Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Tandoori Chicken Biryani

Hello, all. Welcome to biryani recipe 240349304 on the interwebs. You might be wondering, well Abida, what makes your biryani recipe so different from all the other ones out there?? Well, I'll tell you exactly what, discerning readers. It's the fact that I have struggled to get to this point of a publishable biryani recipe that I can confidently share with other people. It has been a year long journey for me of trials, tribulation and hyperventilation. I should add a side note here that being Bangladeshi, biryanis are not really a traditional food as it is in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is usually more common for us to prepare a pilau or yakhni dish. And yep that is my very legitimate excuse that I am using before sharing my embarassing biryani making woes...

The first attempt came a year ago where I attempted to make the biryani from scratch with no boxed spice mixes. It was a sorry tale from the get go. I somehow managed to burn the onions when I was making the chicken masala, lending a rather unpleasant acrid taste throughout the whole dish. Furthermore, I was so fixated on not having soft, mushy rice, that I ended up with the total opposite and I had to spend aaaages letting it cook on the stove in a desperate attempt to get it to soften. The second biryani attempt came a few months later, when I managed to muster the courage to try again. This time, I thought to ease myself back into the process by using a ready prepared biryani spice mix. I ended up regretting the decision as I found the flavour too strong and decidedly flowery in taste. On top of that, the second time around, I was fixated on not having hard rice and subsequently I ended up with rice that was way too soft. 

The struggles, guys. It's real. 

But a couple of days ago, I decided to conquer my fears head on, armed with my new range of culinary skills and a bag load of tips that I'd preened from anyone who fed me biryani. And just like in the tale of Golidocks and the Three Bears, the third time was just right. And there was no box spice mix to be found in sight, huzzah! All of the spices were ones that we had in the cupboards anyway, and I tried to use whole spices in moderation so as not to overwhelm the dish. I decided to go for a tandoori chicken flavour as it is one that we all enjoy in our family so it was a safe option. I used chicken on the bone as I feel that it is more tender, but you can use boneless chicken, and make tikka style pieces. 

There are three different parts to this recipe, the preparation of the tandoori chicken and then the gravy/sauce to go with it, the precooking of the rice, and the assembly process. It might seem a bit intimidating, but if you are lazy like me, you could prepare the chicken masala the night before and then do all of the rice and assembly the next day. And if you're looking for even more shortcuts, you could skip baking the chicken in the oven and just cook it on the stove straight off. I couldn't be bothered to use dough to seal the pot as in the traditional dum method to steam the biryani and instead used foil. Alternatively, you could wrap the lid in a damp tea towel and place it on top. A colleague gave me the tip of placing a flat tawa under the pot whilst the biryani steams and I found that it helps in distributing the heat.

You could add lots of food colouring to the rice or the chicken, but I decided to keep things simple and natural, and used a little bit of saffron. Like with most curry dishes, as good as the biryani tastes fresh, it tastes better the next day when the flavours have had time to mature and deepen.  So give it a go, guys. I really mean it when I say that if I can do it, anyone can do it. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Vintage Eid Tea Party

During the weekend of Eid, we threw a vintage style tea party on a surprisingly sunny Sunday afternoon. It was the first grown up party that I had taken part in hosting and I thought I'd share a few pictures from the day. It took a few days to plan and prepare, and whilst there were a few stressful moments, it was a very fun and enjoyable day.

It was a real DIY party, as most things were either homemade, like the cakes and cookies or bought from the pound shop/eBay like the disposable tablecloth and vintage style paper straws and washi tape. We placed the flowers in an old glass bottle and a jam jar decorated with paper doilies from the pound shop. Whilst I love those vintage looking glass milk bottles, we had no space to store a set after the party, so instead I bought readymade milkshakes from the supermarket which came in similar shaped plastic bottles, and then I replaced the plastic label with a paper doily. My sister in law prepared the lovely Victoria sponge cake which we decorated with a washi tape cake topper. But our cake stand was nothing more than a plate and bowl taped together! I also had some fun making some tissue paper Pom pom flowers. It's pretty cool what you can produce with a little creative thinking and lots of Pinterest tutorials! 

