Roasted tomato & pepper, chickpea and fennel soup

4 Oct

Roasted tomato & pepper, chickpea and fennel soup
Roasted tomato & pepper, chickpea and fennel soup by Deena Kakaya I’ve become one of those green tea swigging and sloshing mothers; you know the type that inhales some fruit infused concoction in a wooden-chaired, Wi-Fi friendly café with parking spaces and then tackles daily activities of child work and home with many coloured pens, diary updates and sighs. It can’t be healthy.

Come to think of it, that inconvenient traffic in the mornings, every morning except for Friday but especially Mondays, that can’t be good for me either.  That strenuous sense of urgency, the persistent red lights and agitated looks of people all around and even the bit where my heart skips a beat at the prospect of turning up late. Unhealthy. Maybe that cereal in the morning was a bad idea too; I mean its granola…what of the sugar content. Maybe porridge would have been a healthier choice but goodness I don’t have/make the time every day.

Maybe the porridge would curb the visits of the posh-crisp-eating fairy that depletes my supplies curiously quickly. I think she liked the Moroccan spiced ones this week. This is of course unhealthy. Probably just as unhealthy as the obligatory cookie ‘tasting’ today; my boy made them at nursery so of course it had to be done. There are a few cookie crumbs on my laptop even though honestly, I just ate a quarter. The laptop, it is often warming my lap and I keep thinking I should use a cushion because surely all this energy can’t be god good for my body or my eyes…goodness my eyes need testing again as those headaches are telling me.

The husband is frequently nudging me to either resume exercise classes or cancel my membership; healthy body, healthy mind? Maybe. On the one hand those endorphins from being in the pool, taking time away from the home and just talking to people outside of my usual routine feels good for me but the frequency of my visits has err, lapsed. Not the healthiest lapse I have had.

But what is healthy and deliciously easy is this wholesome roasted tomato & pepper, fennel and chickpea soup. The chickpeas shouldn’t ever be gritty or lumpy so there is a light and nutty creaminess that holds the soup together. It’s lightly sweet, a little smoky because of those peppers and spiced with fennel so smells an absolute treat. At first I was reluctant to share a soup recipe with you- Is it just too simple? But my goodness, it really is so freaking good.

Serves 3-4


6 large and deep red tomatoes, quartered

2 large red peppers cut into large chunks

One medium sized bulb of garlic, unopened

One large red onion, cut into chunks

Rapeseed oil for drizzling

2 tsp. fennel seeds

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tin of chickpeas, drained

600ml vegetable stock


  1. Line a baking tray with baking paper and place the tomatoes cut side up and then distribute the garlic, onions and peppers onto the tray. Lightly drizzle them with oil and then roast them until they catch a crisp colour and the peppers are soft enough to pull apart.
  2. Blitz the chickpeas into a completely smooth puree using ½ cup of water.
  3. In a large deep, non-stick pan heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil and then add the fennel seeds and allow them to sizzle before adding the ground cumin and allowing it to infuse for a few seconds.
  4. Now add the tomatoes, peppers and onions and then the vegetable stock.
  5. Bring the soup to a simmer before squeezing in the roasted garlic. Take the soup off the heat and then add the chickpea puree and blitz the soup with a hand whisk.

I served with fresh wholegrain bread with melted talegio.

Malaysian spiced green bean salad

27 Sep

Malaysian spiced green bean salad

Last week my husband and I went on our first date together in over a year.

malaysian green bean salad by Deena Kakaya

It has been a momentous month since the last recipe I shared. We attended the weddings of two cousins; smiling, colour-clad, swung between nostalgia and envisaging the future and all the while joyfully exhausted. My uniformed baby started nursery school and the first day was full of new and unanticipated juxtapositions; flowing tears, knots of loss, wholesome growth and untainted pride. My new baby nephew arrived, perfect and scrumptiously complete. The husband travelled to Kuwait and India, whilst I juggled a new phase of life with ending a continuous stretch of lectures since the start of the year. We planned new developments with our home and made many new friends with a whole different mind-set and outlook, but we share a common thread. I learned to be honest enough and let go of doing things that don’t bring me joy and well, we went on a date.

