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The spice of life

Categories: News and previews

Roopa Gulati gives us a whistlestop tour of the flavours of southern Asia and fills us in on what we can expect from September’s South Asia spice box residency

Portrait (above): Elena Heatherwick 
Portrait (bottom): David Loftus

There are more than 100 languages spoken around London and almost as many cuisines. Through my own demonstrations at Borough Market, I’ve got to know the traders and the audiences—everyone from office workers, to young families, tourists, school groups and local residents. This camaraderie is as important as the cooking—two key ingredients for bringing people together.

I’m delighted to have helped curate four South Asian workshops with Borough Market’s events team: South Asian spice box, in which four talented female chefs will host a regional cookery class in the Demo Kitchen, alternately taking the helm each Thursday in September.

The contents of South Asian spice boxes reflect the region’s diverse communities and cooking styles. Every masala, whether prepared in the mountains, in the desert, on the coast or in cities, has its own defining characteristics. Expect seasonings of popped mustard seeds and crackling curry leaves, much loved in South India; delicate auburn-hued saffron and yoghurt masalas from Mughal kitchens; and pounded cardamom-ginger-fennel seed spice blends, so typical of Kashmiri classics. You’ll also be invited to the top table to sample Pakistani home cooking, represented by dishes and flavours from all four corners of the country.

Manisha Bhardwaj

Top tips
During these sessions our chefs will share top tips, such as how to cook fragrant and fluffy basmati rice and grind your own garam masala. These demonstrations are fun, informative, informal and interactive. All you need to bring is a healthy helping of culinary curiosity and a good appetite.

On 6th September, award-winning author and cookery teacher Monisha Bharadwaj (pictured left) will open the series with the fresh flavours of South Indian cooking. She’ll guide kitchen novices with step-by-step instructions on making the ultimate fish curry, with its creamy coconut masala, flavoured with curry leaves; a southern stir-fry with green peas and turmeric, lemony-spiced rice and ginger raita; and a full-flavoured chettinad chicken, cooked with toasted ground spices such as fennel and cinnamon.

On 13th September, food writer, broadcaster and cookery teacher Sumayya Usmani will be refilling the spice box with essential seasonings for a Pakistani kitchen. Sumayya was brought up in Karachi before relocating to the UK in 2006, and is recognised as an expert in cooking from this region. We’ll be treated to such specialties as Lahori chicken karahi, beetroot borani and Chitrali mishi.

SALIHA_Copyright David Loftus_142

Redolent with fragrant spice
Our culinary journey then takes us to north-east India for a flavour of courtly Mughlai cuisine, hosted by Asma Khan. After the success of her supper club which featured dishes from her own family’s palace kitchen, she now runs Darjeeling Express, rated as one of London’s finest Indian restaurants. Join her on 20th September, as she cooks an authentic chicken korma redolent with fragrant spice—and in a different league from its British-styled namesake. Rice, buttery, multi-layered parathas, seasoned fried aubergine slices with spiced yoghurt, and kachumber salad completes this tempting lunchtime feast.

In a fitting finale, on 27th September Saliha Mahmood Ahmed (picture above) will reveal the secrets of cooking in the mountainous region of Kashmir, distinctive for its use of saffron and dried spices such as ginger and sweet fennel seeds. Her recipes won her the title of MasterChef winner in 2017 and in this demonstration, she’ll be inspiring us with Persian-influenced dishes which have been handed down through the generations.

After enjoying the dishes at the demonstrations, visit Borough Market’s stalls which offer flavours from across the region: dosas from South India at Horn OK Please, Punjabi pickles at Temptings, chilli sauces from Wiltshire Chilli Farm, and specialty teas and brews from north-east India (Tea2You) and Sri Lanka (Organic Life). Visit Spice Mountain for your essential spices and, in homage to Britain’s dairy produce, you can buy first class ghee from Hook and Son.

Join us Thursdays in September for tips, tastings and recipes in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm