Biryani, the storied Indian dish of fragrant layered rice, spices, and (usually) meat, if made well, is one of my favorite things. A good biryani is richly aromatic; indeed, a magnificently flowery aroma is an essential part of the dish. Biryanis are made throughout India, and preparation differs depending on the region. Some biryanis are made with coconut, some with ghee, yogurt, or buttermilk; spices may include cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, or mace, among many others. The intoxicating aroma usually comes from saffron, sometimes with a touch of rosewater or kewra (pandan syrup). The word biryani is said to be of Persian origin, a corruption of the word beriyan, which in Farsi means to fry before cooking, or birinj, which means rice. Biryanis are thought to have been brought to India by the Mughals in the 16th century, although some culinary historians believe the dish pre-dated the empire. Regardless of origin, the dish has proliferated—in Hyderabad alone, there are said to be over forty distinct versions.
As luck would have it, the very first vegetarian main I trialed for Thanksgiving was such a winner that I did not need to attempt others. This aubergine and lentil pie hits all the right notes: it is hearty and savory without being heavy, and it’s a touch exotic yet wholesome enough to complement a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It is also beautiful and can be cooked the day before you intend to serve it without losing any flavor or texture upon reheating. (I even thought the flavor improved after a day.) It is exactly what I was looking for – something special, festive, and autumnal for the vegetarians at the table. This pie is adapted from a recipe in Dan Lepard’s excellent home baking book, Short and Sweet. I have changed the spicing of the pie’s filling from Lepard’s original, but he deserves credit for the inspiration, the proportions, and the marvelous crust. Continue reading
My favorite fact about chutney: the word derives from the Sanskrit word caṭnī, meaning to lick. Chutneys are, loosely, a mixture of vegetables or fruit (or both) and spices. Indian chutneys can be cooked or raw, blended or pounded, pickled or fresh. In the West, chutneys are usually a combination of fruit, savory spices, sugar, and vinegar.
My palate for Western chutneys developed late. For a long time, I thought they were yucky. Salty spicy vinegary fruity pickle? Blech. Perhaps my aversion was a consequence of having to politely eat haroseth (a mixture of apples, wine, chopped nuts, and spices traditionally served at Passover seders) at an early age. But. Eat enough tagines in which apricots and quince have been slowly simmered with meats, salty cheese and French fig jam, cantaloupe and prosciutto, and eventually one starts to enjoy, albeit reluctantly, the contrasting tastes of sugar and salt, fruit and vinegar and spice in Western chutneys. Another fun fact: Western cuisines tend to pair ingredients that share flavour compounds, whereas many Asian, and particularly East Asian, cuisines tend to pair contrasting ingredients. Continue reading
The second installment in the “how to use my CSA box vegetables” series is one of my favorite salads. I like to say that it’s a ‘cheat’: it’s a fresh vegetable slaw made with a tart dressing and pickling spices, and the result is that it tricks your brain (or at least my brain) into thinking “pickle.” It is crisp and light and bracingly flavorful. It’s a wonderful summer slaw, and a good alternative to traditional creamy cole slaws. Continue reading
June has been a busy month over at Susan Eats London, or perhaps it’s just that I have been busy. I have been doing lots of running around (a whirlwind trip to New York in the middle of the month, and then I’m going back again at the end of the week), and I’ve had a month of wonderful eating – generally thanks to the benevolent interventions of others. There was the gut-busting Indian luncheon prepared by the phenomenally talented Asma Khan, to which I scored an invitation after serendipitously meeting friend Nayan at the Marylebone Summer Fayre. There was the oh-so-British celebration of English asparagus courtesy of Friends Jess and Will, featuring asparagus three ways (although I ended up making the asparagus risotto and the roasted asparagus). And then there was beef. Correction: there is beef. A lot of beef. Continue reading
In London we have had one of the coldest, wettest springs on record. This morning when I went to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market people were heroically sitting in the nearby park wearing wool hats and scarves. I was wearing a winter jacket, and I was still chilly. Nevertheless, my circadian clock tells me summer is coming, or at least I think that’s why I have stopped craving big dark wintry stews and instead hanker after light fresh-tasting salads. This bulghur salad is a request from my sister. (I LOVE getting requests for recipes.) She apparently has a lot of bulghur in her pantry, and as it happens so do I: last week I crankily picked up a sack of coarse bulghur for 70 p from one of the innumerable Middle Eastern groceries that dot northwest London so I could meet the £5 minimum to use my credit card. But how fortuitous! I love this salad. Continue reading
It’s an exciting and wonderful thing to cook with a new ingredient for the first time. There’s that lovely thrill of discovery and invention. And sometimes, there’s a sharp ‘ping’ of recognition, when a new ingredient or spice turns out to be something unknown you’ve loved (unknowingly) for a long time. My exhilarating new culinary discovery (and long-lost unknown love) is nigella seeds. Continue reading