Monday, 27 July 2015

My Ramadan Meals in Pictures

Hello and as salamu alaikum dear readers! I can't believe it's been just over a week since the end of Ramadan. It feels as though it was just the other day, and years ago all at the same time. Does that even make sense?

 I am feeling very nostalgic about Ramadan at the moment, and the tranquility and spirituality that comes along with the month, so thought I would share a post today with some of my iftar meals from the month. I was overall quite pleased with how I ate during Ramadan, it was probably my healthiest one to date. I must confess however, I have been indulging in junk decadent foods quite a bit since Eid, but this is something I hope to rectify soon!

I tried to keep it balanced for iftar this year, and tried to find the middle path between traditional and luxury foods and lighter, healthier foods. It wouldn't really be a Bengali iftar without the occasional appearance of kichuri, piyazi (lentil and onion fritters) or chana biran (curried chickpeas).... So we mixed it up with soups and salads as well as some deep fried savoury snacks!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Aafiyah Ramadan Competition

Hello, all! I have recently been working with the good people at Aafiyah and have created some tasty and simple recipes using their convenient frozen poultry range. Aafiyah are currently running a competition during Ramadan where there is a great hamper of goodies up for grabs. 

All you have to do is try out one of the recipes on the website and upload an image of your creation. You could try out my tandoori chicken recipe, or chicken and sausage bake or some quick spicy wings. Not only are they quick and easy dishes for iftar, but by entering the competition you have a chance to win some free goodies. Win win situation all around I say. It would be great for one of my readers to win the competition, so do give it a go guys!

Sumac Lamb Chops

Greetings readers! I hope you have all been enjoying the weekend, and that Ramadan is going well for all who are observing it. I can't believe we are already a third of a way through. The weather has been hot with a capital H recently in London, but alhamdulillah fasting has been going well so far. The day does move a lot faster though when I am kept busy with teaching. Just this Sunday afternoon for instance, I actually out of my own free will decided to do some cleaning as I felt I had a little too much time on my hands. And as those who know me personally would agree, it takes a lot for me to be enthusiastic about cleaning...

If you have been keeping up with my instagram feed, I have been posting daily pictures of my iftar meals with my family. I have been endevaouring this Ramadan to try and eat as best as I can and not gorge on traditional fried foods like samosas and pakoras. So far I think I have been doing pretty well and have been incorporating lots of veggies, leafy greens and fruits. I also like to go for simple, minimal fuss recipes where I can just leave something to simmer away slowly on the stove or bake in the oven without me being stuck in the kitchen for ages. These sumac lamb chops would be an ideal type of dish for iftar, as you can just leave it to cook away in the oven whilst you attend to other duties. As they are baked rather than fried, they are a lot easier on the stomach, and if you have some meat-loving males in your families, this is sure to satiate their appetite after a long day of fasting!

I loooove sumac, as you might have already surmised from my Sumac roast chicken post, and this dried Middle Eastern herb gives a subtle tang to the lamb chops. Also, in combination with the yoghurt, the marinade turns a pretty cute pink colour, although it is a little reminiscent of tubby custard...

As you marinade the chops the night before, all you have to do on the day is whack it in the oven. Afterwards, you can choose to finish off the chops either in the grill or on a griddle pan for some slight charring. The longer you marinade the chops, the deeper the flavour will be, however if you are running short on time you can always just marinade it on the morning of cooking. Serve the chops with salad and roasted veggies for a light meal, or some quinoa or rice for a bit more substance.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

North African Style Chicken Stew

I've been on a bit of a Middle Eastern/North African mood with my cooking recently. After my mujadarra recipe, I have got a North African style chicken stew for you guys today. The ingredients used are inspired by the Berber tagines dishes that you might find in Morocco, however I don't own a tagine so I'm not sure how authentically Moroccan this recipe really is. 

I decided to add in some vegetables I had in my fridge like broccoli, and instead of the traditional couscous, I decided to make the dish a bit lighter and serve the stew over quinoa instead. However, you could just as easily serve it with some bread or rice if you prefer.

I used chicken thighs from Aafiyah's frozen range for this recipe. I braised the chicken thighs separately first before adding it to the pot with all of the vegetables. You can pretty much adapt it with whatever vegetables you have on hand at home, so it's a great simple dish that you can quickly whip up for dinner or iftar. 

Mujaddara (Rice with lentils)

Belated Ramadan Mubarak, readers! I can't believe we're already into the 3rd day already considering the period of fasting is quite long this year. I've got my interpretation of the Middle Eastern dish, mjddara/mujaddara to share with you today which would make a lovely addition to the dinner table for iftar.

Made with lentils and rice, this is apparently known as a peasant dish, as it is a cheap and filling dish with no meat. However, you really don't miss the meat and I could easily eat plates of this rice all on its own.

Being typically Bengali, I think my version of mujddara is quite similar to how we make pilau, minus all of the complicated spices. This dish only has cumin and black pepper but it surprisingly has a robust earthy and wholesome taste.

I adapted this recipe from This Muslim Girl Bakes and Arabic Zeal. From the latter, I took the idea of adding carrot which adds nice bites of sweetness to the rice. From the former, I got the idea of adding butter to the dish. The reasoning behind this was that apparently butter makes everything taste better, and my giddy aunt, the butter makes such a huge difference to an otherwise humble dish. I usually use ghee when I make traditional pilaus, however after the success of this dish, I may just switch to using butter now!

As I was writing out the recipe and instructions, I think I might have ended up making this sound more complicated than it really is. If you omit the caramelised onions, it is just an easy one pot dish. Measuring the rice and water using a coffee cup pretty much guarantees stress free perfectly cooked rice. In typical lazy Red Lychee fashion, I used canned green lentils, which cut down cooking time greatly. One day I might get around to soaking and boiling dried legumes, but today is not that day my friends!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Mango Kulfi

Greetings, dear readers! I'm back today with what will be my last post before we enter Ramadan on Thursday, in sha Allah. It's going to be a very different experience for me this year, as it's the first time that I'll observing Ramadan whilst working full time. In previous years, I have usually been on summer holidays, which has meant that even though the weather has been quite hot, it was mostly a calm and reflective time for me. Nothing at all like running after children and talking all day long! I only hope and pray that it will be something that increases me in patience and willpower. May we all be able to benefit from this Ramadan, ameen!

As Ramadan has been in the warmer months for the last few years, our eating habits when we break our fasts for the iftar meal has changed. People from the Indian sub-continent especially are notorious for having lavish feasts with very rich (and often deep fried!) foods. However, myself and my family have been trying harder to stay away from indulging too much in heavy foods during Ramadan as it's obviously not the best thing health wise, and also because such types of food are often the last thing you want to eat in the summertime. I have increasingly been enjoying consuming less hot food (both in temperature and spice!) that is lighter on the stomach after a long day of fasting. Last year especially, we often had something cold on the table, like this watermelon granita, or ice cream to cool us off.

As such, I've brought for your this version of a traditional desi mango kulfi which is quick and easy to make and involves no churning! I only tried kulfi a few years ago actually, as I think it is more popular in India and Pakistan than Bangladesh. A quick google search will reveal that kulfi is not just the Indian version of ice cream. Though creamy, it has a slight icy texture. And most importantly, it has a very ditinctive taste from the addition of pistachios. Kulfi comes in different flavours such as plain pistachio, or malai, however I went for mango as we are smack bang in the middle of mango season at the moment.

I have made this kulfi twice now, both times using tinned mangoes rather than fresh mango. I chose tinned mango mainly because it is just more convenient and also because tinned mango is pretty much always guaranteed to be sweet. Using kesar tinned mango pulp gave a much more vibrant colour to the kulfi. When I used another tinned mango brand, I had to mash the mango using a fork before I could add it to the mix.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Spicy Wings

Very often when I get home from work, I will feel super peckish. I'll be walking up to the front door and all I'll be doing is thinking about getting home in launching myself face first into some potato-y, cheesy goodness. I blame our strange hours as a teacher. We have lunch at half 11 in the morning(!!) so by the time I get home, I'm feeling ravenous. Sometimes, as I raid the kitchen drawers, I can be pretty good and stay away from the carbs. And sometimes I know exactly what I want to eat, but it takes too long to prepare it, so I don't bother. These wings, come happily between not being too carb heavy and being quick and easy to prepare.

