more fado performances throughout my stay, including one where a spirited and amiable group of elderly friends took turns on the stage, they made me think of the old mehfils and mujras of Mughal India, so lavishly portrayed in art and media. The old friends reminded me of my family around the time I was born, when my grandfather would invite his pals over and they would all sit on worn Persian rugs and fraying bolsters playing musical instruments and arguing over the melody and lyrics of film songs and ghazals. Each of my aunts would be roped into singing as the remaining guests and family members would sip on tea and graze on snacks, mothers cradling their sleeping children in their laps. Of course, the history and social practices of mehfils and fado are not comparable, but the passion in the performers, the sense of desolation present in the florid lyrics, and most importantly the emotions these performances stir up, the bringing together of souls through music, this is the common ground I found between the musical performances of Northern India and Lisbon.

There is so much more to share about my trip to Portugal, including visiting the fairytale castles of pastel-coloured Sintra, reminiscent of my idea of South India merging with an aristocratic colonial hill station, and the historical municipality of Belém. Visiting Lisbon made me feel strangely at home. Perhaps understanding the language helps in familiarising yourself with a place, adding to that my keen interest in the country, but it felt like I was simply revisiting a part of my past with new eyes. Alfama itself was magical, and we left its sweet old ladies and captivating fadistas, its crumbling brickwork and glazed azulejo tiles, and its magnificent churches and hole in the wall ginjinha bars in the early hours of the morning. That night was the night of the total lunar eclipse and the Super Blood Moon. As my friend caught a couple hours of kip in preparation for the early flight, I stood at the window admiring the reflection of the brilliant full moon on the Tagus River. As the hours passed, the moon began to disappear and surge higher into sky, making me stretch my body further through the window. Around 2.30am we pulled our suitcases as silently as we could across the cobblestones of Alfama. One or two astronomy types were out with their telescopes and cameras, a truly surreal sight in the old world surroundings of the town. I looked up as we approached Santa Apolónia railway station, and I saw the luminous garnet moon watching over me. It bid me farewell, following me all the way in the taxi to the airport. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Breakfast: Azerbaijani Gozlemeh

I am quite fussy about breakfast. I need it in order to function upon waking, but I am also particular about what I will have. Growing up on Weetabix made with hot milk, cereal was the go to choice for many years, but living alone brought along with it a myriad of possibilities. Of course, as a child we did have the regular Full English on a Sunday, the unsavoury odour of bacon rising to my bedroom, The Chart Show booming 90s hits through the house. On some occasions, we would have Indian variations thrown in: tiny pooris with dry potato curry and rice pudding; chai, gaathiya and jalebi; crisp parathas and crunchy sambhaaro; and once or twice in my lifetime, fresh masala dosa with all the trimmings, made with the help of our neighbour Shashi Auntie.

It is these latter sorts of breakfasts that I have found myself craving for as the years have mounted living away from home. They are hearty and substantial, yet light and full of flavour. Jalebi and gaathiya may sound too heavy and cloying for some to eat at breakfast, but this is surprisingly not the case. The ideal jalebi should be thin and crispy, with the finest coating of sticky, rose-perfumed syrup; gaathiya, deep-fried chickpea flour savoury snacks, are delicate and flaky, with coarsely ground black pepper running through them for gentle piquancy. In Gujarat, these are usually served alongside a carrot or papaya sambhaaro. This is a warm salad consisting of finely shredded carrot, cabbage, or raw papaya stir-fried in mustard seeds, green chillies, and turmeric. It is seasoned with salt and lime juice to give you fresh, crunchy, sour, and spicy all at once, and all of these different flavours are brought together with a warm mouthful of sweet masala chai.

Jalebi and gaathiya (Source)

Being able to obtain good quality gaathiya and jalebi is a bit of a mission, since most jalebi I have tasted across the capital have been disappointing, to say the least. I feel that I have perfected most breakfast dishes over the years: breakfast breads like stuffed and plain paratha, poori, and bhakri, and the aforementioned sambhaaro, which is especially quick and easy to rustle up. Since before I left home, I always made an effort to discover and understand Iranian culture, and this is how my taste for Persian and Central Asian cuisine developed. I regularly make Iranian quince moraba alongside Indian amla murabba when these fruits come in season during the winter months, relishing the quince for breakfast with Bulgarian white goats cheese, warm Turkish bread, and sweet black Iranian tea. From late spring, when robustly flavoured Greek basil and heavily fragrant rose petal moraba become available, I begin to enjoy these seasonal treasures as part of a sabzi khordan platter with cheese, bread, a host of fresh herbs and vegetables, and soft boiled eggs.

My quince moraba, served with white cheese, Tabrizi bread, and Iranian tea

Sabzi khordan

Always on the hunt for varied breakfast ideas, I came across Azerbaijani gozlemeh. This godsend of a recipe came from the Turmeric and Saffron food blog, a page that specialises in Persian recipes and stories. I must warn you that this recipe is far from Ayurvedic. It follows incorrect food combinations and is far too heating, with the inclusion of eggs, yoghurt, and raw garlic. I overindulged in this one summer and, being someone with a slight heat imbalance, developed nosebleeds and bleeding gums as a warning sign to curb my enthusiasm. Regardless, it is, without a doubt, one of the easiest and most satisfying breakfasts I have discovered in a while.

The blogger, Azita, explains having stumbled upon this recipe in an old Iranian cooking manual, and modifying it to current tastes and cooking methods. The original Farsi recipe serves six, and calls for 500ml of oil, twelve eggs, a kilo of strained yoghurt, and a single clove of garlic. Two of the eggs are required to be mixed well into the yoghurt and cooked over a gentle heat before adding the mashed garlic clove. This is the sauce of the recipe, and is served over flatbreads with fried eggs laid on top. It specifically states that a liberal use of oil makes for a tastier dish. My recipe turns the yoghurt sauce into a Turkish cacık of sorts, with salt, garlic, and dried mint, and layers the uncooked sauce and fried eggs over a thin, buttered roti. The garlic is very lightly cooked in ghee before being added to the yoghurt, in order to balance its heating potency. I did try the recipe with the ramazan pidesi bread that is always found in abundance at the Turkish shop nearby, but found it to be too thick. There are other types of flatbreads like lavash, and even thin Turkish pide, that would work just as well as roti.

I like to tell myself that the mint imparts a cooling quality to the dish, and the ample use of butter balances the yoghurt, but I could be clutching at straws. Nevertheless, this is a deeply satisfying breakfast to treat yourself to over the colder months.

Azerbaijani Gozlemeh (Fried eggs with yoghurt sauce)

(Serves 2)


50g strained yoghurt (Greek style yoghurt will suffice, but homemade works best)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dried mint (optional extra: 1 tsp finely chopped parsley)
1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 eggs
1 Tbl ghee / butter
2 rotis (frozen or fresh)
6 – 8 black olives, halved
Dried oregano
Slices of cucumber, radish, and tomato, to serve

  • First prepare the rotis. If using frozen rotis, allow to defrost before cooking on the stove. Fresh rotis can be prepared and kept warm.

  • Mix the salt, herbs, and garlic into the yoghurt, stirring well. A few drops of water can be added at this stage to loosen the sauce, depending on personal preference.

  • Heat the ghee or butter in a frying pan. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, or until the raw smell only just begins to soften. Tip into the yoghurt with half of the melted fat and whisk well. 

  •      Crack two of the eggs into the  remaining ghee in the pan, season with salt, and allow to fry until they are cooked with slightly runny yolks. I tend to finish my fried eggs off under the grill in order to cook the tops to perfection.

  •       Spread a spoonful of the yoghurt mixture onto a generously buttered roti, and top with two fried eggs. Garnish with the olives, a sprinkling of oregano, and serve with a salad of your choice.

Azerbaijani gozlemeh

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Food of the Gods: Yoghurt & Shrikhand

Cardamom and saffron-laced Shrikhand
Yoghurt: A Brief Overview

Yoghurt is one of the oldest foods in human history. Supposedly originating in Central Asia, it has been mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic and Persian texts, and written about by Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder and medieval Turkish intellectuals. Cultures from Greece and Central Asia through to the Indian Subcontinent incorporate yoghurt into their cuisines, be it cooked into dishes, prepared as a soup, or served alongside meals; many cultures still enjoy yoghurt-based drinks for their refreshing taste and digestive properties.

