Everyone thinks their mom is the best cook in the world. But my mummy is seriously yummy! And this is the proof! My mother Gulnar, came from Basra, Iraq to Karachi in 1965 and brought recipes the likes of which Karachi had never seen (well, maybe). Here's some of her signature recipes that should try. Some of them are my experiments and food experiences from around the world. You can check out the menu and order details on facebook.com/yummymummyandme

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Big Life in Bara Gali, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived in Bara Gali – the summer campus of the University of Peshawar.   Located some 30 minutes further up from Nathia Gali  - lots of pine trees, lots of monkeys – but still a startling change from the overly commercial Nathia Gali experience. 

I arrived there with a group of young journalists from all over Pakistan ( and eventually joined by another group from Afghanistan) for an Af-Pak Journalist Exchange Fellowship organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.  I have to admit, this stands out as one of the most  ‘unique’ travel and food experiences I have had so far – that too in Pakistan!

The view from what was the bar  during the British era in Bara Gali

This was the our usual 'hang-out' area. Between sessions, during tea and meal breaks, some of you would sit under the cool shade of the trees. It was just so heartening to watch the wide open spaces and fresh clean air - a rarity in Karachi.

One of the buildings on campus
The summer campus was once a British military camp, so needless to say, our accommodation was basic but sufficient and in retrospect, rather charming too. They were cottages from the British era, with 3 - 4 of us to a cottage. We were promptly given a torch each to find our way.The kitchen was no different. Good, strong, clean old fashioned kitchen with only the basics. Freshly baked naans were the first accompaniment to the cold mountain air.
Fried chicken and tomatoes getting prepped

High pressure situation for the Kabuli pulau

Naan at work

A laptop to keep tab?

From the minute we arrived to the time we left – there was food, food, food  - five to six meals a day. This is not an exaggeration. Breakfast, tea, lunch, tea, dinner is how the day was organized. There was a loud gong sounded off at every meal time and we had to get up from whatever we were doing and make ourselves available in the dining room. 

The ingredients in almost every recipe remained the same but the cook kept playing with our taste buds. Kabuli pulau was an absolute staple – at least once a  day – well greased with slivered carrots, raisins and big hunks of beef. The sweetness of the raisins was a refreshing blend with the beef and the rest of the meat heavy menu. There was always chicken, beef and vegetables on the menu, sometimes mutton too.

Russian salad, KPK style

Succulent, sexy namkeen gosht

Kabuli Palau

Fried chicken, KPK style

The chef had perfected a few basic recipes that seemed to work well with all kinds of meat and vegetables – one was a tomato based mix for curries and stews, a red chilli flakes based marinade for fried meats and a salt and garlic mix for the ‘namkeen’ gosht.  The food was not as complex as we have made it to be in big cities. Basic flavors, well cooked and served fresh is all you need for a good dish.

Bara Gali – how do I explain this? For a complete city slicker like me, I felt like I was in some kind of reality TV prank, sent there by my mother to teach me a lesson. Lots of walking at a height of 7597 ft, cold water, unreliable power supply, no internet, rare phone signals – it was a whole new world for me. Add to that a new laptop with NO music and no iPod. Yikes! But those 5 nights in Bara Gali really made me realize the importance of how we were really meant to live – free from wants and luxuries but with the bare necessities and most importantly, good, honest people.

Sunset at Bara Gali....

....from where we had tea every day.....

  I now cherish the friendships made in those ‘difficult’ days – stories of cold showers shared over steaming kahva while watching folk musicians sing and dance. Bara Gali may be an acquired taste but it is one of those  must have experiences if you are an aspiring 'traveller.'

The Night Life - musicians from Peshawar

Thanks to the University of Peshawar for looking after me and teaching me a lesson J It was an experience and a half. Setting off for Islamabad was almost bittersweet. Thanks for the memories, Bara Gali!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Peri-Peri Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Everything a recipe/food detail starts with 'healthy', I try to avoid it - because it probably means food that's been stripped of any flavour or personality. But recently, I have decided to get healthier - make the right eating choices and make habits out of them. I bought myself a kilogram of whole chicken breasts, which Mum sliced into single portions for me - we got about 9 pieces. Mum and I have been experimenting and here's one of mine...

I know what you're thinking - prison food looks better than this! But no really, this looks and tastes MUCH better. Please take my word for it - I just don't know how to take pictures

You need:
1/2 chicken breast
1 large potato
1 tsp Nando's Peri-Peri sauce (Hot)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
Olive oil

Mix the Peri-Peri sauce with lemon and chopped garlic. Pour it over the chicken breast and let it sit for at least an hour.  Make three diagonal slits along the chicken and get the marinade inside.

For the potatoes, peel it and drop it in boiling water. Take it out after 15 minutes and mash it with a fork. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and salt and mix well.  If you think the potatoes are a little lumpy then add about 2 tablespoons of hot water to the mash and stick it in the microwave for 3 minutes. Mash them with a fork once again. Lo-fat, lo-cal mashed potatoes are ready!

Back to the chicken now - heat a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan and add the chicken. Let it sizzle and change color.  I like to cook it slowly by adding just a spoon of water and covering the pan. 5 minutes later your chicken should be ready to go!

Also, my research indicates that the chicken breast is about 135 calories and the mashed potatoes are about 195 calories. That's a 330 calorie dinner - not bad - especially if it has potatoes in it.

Here's hoping there will be many more healthier choices in my life and yours!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Not-So-Simple Dimple

Asian food is my comfort food but it's still risky in Karachi. In your head you might have expected satay but what's on the dish is a generic grilled chicken on a skewer. Simple Dimple Khao Suey Palace deliveries are all the rage among the ladies in my office - Asian salads, soups, khao sueys, satay (like the one described earlier). However, Simple Dimple still does a great job of soothing the office worker's soul.

Last week, I ordered the Chicken and Mushrooms in Oyster sauce. 

It's really easy to over-salt anything cooked in oyster sauce. This was perfectly salted and flavored. Simple oyster sauce and a hint of chilli with sliced garlic. But the very art of balancing the 'caramel' flavour of the sauce with the garlic and chilli, so none over powers the other is not quite so easy - but Simple Dimple has 'balance' down to an art.  The dish was generous on the fresh mushrooms - which is fantastic - and a few of the canned button variety thrown in too. The mushrooms were still moist and chewy.

The chicken, however, was not as stellar as the mushrooms. I fear its yet another case of the rampant eatery affliction called 'general chicken' (name coined by me, of course). General Chicken is exactly what the name implies - cooked in a generic fashion to fit any kind of chicken dish. In this case, the chicken did not taste like garlic, chilli and oyster sauce. It tasted like the basic stir fry chicken marinade of soya sauce, a flour rub and maybe some garlic. I felt that the ingredients did not have to get to know each other. Perhaps the chicken was just mixed in right at the end for a few seconds? More power to the chicken, please?

Also, the dish costs Rs 300. Which is fair. What's unfair is the steamed rice that costs Rs 100. And I'll let the reader decide if the delivery charge of Rs 100 is fair.