As it's from Aafiyah's frozen range, you can just take them out of the freezer and shove them into the oven, without waiting for them to defrost, and are cooked in about 20-30 minutes. They make a great Friday evening, post-work appetizer or snack, as my family and I enjoyed them, or can form a part of bigger dinner with sides. I served these wings with chopped cucumber and carrots (hello, vitamins) and topped the wings with toasted sesame seeds for a little crunch. 

The wings from Aafiyah come ready prepared with either a spicy or BBQ flavoured sauce, but I decided to come up with my own sweet and spicy sauce to drench the wings in just to add some more moisture.

Mutton and Yellow Split Peas Curry (Beri di chana dal)

I loooove legumes. I could quite happily live off lentils and chickpeas and not miss meat. Well not too much anyways. But combining meat and legumes together is a pretty winning combination in my eyes. This mutton and yellow split curry is one of my absolutely favourite meat curries. I had to do some research to find out what yellow split peas are called in Bengali or other South Asian languages. We call yellow split peas chana dal, however it turns out that's incorrect as chana dal is quite literally dried, split chickpeas. Yellow split peas are apparently called matar dal. And who said food blogging wasn't educational, ehhh??

I actually used dried yellow split peas rather than relying on tinned lentils as I normally do. But it's only because I haven't found tinned yellow split peas in the supermarket yet. If I do, I would totally switch over. I like this curry best the next day after the sauce has dried up and thickened a little bit and the spices have had time to mature a little bit. That's also my favourite way to enjoy any dal curry, actually, is that weird? I decided to pair the curry with the homemade, yeast free naan that I've already blogged about a couple of weeks ago which is perfect to mop up all of the juices. It tastes just as good however with plain rice, which is the usual way us Bangladeshis eat it.

Mutton and Yellow Split Peas Curry

Serves 6-10

Prep time: 30-40 minutes (plus overnight soaking of yellow split peas)

Cooking Time: 1 hour - 1 hour 30 minutes

by Abida at The Red Lychee


1/2 cup yellow split peas
1 kg of mutton diced into chunks
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
One and half medium onions
4 cloves of garlic, minced/grated
1 inch piece of ginger, minced/grated
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick/cassia bark snapped into pieces
3 cardamoms
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1-1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
Handful of Coriander
Salt to season


1) Wash and then leave yellow split peas in a bowl of cold water to soak overnight. The next day, rinse yellow split peas, and then place in a pot with cold water. Cook on a mdium to high heat for about 30 minutes, until the peas have softened in the middle. Skim off the froth from the top of the pot every now and then. Once peas are cooked, drain and reserve to the side.

2) In a large pot, add oil. Allow to heat up, then add garlic. Allow garlic to turn golden then add garlic, onion, cardamom, bay leaf and cinnamon. Add salt and stir. Then add the meat and the turmeric. Cover and leave to simmer on a medium to high heat. Check every 3-5 minutes. If the meat is catching the pan, add a little bit of water.

3) After about 20 minutes, once the onions have softened to a much and the meat has shrunk in size, add the remaining ground spices. Cover again and leave to simmer on a medium heat so the spices cook out. Check every now and then, and add water 1/2 a cup at a time if the meat seems like it is burning.

3) After another 15-20 minutes, once the oil and sauce have separated,  add the split peas and coat in the sauce. Leave to cook for about 10 minutes, and then pour in enough water to cover the meat and peas. For me, that is usually about a cup and a half of water (I use a normal coffee mug). Turn up the heat to medium-high and allow the curry to simmer to a boil.