Back when we were children, I remember my mother making fresh yoghurt almost every night; she would place a stainless steel bowl of cultured milk to set in the boiler cupboard each night before bed. As the years went by she grew lazy, and fresh yoghurt was replaced with shop-bought fat-free natural yoghurt. This never bothered me because I cannot say that I was the biggest fan of yoghurt as a child, always preferring milk or ice cream. Yoghurt was too sour, regardless of what preparation it was being used for. My sister on the other hand loved yoghurt, and I would watch with distaste as she took second helpings of the warm yoghurt soup kadhi, and dropped large dollops of thick yoghurt onto her rice.

It was on my extended trip to India last year that I began to appreciate yoghurt. Having spent four months there in order to complete a clinical placement for my Ayurvedic studies, I was fortunate enough to travel up and down the country sampling the different gastronomic delights. Starting in the South, at a dusty town between Bangalore and Mangalore, I savoured the cool yet spicy tang of curd rice, and found surprising comfort in freshly prepared yoghurt that was rich and unctuous with a thick layer of cream on top. In Gujarat I discovered shrikhand, a dense strained yoghurt sweetened with rock candy and flavoured with saffron, cardamom, and pistachio. It was intensely addictive stuff, a kind that I had never tasted before, almost a cross between Italian gelato and mousse. Of the few that I had tried back home, all had this terribly sharp tang to them that did not agree with my palette. And then there was Delhi, my beloved Delhi… I could not get enough of the sweet lassi from Kamla Nagar. It was thick and creamy, but still thirst quenching and light, with electric crimson rose syrup at the bottom of the gigantic plastic cup and a generous layer of crunchy clotted cream on top. I always rewarded myself after channa masala and kulcha with two helpings.

I managed to spend a little time with relatives in Jamnagar and Mumbai before my departure, and observed an almost obsessive fastidiousness around the preparation of yoghurt and mealtime lassis. Each culture, indeed each individual, has their own taste preferences: Iranians prefer sour yoghurt, allowing it to set for at least 24 hours to achieve the desired level of sharpness. In contrast, most Indians prefer a milder, creamier yoghurt and allow between 4 to 12 hours for it to set, depending on the season. I remember my cousin in Mumbai shouting at her maid around lunchtime to enquire if the morning’s preparation of yoghurt had been placed in the refrigerator. I had not understood why at the time. My aunt, incidentally my cousin’s mother, in Jamnagar had been obsessive about hygiene surrounding her own yoghurt, and lassi had to be prepared in a very particular, rather rigorous way for the lunchtime meal.

In India, the Ayurvedic view of yoghurt has only somewhat prevailed amongst its people. Contrary to popular opinion, yoghurt is viewed as a heating food due to its sour taste and fermentation process of production. It is often considered heavy to digest, and should only be consumed in the colder months when digestion power is strong, never to be eaten at night or on a daily basis by way of its heavy qualities. It increases fat, and strengthens both the sperm and the body in general. Therapeutically, yoghurt has been prescribed for anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, and urinary tract infections, whilst its improper consumption can lead to fever, skin diseases, and anaemia.  However, certain foods possess qualities that balance those of yoghurt, making it more agreeable to the body and the digestive system. These include mung bean soup, ghee, honey, unrefined sugar, and amla (Indian gooseberries).

Rediscovering Shrikhand

Shrikhand is mainly eaten as a dessert around the winter months in the Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. At celebratory gatherings and social dinners it is served garnished with bright green ground pistachio, rose petals, and silver leaf. Unrefined sugar is used to lightly sweeten the yoghurt, and cooling, blood-purifying saffron is added alongside mucous-mitigating cardamom for an overall balanced sweet. The yoghurt is strained to remove all the liquid whey and to produce that luxurious texture. The name itself poses some interesting questions. Initially, because I was studying Farsi, I thought that the dish had its origins in Persia: shir is the Farsi word for milk, and qand is sugar. However, upon commencing my Ayurvedic studies, we had to take one module in Sanskrit, and there I learnt that kshīr was also the Sanskrit word for milk, with khānd meaning unrefined sugar. The prevalence of shrikhand centres on Gujarat, a northwestern state close to Rajasthan and Sindh, and where the Zoroastrians first settled centuries ago. Although strained yoghurt recipes abound throughout western, central, and southern Asia, it has been difficult locating any recipes similar to shrikhand outside of India.

I had forgotten about shrikhand upon my return to London, and satisfied my sweet tooth by frequenting the Turkish bakeries on Green Lanes, or making less complicated desserts like firni, shahi tukrey, and a cardamom and saffron-laced panna cotta. Then, a month or so back, a good friend that I had not seen for a while came round one Saturday evening for dinner and drinks. I served up a chicken and rosewater pulao, complete with a perfect Iranian tah dig crust and perfumed tea, and she rewarded my efforts with a delicious bottle of sauvignon blanc and a tub of home made shrikhand.

Having delighted in the tah dig crust with a little too much gusto, my friend declined dessert, and I only tried the shrikhand the next morning. Memories came flooding back. Delights to the senses in Gujarat: the biting chill of the morning shade, cows cleaning each other in the sun, the scents of freshly fried jalebis and gaathiya coming from the bottom of the street, and strong masala chai wafting from the kitchen. It was delicate, silky, and delicious! This one had been made with the addition of fresh mango pieces, adding bursts of tangy sweetness to each mouthful. Despite my attempts to savour the glory for as long as possible with only two spoonfulls a day, by the third day I caved in and polished off the whole lot in one sitting.

Cows in love in Jamnagar, Gujarat

Naturally, I set off to make my own. Strained yoghurt could not possibly be that difficult. So I purchased a tub of natural yoghurt from the local Turkish shop, poured it into a muslin-lined colander, tied it up into a bundle, and set it over a bowl for the liquid to drip away. A few hours later, I added some sugar, the required spices, and mixed well. Whilst the texture was acceptable, the taste was completely off. Just like the ones I had tasted in my youth, this shrikhand had that terrible sharpness that resulted in a mild smarting sensation on my tongue. Highly dissatisfied, I relayed the story to my friend and asked her advice. She informed me that her mother only used home made yoghurt to make shrikhand, and I was instructed to allow it to strain in the fridge overnight. I had kept mine on the kitchen table as I cooked dinner, so the surrounding heat must have contributed to the yoghurt becoming increasingly sour.

Although I had put it off for a couple of weeks, I was determined to make the perfect shrikhand. I sent my cousin in Mumbai a message to enquire over her secrets for the best yoghurt. As standard, I was to boil the milk, allow it to cool, and then mix in a little amount of starter culture before placing it in a warm place to set. But here was the trick. For the mildest, creamiest yoghurt, it had to be carefully observed. As soon as the mixture came away from the sides of the bowl, and a thin liquid had developed over the top, your yoghurt had set, and it had to be put straight into the fridge to stop it from souring any further. So here is what I did:

Homemade Yoghurt 


1½  pints full fat organic, unhomogenised milk
1 Tbl Yoghurt

·        Preheat the oven to about 50°C.

·        Pour the milk into a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over a medium-low heat. Make sure to stir the bottom regularly to prevent any milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This process should take about 15 – 20 minutes.

·        Once boiled, take off the stove and allow to cool. At this point, the milk can be transferred to a container of your choice. When a finger can be immersed in the milk comfortably for 20 seconds, the milk has been sufficiently cooled. A thick layer of cream will have developed over the milk.

·        Add the yoghurt and whisk well to make sure it has been evenly dispersed.

·        Place the container in the oven and immediately turn it off. In about 3 – 5 hours, the set yoghurt will be coming away from the sides of its container, and a thin film of liquid will be visible over the top. Transfer the container to the fridge right away.

This method produces the most creamiest, sweetest yoghurt I have ever tasted outside of India, with the cream on top adding a layer of luxury. It is actually impossible to find anything even remotely similar in the shops, be it organic, fresh from the cow's udders, or made by devoted, golden hued farmers in Crete. Using this batch of yoghurt to produce your next will only enhance the quality of the yoghurt, so I am always careful to keep a couple of tablespoons back to use as starter culture.

