Saturday, 7 May 2016

Summers Under The Tamarind Tree

Even before I open Summers Under The Tamarind Tree, I find myself taking a minute or so to contemplate what’s inside, what the contents is.  My mind starts to wander as I study the Eastern art design on the front and I absently mindedly stroke the embossed cover.  I even start thinking about tamarind trees and their sense of exoticism (I’m a girl used to oaks, birches and horse chestnut trees you see).   It really has stirred up my thoughts and I’m genuinely intrigued.  With Madhur Jaffery’s endorsing quote “This book is a treasure” stamped at the top, I sense I’m in for a treat.

I put my hands up, I know very little about the country of Pakistan which is where author Sumayya Usmani grew up and it is the basis for her book.  Within, she describes the colourful Pakistani landscape and the bounty of food that filled her childhood producing subsequent memories that she translates into stories throughout the book.  I feel I’ve gained some insight that wasn’t there before.  The country’s a melting pot of flavours drawing influence from historical events, migration and weaved with a cornucopia of sun drenched ingredients supported by heritage and tradition.

The book features many meat recipes but this is balanced out by vegetarian ones coupled with a heavy bias towards spices (as one would expect from Asian cooking).   Even from the meat dishes, veggies can take inspiration and substitute the meat with other things – something I often do anyway.   But fighting on with my chilli allergy (often documented on my blog as one of the bains of my life), I’ve thought about adapting some of the recipes to accommodate this and with tweaks here/there, I think I can make it work for me. 

The other thing to note is that some of the ingredients are very specific to Asian cookery and so some shopping from Asian stores or online may be needed ahead of hitting the kitchen or some UK alternatives may have to be used instead (eg: Greek yoghurt perhaps instead of buffalo yoghurt) which won’t compromise the taste or effect too much.  However, I have to applaud the use of Himalayan salt throughout (a staple in my house), an ingredient which is now more mainstream in the UK, it’s the best salt you can use and transforms dishes brilliantly – you’ll never use table salt again!    

The introduction to each chapter sets the scene and creates stunning visions in the mind’s eye – eg: “large clusters of red, orange and pink bougainvillea, violet and oxblood pansies”.  Equally, family memories are also shared:  “In summer, chutneys were artfully pureed by hand on our family heirloom ‘sil batta’ a big stone block and cylinder used like a mortar and pestle”.  These insights really bring the recipes to life.

Genuinely, I have loved reading this book as it feels it has come from Sumayya’s heart and I love her food mantra of:  “work can wait, lunch comes first”.   As a girl who champions my own heritage, I love how Sumayya has done the same for her daughter and concludes the book with the dedication for her – “may this book be your guide to your heritage as you grow…..”. 

Highlighting the pages with sticky markers of those recipes I want to have a go at, whilst my summers won’t be spent under a tamarind tree, I can try and re-create the experience.  Albeit from my kitchen in the West Midlands…..

Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani. Photography by Joanna Yee. Published by Frances Lincoln.


Disclosure:    This post has been written following a complementary copy of Summers Under The Tamarind Tree.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  

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