4) Once yellow split peas have softened, and the meat is tender to your liking, season with salt to your taste. Add coriander and remove from heat. Serve with plain rice or flat bread.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Chicken Pilau

Many moons ago, when I was undertaking a work experience placement, someone asked me what the Bengali version of a Sunday Roast was. I jokingly replied we had Curry Sundays instead. Any family gatherings or inivtations we have usually fall on a Sunday, and usually there is some sort of pilau or biryani dish served as the star of the meal. Now I'll be honest, before making this chicken pilau, I had never really been trusted enough to make a pilau dish for company. But I feel as though I've made great strides in my cooking over the past year, and a few Sundays ago, I decided enough was enough and that I needed to conquer my fear of the pilau.

Now pilau, or pulao or pilaf, or fulaab as we Sylheti Bengalis call it, is a lot easier to make in my opinions than Biryani. You just combine the rice with the masala and add the water. The tricky part is making sure the grains of rice are nice and separate and don't become too mushy. That was the one thing I never used to quite get when I would watch my mum making pilau as she never used to measure anything and would rely on the dreaded 'antaaz' where everything was done by eye or feel. As a result, I never really knew how much water to add in proportion to the rice. However, to stay on the safe side, I followed a ration of 1 cup of rice to roughly 2 cups of water. You can scale back a little with the water as the rice cooks from the steam too.

If you are a lover of Indian food, but can't take the heat too well, this is a great recipe for you. It's sweet and aromatic and packed with lots of flavour. Alongside the chicken, you get butteriness from the ghee and sweetness from the addition of peas. The additional topping of nuts and sultanas also adds some sweetness and little crunch. I used no ground spices in this recipe, instead relying only on whole spices. The chicken masala/curry is cooks separately in about 45 minutes and what's really convenient is that you can make it the night before and make the actual pilau on the day in under an hour to serve fresh and hot.

Though chicken pilau is a favourite in our family, I can't say this version here with all of it's sweet notes is very authentically Bengali. I was trying to figure out if it is North Indian style or Mughal style or even Afghan style, but I'm not really too familair with the different asian cusines to definitively say one or the other. If there is an expert lurking on this page who can help me, then let me know! However, geography aside, it's a very tasty dish that is great for dinner parties and surprisingly straight forward to make.

As I mentioned a while back in my Afghan Kabuli post, the addition of dried fruit with rice can be contentious at times! I used golden sultanas this time around, and me and my family all really enjoyed the contrasting sweetness. I also added some toasted cashew and almonds for some texture. If you have some dried fruit and nut phobics in your families, then feel free to omit it or perhaps serve on the side as an optional topping.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lemon Curd

We've been having some glorious weather recently. The skies have been bright and the sun has been shining with full force. It really does put a bit of a zing in your step. Of course, on the flip side, good weather always seems to bring out the worst in drivers in London. Maybe it's because they're in a rush to enjoy the sun whilst it lasts, but they can be crazy at times. And don't even get me started on using public transport in London during the summer. It's an arduous and sometimes traumatizing experience...

Nonetheless, as I've mentioned many times, the sun always puts me in a good mood. And maybe it's an unconscious thing, but the food I eat seems to become more colourful in the warmer months. This homemade lemon curd is pretty much sunshine in a jar. I was oohing and aahing like a child at its colour as I was making it. 

I may not have the worlds biggest sweet tooth, but I love citrus flavoured desserts. I love the freshness and the slightly sharp note that cuts through the sweetness. This lemon curd is bold and vibrant, perfect for the warm weather. It tastes great on toast, on cheesecakes or with meringue. My personal favorite way is to top Greek yoghurt with it and top it with some almonds and golden sultanas. It's a very quick and easy dessert that doesn't come with too much guilt at the number of calories it contains!

I used the popular recipe from BBC Good Food to make this lemon curd. I was put off it at first because the mention of using a double boiler method just seemed like too much effort to me (I've lost count of how many times I've mentioned on this blog what a lazy cook I am). However, it can all be made within an hour and it requires very little equipment, so minimal washing up. Win.

The only thing I found difficult was sterilising the jars. I had these cute kilner jars that I wanted to use. I thought it would be fine to just wash the jars out with boiling soapy water and then leave them to air dry. However, as soon as I poured the water straight from the kettle into the glass jar, the bottom of the jar just clean split away. I was pretty sad that I had wrecked the jar with a silly rookie mistake. Then I found an old honey jar and second time round made sure to wash it out with hot (but not boiling hot!) soapy water. I then put the jar in the oven at a cool temperature, probably about 140C to dry out.

The only other thing I would mention about this recipe is that you need to make sure that you adjust it to your liking. The Good Food recipe uses the juice of 4 lemons. I squeezed them out pretty hard, and as a result, the taste was very sharp. If you would prefer something a little less tart, then I would recommend either using 3 lemons, or squeezing 4 lemons lightly. This recipe yields quite a lot of lemon curd, about 500g. I was able to fill a 340g jar fully, and still had about 150g-200g left. I would also say that it will keep for about 1-2 weeks in the fridge, and longer if your freeze it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Chicken and Sausage Bake

I have another 'shove-it-in-the-oven' savoury recipe today. It's a totally lazy, minimal thought recipe suitable for even the most culinary handicapped. It was inspired by a recipe from Nigella for Spanish chicken, where she baked chicken with chorizo and flavoured it with orange zest. I have yet to find halal chorizo sausage and so used some Merguez sausage from the other side of the Mediterranean, and which I've already talked about in my North African style breakfast hash post

I've kept the flavourings pretty simple here, but all the juices that come out from the chicken and merguez create a delicious sauce. I used chicken thighs from Aafiyah's frozen range, which already had a garlic and herb coating. Like Nigella, I added some chopped baby potatoes which roasted away with the meat. After the potatoes are done, they become lovely and crisp on the outside but fluffy on the inside, just the way potatoes should always be. I also added some chunks of red onion, which caramelise in the oven to give a sweet contrast. 

The great thing about this dish is that you can just modify it to suit whatever you have in your pantry. Sweet potato would make a great alternative to baby potatoes, and you could add other produce like tomatoes or carrots. It's a convenient dish for busy families when you don't have the time or energy to labour over dinner. I served the dish with a simple side salad. You could also add some other veg for extra health benefits or some nice pita bread.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tandoori Chicken and Homemade Naan

How time does fly! It feels as though I just blogged my last recipe the other day. But it's been a rather jam packed few weeks. The last week of May especially in my mind now is just a manic blur of work, deadlines and other commitments. The 1 week break from school came as a much needed respite, and though my lack of posting boiled down to technological restraints, being "unplugged" for a few days felt quite refreshing. I sometimes get the urge to just throw away all pieces of technology and just live under a rock on a farm, but to be honest, I think I'm too much of a city girl slash technophile to ever really survive such a lifestyle. I suppose the key is finding the right balance, but that's the secret to pretty much everything in life, right?

The teacher side of me has the end of the academic year firmly in her sights, but sadly my brain is so fried at this point, that it's more like I'm dragging myself to the finishing line rather than a final sprint. Hashtag The Glamorous Life of a Teacher. However, I am currently super excited for the arrival of Ramadhan, my favourite time of the year. As for many people, it's a time of moral and spiritual renewal for me and to be able to take a step back and realise, amongst all the stress and the mayhem, what the bigger picture really is. It's also around this time of year that many start searching for and planning what meals to prepare to eat after breaking their fasts. So I thought I'd post some slightly more traditional yet surprisingly easy recipes.

The first recipe is a quick tandoori chicken recipe, using drumsticks from Aafiyah's frozen range, minus the tandoor or packaged tandoori spice masala. Like my sumac chicken, it's another great example of just leaving things to marinade for a while and then shove it into the oven. Exactly the kind of recipes you want for Ramadhan, when you do not want to be stuck in the kitchen all day. And as it's baked, it's a lot lighter than other heavier Indian dishes. 

Homemade naan makes a great accompaniment to the chicken. I have been wanting to try out so called instant naan recipes for a while now, however I always got put off thinking that it was too time consuming. But surprisingly it was a lot quicker and easier than I expected. There is no yeast used in the recipe, with all the rising power coming from the yoghurt, and baking powder/soda combo. 