My home made yoghurt, complete with the layer of cream on top, courtesy of unhomogenised milk 

With the yoghurt perfected, it was round two with the shrikhand. This time I made sure to allow the yoghurt to strain in the fridge overnight, keeping a heavy weight over it. Sure enough, by the morning I was left with strained yoghurt that had an almost solid consistency. To this I added saffron rock candy that I had found at an Iranian shop nearby (nabat), and cardamom. I mixed it well, trying to whip some air into it, and finally sprinkled ground almonds and pistachios on top. And then to taste…

Yes! I found myself back in Gujarat. 


(serves 2)


250g homemade yoghurt
2 – 4 Tbls icing sugar, or ground rock candy
3 – 5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground to a powder
Pinch of saffron
2 Tbls pistachios, ground to a powder
2 Tbls almonds, ground to a powder

·        Pour the yoghurt into a colander lined with muslin and pull up the sides of the cloth to tie into a tight bundle. Place the colander over a bowl. A plate can be placed on top with a weight, such as a pestle and mortar or a can of chopped tomatoes. Alternatively, the bundle can be hung and suspended over a bowl, as is the traditional method.

·        Allow the yoghurt to strain for a good few hours in the fridge, or overnight, until all the liquid has been drained. Squeeze tightly before use.

·        Put the strained yoghurt into a bowl and add the powdered sugar and spices. Mix well, whipping gently for a few minutes.

·        Taste and adjust the sugar if required.

·        Before serving, sprinkle with ground nuts and dried rose petals. Dried and fresh fruits can also be stirred into the shrikhand for flavour and texture.

NB: The drained liquid whey does not need to be thrown away, and can be used in soups, cooking, and especially in baking and bread making.

My own perfected Shrikhand

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Cup of Chai?

If I had been asked a couple of years back to rate tea amongst my list of preferred beverages, it would not have ranked so highly. A tea bag dunked in boiling water with some sugar and milk was considered an okay pick me up, adequate with cake or biscuits in the afternoon, better with fresh, butter-drenched cumin parathas and stir-fried shredded cabbage for breakfast. I used to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the mornings, with plenty of hot frothy milk and cinnamon, and a cigarette. This was before I discovered the intensely disagreeable effects coffee had on both my digestive and nervous systems, after which I have abstained from even a drop. Since my stay in Delhi however, I must admit that I now cannot get enough of tea. If I cannot find the time to make a proper cup of masala chai in the morning my day does not seem to pass smoothly; I start to feel deficient in some way, strangely hollow.

I was flicking through the television channels during one of my usual bouts of insomnia, checking the On Demand section for programmes I may have missed over the past week, when I chanced upon Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea on the BBC. The information button described the comedienne travelling through China and India, meeting “chai wallahs, opium smokers, Assam tea pickers and grumpy elephants” along the way. I was more than intrigued and settled down nicely to a thoroughly enjoyable and informative, humour-riddled documentary on the history and industrialisation of the tea trade. I applaud Victoria Wood for writing such an entertaining yet honest account of history. Even dark and uncomfortable truths of the depraved intentions and practices behind the British Empire were revealed, though the weight of these details were detracted through the use of her amiable, satirical wit.