 The dough is very elastic and malleable meaning that it's easy to roll out. As I was making them, I was far too impressed by how much the little circles of dough puffed up on the pan like pillows. It was quite the metamorphosis. The recipe I followed suggested smearing the naan with ghee to add a buttery taste, however, all of my family members agreed that it tasted better without. I also decided to add some black seeds to add a little contrasting spice to the naan. Whilst I was rolling out the naan, I sprinkled a handful of black seeds on top of each circle. I don't own a tawa at home so I just used a regular frying pan and the results turned out just fine. To try your hand at some instant naan, check out Kanakana's detailed instructions here. To find out how I made my tandoori style chicken, read on!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Sumac Roast Chicken

Hello, dear readers! I feel I've been in a bit of a daydream lately. The weather has been all over the place, for starters. This whole week, the skies have been so bright and the sun blazing, that it was as though summer had come early. And then suddenly, Thursday was grey and it rained about a whole month's worth of rain! I do like the rain, and I firmly believe it's a blessing from my Lord, but I like to be in the comfort of my own home, wrapped in numerous layers and not trudging around with wet socks....

Recently, I was contacted on behalf of Aafiyah, an up and coming halal poultry brand, who offered me the opportunity to try out their new range. According to their website, their brand is aiming to provide quality products to traditional Muslims with a busy, modern lifestyle. When I heard that, I thought, yep, that's me (this exhausted teacher slept for 10 hours in total last night, guys). They have a range of frozen poultry products, some of which are ready prepared, and all you need to do is throw them into the oven. So I bring you today one of the recipes I put together using Aafiyah's products.

I discovered Sumac last year in the world foods section of my local supermarket and I have totally fallen in love with the stuff. I think to date, it is probably my favourite Middle Eastern flavouring. It has a sour taste, similar to citrus fruits, however, it also has these floral undertones that you would never be able to get lemon alone. The other amazing thing that I love about it, is its vibrant colour. Any food item which mixes with it turns into this beautiful deep rosy hue, and due to its texture, it creates a crispy crunch on poultry and meat when it is roasted or grilled.

Other than the time needed to marinade the chicken, this is pretty much a throw things together in a bowl then shove it in the oven kind of recipe, so very low maintenance. Totally my favourite type of recipe. It is recommended to marinade chicken from 1 hour to overnight. If I'm honest, you can get away with marinading this recipe for just under an hour as the Sumac comes through well.

Sumac Roast Chicken 

Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 35-40 minutes

500g Aafiyah original Drumsticks
1 tablespoon Sumac
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 180ยบC.

2) In a bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Add chicken and stir to combine in mix. Leave to marinade for at least 1 hour.

3) Place marinated chicken on an oven tray and roast in over for 35-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Check that its cooked through by piercing the chicken at its thickest part next to the bone. The juice should run clear.

4) Finish the chicken off either on a cast iron griddle on the stove or under a grill for 5-10 minutes, until the skin of the chicken is crispy and slightly charred. Turn the chicken over halfway through the cooking time to char other side.

5) Serve with potato wedges and grilled corn.

*Disclosure: This post contains sponsored links*

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Brodu and Pastizzi

Huzzah, I finally managed to get a post in for MENA cooking club! I officially joined about 2 months ago, but due to facepalm fails circumstances (getting the date wrong for the Lebanon challenge and adding too much salt for the sfinz in the Libyan challenge), I am only getting around to my first challenge now for Malta.

I will admit, I was a little confused at first when I saw that the country was Malta, as it is a European country, but some quick research soon revealed that like many others countries, including the South Asian countries, Malta has had some historical influence from the Middle East in its culture.

As a lover of soup, I decided to try out the classic Maltese vegetable Brodu. I added wholegrain fussili pasta, and being a typical desi, added a teaspoon of crushed chilli to add a little bit of heat. It definitely had a kick to it! I'm not sure if Maltese cuisine has a lot of spice, but you can of course omit for a milder soup. 

Aside the heat from the chilli, the soup itself was delicious with a depth of flavour that was surprising consider how simple the broth was. 

From the light and simple soup, I also tried making the slightly more decadent pastizzi. I guess it's like a Mediterranean version of pasties, and let's be honest, who doesn't like puff pastry and cheese together?! As the ricotta cheese I bought was a little runny, I decided to add some chopped spinach. However, due to the addition of the egg, the actual filling quickly solidifies in the oven. Even though puff pastry is quite rich, the light nature of the filling meant that it doesn't taste too heavy.

Also, I must admit, as I was shaping the pastizzi, I thought they looked a little unattractive. But the wonderful thing about puff pastry is that it is ever so forgiving, and after a transformation in the oven, it always comes out looking golden and inviting.

Out of laziness, I decided to make these pastizzi quite large in size, I'm not sure what the traditional size is. You could enjoy 1 or 2 with some salad for a light lunch. We enjoyed it as an appetizer with some chilli sauce in our home. Yes we are totally typical desis!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Tahini, Almond and Honey Cookies

Hello, dear readers! It has been a while. I was recently ill for about a week and didn't quite have the energy to blog. On top of that, I think I underestimated how long it would take for me to settle into the new term at work. Quite frankly, this summer term has had me whipped so far! But all is not lost, and I am back today with a new post.

Remember how I mentioned how I often have things sitting around in the pantry (I know, I know, terrible habit)? Well, I've had a jar of tahini sitting in the cupboard for a while now. I originally bought it to make hoummus, but my versions never tasted quite as good as the restaurant kind, so I never really put it to good use. But I'm trying use up things before buying more ingredients, mainly because we really don't have any space left in out kitchen cupboards! So I racked my brain and the internet for tahini recipes. Initially I saw quite a few savoury recipes, but then I came across quite a few tahini cookie recipes. At first I thought it was a bit weird sounding. In my head, I have come to associate tahini with hoummous, so when I heard of tahini cookies, I just kept thinking of hoummous flavoured cookies. Hardly appealing.

But I realised that, you know, it's just like a sesame version of peanut butter, which I've already used to make cookies. And then I remembered eating sesame snaps as a kid, which were basically shards of seasame brittle. So I thought, what they hey, let's try them out!

With all that drama, you can imagine my surprise when the cookies actually turned rather yummy in the end. Soft, with a slightly cakey texture, these subtly nutty cookies have a fudgey taste that comes from the use of brown sugar and honey. 

You could make these cookies completely gluten free by only using almond flour, however, I decided to use a mix of almond and all purpose flour. 

I adapted this recipe by kind of amalgamating recipes from Umm Hamza at Halal Home Cooking and An Edible Mosaic

Sunday, 19 April 2015

North African Style Breakfast Hash

All good things come to an end at some point, try as we might to hold on to them. I have thoroughly enjoyed my break from work (it was 17 whole days, guys), but sadly I must return to the grind from tomorrow. I know that some people in the working world grumble about the seemingly long holidays teachers get, but a quick glance at any teacher at the end of an academic term would explain it all (frazzled, sleep deprived and up to the ears in deadlines). I now feel refreshed and ready to tackle any challenges in the new term. We shall just have to wait and see how long that lasts for...

But before the Monday blues kick in, why not make the most of your Sunday by enjoying this North African influenced dish for brunch? This dish is inspired by Shakshouka, a spicy tomato and eggs dish that is popular in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. I'd call it an interpretation because it does not have quite as much liquid as more traditional versions, and also uses sweet potato. I guess you could say it's somewhere between Shakshuka and a breakfast hash, so the best of both worlds.

Spiced with cumin and smoked paprika, it's packed with flavour. The sweet potato provides, as the name states, a sweet contrast to the heat and a lift of freshness comes from spoonfuls of yoghurt and corriander. I also added some Merguez sausages, having been inspired to try them out by an instagram post from Umm Hamza of Halal Home Cooking. They're not always the easiest thing to find, but I was out one day and spotted a North African butchers who made and sold their own. I bought chicken as they were sold out of the lamb. I was actually surprised by how spicy there were, not overpoweringly so, but there was a definite kick from the addition of harissa and garlic. If you can't get your hands on Merguez, any other sausage is fine, or you can just omit it for a vegetarian (vegan without the yoghurt) friendly version. 

If you serve this with some nice, crusty bread, it should be enough to serve 2-3 people. If you're watching the carbs and omitting the bread, it will serve 1-2.