Tea: Some Uncomfortable Home Truths

After the programme, I thought deeply of the consequences of the tea trade. The Chinese were, and continue to remain, admirably wise. When direct trade between Europe and China first began in the 16th Century, entry into China was forbidden to all outsiders; certain ports were specified solely for trade in order to keep invaders and foreign rulers out. The Chinese kept the production of their most lucrative and sought after exports a closely guarded secret, tea being one of them. By the 18th Century, British demand for tea – along with such coveted Chinese goods as silk and porcelain – grew rapidly. In contrast, Chinese demand for British goods was low and silver, the only commodity the Chinese would accept, and which the British were subjected to purchasing from other European nations, was only incurring the Empire further losses. This distressing degradation caused Britain to turn to India, by then under British rule, to exploit its opium poppy harvests in order to restore the balance of trade with China. The British introduced opium to China, where its fatally addictive nature quickly allured the masses, securing an instant consumer market. Despite strong protest from the Qing Dynasty government, British traders began the import of opium from India until its sale and consumption was finally prohibited in 1729. It was only a century later, in 1838, when China’s own silver had been exhausted from the sheer number of its people hooked on the destructive narcotic that the Daoguang Emperor demanded the arrest of Chinese opium dealers, along with the confiscation and destruction of all foreign stock. In retaliation, the British devastated the Chinese coast in the First Opium War. This resulted in China being forced to pay the British for security, to open its ports to Britain, France and the United States, and to relinquish Hong Kong to Queen Victoria whilst recognising Britain and China as equals. Though the House of Commons had wondered if there had ever been "a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace”, the Second Opium War was proclaimed a triumph in the British press. This subsequent victory ensured new Chinese ports to be opened for foreign trade, permission granted for all foreigners (including Christian missionaries) to travel throughout the country, and indemnities of five-million ounces of silver to be paid to Britain and France. This period in Chinese history is referred to as the Century of Humiliation. The lasting effects of these mercenary disputes, all stemming from a guzzling appetite for the cured leaves of some aromatic plant, are still evident today.

As the British poisoned the Chinese, laws enforcing the prohibited sale and personal use of opium in India were so rigid, so effectively enforced, that the Indian opium den was eliminated, and continues to remain relatively so. The British had encouraged agricultural productivity, even providing economic incentives for workers to bear more children in order to assist in the fields. Furthermore, Indian landlords were given a share from cash crop systems, driving them to mount unrestrained pressure onto their workers. The cultivation of such vast amounts of opium, with an enforced scarcity of its demand on Indian soil, allowed the British to control both its production and its distribution, monopolising the entire trade. Then, intense Indian droughts started to result in the failure of grain crops, and population numbers were beginning to exceed the amount of available food and land. This led to the Great Famine of 1876-78. During this period, not only did the British government continue to oversee the export of a record 2.9 million tonnes of Indian wheat to England, but it also refused to export grain to India from its colonies in an attempt to reduce expenses on welfare. It has been estimated that between 12 million and 29 million Indians died for the British appetite and as a consequence of Britain’s financial greed. It was after this period that many Indians, mostly agricultural and skilled labourers, began to migrate to such British colonies as those in East Africa and the West Indies to take up work as indentured labourers. The ultimate inception behind my existence.

Personal Preferences

Aside from the poignant realities behind the tea trade, I also began to think of the peculiarities of tea loving nations in great anticipation of the morning, when I would finally be able to relish my next cup. I found Wood’s reactions to the various tea preparations she was savouring quite amusing. Whilst the Chinese infusions were appreciated for their delicacy and floral fragrance, the traditionally brewed tea offered by the Singpho people of Arunachal Pradesh (and enjoyed with a hit of opium by the men folk) was considered too strong and bitter. A cup of Indian tea in Assam was likened to cocoa: treacly, and thick with sugar and condensed milk; it was “not quite doing it”. And finally, a special masala chai in Kolkata, prepared with spices, mint, and rosewater by a chai-wallah called Sadhu, was dubiously described as tasting like sweet, hot milk; it appeared difficult to detect any tea flavour at all. It was “really lovely”, she opines, but “he might need to think about doing a skinny version”. The very thought of a masala chai made with rosewater and mint makes my mouth start to water. That exotic, perfumed, intense sweetness is something Victoria described as a world away from a British cuppa. And quite rightly so.

The tea I grew up with was boiled in milk and water, in a saucepan over the stove. It was sweet, rich, and subtly spiced, always with a commercial chai masala powder that contained far too much dried ginger for my taste. It was strained, always with a brightly coloured plastic tea strainer; my mother would fly into a rage over tea leaves littering the kitchen sink. And there was always that fine layer of cream floating persistently at the top of your cup, savoured by some, despised by others. For years I thought tea – and the word chai – to be purely of Indian origin, as I did saffron and chillies. The brightly dressed Indian woman picking tea on the boxes of PG Tips confirmed this to me, as did the love of tea displayed by not only every member of my family, but also every Indian person I encountered. Everything seemed to be governed by chai, from my parents’ will to go on in the mornings, to my dad’s functioning by the late afternoon, and finally to the drawn out seeing off of dinner guests well past midnight. This tea was the only tea I had known.

Drinking English tea, at cafes, canteens, and restaurants, I had always felt that there was something missing; that the tea had not been allowed to brew for long enough, that the establishment was being forced to act frugally with their milk supply, or that the entire method of preparation may have been desperately rushed. Back when I used to frequent the farmer’s market each Saturday for dairy produce, a couple of friends and I decided to spend one morning in languor at a charming little café along Stoke Newington Church Street. Seated in the rear outdoor area of the café, on distressed filigreed garden furniture under a forest green parasol, we were surrounded by pots of evergreen shrubs, grasses, and herbs placed along the walls. There was a shed or greenhouse taking up most of the limited space, which resulted in a warm and intimate atmosphere amongst the friends and couples discussing artwork, theatre plays and modelling. We ordered a pot of tea and it arrived in an Alice in Wonderland style clear glass teapot with some sort of high tech filter within containing the tea. What a spectacle! We poured ourselves a cup and tucked into our pastries. But what a disappointment the tea turned out to be. It was still bland and watery; poorly flavoured hot water. I allowed the tea to stew for the duration of our morning, added more milk to my cup, more sugar. It was just not doing it.

And I can never forget the first time I tried green tea. When I used to work at the pharmacy, a work colleague would wax lyrical about Jacksons of Piccadilly, insisting I try their sencha green tea with lemon. I was stubborn in those days and had remained quite resolute in my refusal to chance a gustatory experience so unusual; I had been the same with sushi. My colleague kindly offered me a couple of teabags to take home and try. That weekend, I must have indulged in one too many gin and tonics, and woke up on Sunday morning feeling worse for wear. Remembering the green tea, I thought I might as well make myself a cup; I could do with the detox. I found the taste revolting! It was unpleasantly bitter with a grassy mustiness, the lemon flavour reminiscent of Dioralyte. I forced myself to down it regardless. Within a minute or two I had my head in the toilet, projectile vomiting every last drop back out. I have since found white tea more agreeable to my palate.

Tea on the Indian Subcontinent

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of green tea, whilst India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of black tea, which explains the tea drinking habits of these great nations. The Chinese, along with the people of the Himalayan regions, historically drank tea as a medicinal decoction before its popularity increased as an invigorating, bitter stimulant. So why and when did the people of India decide to add copious amounts of milk, sugar, and spices to this traditionally pure and uplifting brew? The British found that they could grow tea in Assam and, in order to compete with China’s monopoly on the product, resolved to use Chinese techniques to cultivate it on an industrial scale. Thus, the British fondness for the leaf, followed by a drop in its consumption during the Great Depression of the 1930s generating a production surplus, was passed on to Indian society, giving rise to the integral part it plays in Indian culture and identity today. Before the advent of tea, Indians would drink coffee in the South, and milk and yoghurt based drinks in the North, along with herbal preparations and broths of medicinal value to supplement their diets. Fresh rasas, the juices of seasonal fruits and sugarcane, along with coconut water, were widely consumed throughout India, as were fragrant herbal infusions and sharbats enhanced with balancing spices and floral essences. Hospitality and social ceremonies revolved around the offering of paan, the stimulating betel leaf and areca nut preparation, then devoid of the cancerous effects of tobacco. The hookah, originating in the North Western provinces of India and initially used to smoke herbs and spices to relieve disorders of the respiratory system, was popularised as a social pastime activity by the Mughals via Iran. Freshly prepared snack foods, and board and card games also played integral roles in Indian hospitality and home entertainment.

As the popularity of tea began to grow amongst Indians, the majority of Indian tea was still being exported to Britain. This usually left the Indians with low grade tea dust, which chai wallahs began to boil with milk, sugar, and spices for longer periods to draw out as much as they could from their tea. This could explain the birth of masala chai as we know it today, but what else is behind its distinct recipe?

India remains the largest producer and consumer of milk in the world, neither exporting nor importing the stuff. Milk has always been highly prized, both for nourishment and for cultural and religious practices. The Vedic scriptures revere cows milk as nectar, nourishing and balancing; there are passages dedicated to its proper collection and preparation, and to its many therapeutic actions and properties, in the Ayurvedic classics. A golden rule with milk is that it requires sufficient boiling in order to render it digestible for humans. The cream that settles on the top, known in Northern India as malaai, is considered heavy and difficult to digest, and is almost always skimmed off and churned to make butter, or used to enhance desserts and festive foods. Milk was traditionally taken at the beginning of each day for strength and vigour, and at bedtime as a restorative and nervine tonic. Spices such as ginger and black pepper were added as digestive stimulants and to counter the cooling, unctuous nature of milk, whilst the pungency of cardamom served as an expectorant, neutralising the mucous forming properties of milk. Cardamom also detoxifies caffeine, which explains its liberal use in the time honoured Turkish and Middle Eastern methods of preparing coffee, again, via Iran. It can be safe to generalise Indians as a nation of sweet lovers, and pots of boiling milk are sweetened with cane sugar not only for the taste, but because energy-rich unrefined sugar works to carry nutrients faster and more effectively to all the bodily tissues. The sugar modulating effect of cinnamon was well known to the vaidyas through its bitter and pungent taste and its digestion stimulating properties, explaining its essential use in the more saccharine masala chai recipes.  

The ritualistic process of pouring the tea back and forth from a height also finds its origins in health and well being. Apart from its obvious function of cooling down the hot tea before serving, it is believed in Ayurveda that the air bubbles produced by pouring a drinking liquid from a height increase the prana in a person, the life force. Working as a supplementary immunomodulator in modern terms, such practices continue to be carried out in India with drinking water and lassis, for example, though their original significance has been long lost. Even the order in which the ingredients enter the pot is owed to medicinal practices: the herbs and spices are added to the water first in order to draw out their essential oils. Then the fatty milk is added to mingle with these oils as it heats up. The elongated boiling process allows all the concentrated ingredients to disperse through the liquor, before tea and sugar is finally added and brewed to taste.

The ancient Eastern civilisations were at one with nature; anything that entered or was applied to the body had medicinal value, balancing the body and mind and promoting physiological homeostasis. Though these beneficial traditions are in rapid decline, the literature is still available to be understood and observed. Even something that Gandhi regarded as foreign, an exploitation of Indian labour, has been wholeheartedly embraced and Indian-ised, the Vedic principles of antiquity somehow finding their way again into the daily lives of Indians.

Though some argue that tea was never introduced by the British, that it is indigenous to India and that the British only played a part in its commercialisation and popularisation, it is something I cannot deny being grateful for. Once I sign off, I will probably continue to mull over the lasting effects of the tea trade. What if the British Empire had not been so ruthless? What if my great grandfather had never set sail for Uganda? Would my father still have met my mother in London? Would I have ever come across the people I hold dearest to me? Friends from Trinidad and Kashmir, friends whose parents emigrated here from places like Guyana and Nepal? 

In the meantime, I shall just go ahead and boil myself that nice cup of chai.

My Masala Chai

(makes 1 cup)

1 cup water
¾ cup full fat milk (organic, unhomogenised)

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 bag Organic India tulsi tea
8 - 10 green cardamom pods, crushed well
1 black cardamom pod, crushed well
½ cinnamon stick, pounded to a coarse powder
Pinch of cumin or fennel seeds (I prefer the strong, savoury note of cumin)
6 - 8 black peppercorns, crushed (optional, for colder days)
6 - 8 cloves, crushed
Fresh mint leaves and stalks (optional, for hot days)
Dash of rose water

1 rounded tsp loose Assam tea leaves
2-4 tsps sugar (raw, unrefined)

·  Boil the ginger, tulsi, spices, and mint (if using) in the water for around 7 – 10 minutes.
·  Add the milk and bring to the boil.
·  Finally add the sugar and tea leaves, and allow to simmer until the required strength and colour is achieved (about 2 – 4 minutes).
·  Before serving, add the rose water. Strain into a cup, and pour back and forth from one cup to another from a height, if desired, until slightly cooled and energised with prana.