How possibly could it feel so peculiar to not be ‘mumma’ for a couple of hours? To talk to my husband without, ‘mum I need to ask you a question’ or to hold hands without a possessive boy intervening and stealing my hand? To have actual conversation about what we had read, observed or interesting conversations we’d had through the week? To smile, without having to request crayons in the restaurant or just very simply, to look at each other.

To the many colours of life, and the many colours of us; to trying to balance and well – letting something, one thing overcomes the rest. To my green bean salad in a loud and Malaysian spiced curry paste with juicy and succulent tomatoes and nutty topping. To smiling to it all.

Ingredients to serve 3-4 as a side salad

250g green beans

2 golden beetroot, peeled and grated

150g mixed baby plum tomatoes, halved.

3 tbsp. desiccated coconut

3 tbsp. almonds

For the curry paste

1 medium sized pink onion

1 tbsp. lemongrass puree

½ tbsp. galangal or ginger

4-5 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water

150ml coconut milk

½ tsp. ground turmeric

3 kaffir lime leaves

1 stick of cinnamon

2 tbsp. tamarind paste

Salt to taste

The juice of half a lime

1 tsp. tomato puree (optional)

2 tbsp. sesame oil


  1. Blitz together the onion, chillies, turmeric, tomato paste, lemongrass and galangal, into a smooth paste.
  2. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan, and then add the paste. On a gentle flame cook the paste until the oil rises to the top.
  3. Now stir in the kaffir lime leaves, tamarind paste, coconut milk, and cinnamon, salt to taste and bring the paste to a simmer. Squeeze in the lime juice and simmer for approximately 20minutes on a low-medium flame until the paste is reduced, thick, aromatic and lightly browned.
  4. Simmer the green beans in boiling water for about 4 minutes and then drain them and rinse them in cold water.
  5. Toast the coconut and flaked almonds until they catch a light golden colour and then remove them from the heat.
  6. Once the paste is cooked, turn off the heat and combine it evenly with the green beans.
  7. Layer the salad with the spiced green beans, tomatoes, gold beetroot and the almonds and coconut. Make sure to serve and enjoy it warm.


Beetroot, fenugreek and roasted garlic chapatti (thepla)

21 Aug

I’m pretty sure so far, that if at the gates of heaven (and I know that I am being presumptuous here) I am asked which period of my life I would like to live for eternity, it would be my boy’s young and charming days.

Beetroot thepla by Deena Kakaya

As we embark on the next leg of our journey together and slightly apart for the first time ever (mornings of nursery school), I look back with smiles, pride and deep satisfaction at the moments we have shared together, so far. When he falls in the park, he dusts himself off and says, ‘don’t worry mumma, I’m OK’. When the boy in the park today screamed and shouted for a turn on the machine that my boy was playing with he stepped off and said, ‘don’t cry, it’s just called sharing’. Completely unprompted and wonderfully frequently he will tell me that he loves me. Today as I rushed him to get dressed in the cubicle before his impending swimming lesson, he casually swung his legs and chattered away to me about veins being like tunnels for romans. As I told him off for not removing his shoes despite being asked thrice, he said ‘mumma, you look beautiful today’. We cuddled into giggle-fits as I felt enchanted by my three year old and he knew that I had busted his game, but it had worked.

Our week so far as included toddler football, mini golf at the local golf course, rides-animals-theatre and carrot digging at the farm, scooters in the park, swimming and a visit to the zoo scattered with a few play dates. My favourite was the themed carrot digging and his was the zoo, of course. Through all of these activities, my least favourite part is lunchtime. I know, I know – I have read all the stuff about mum’s attitude towards meal times rub off on the child and it should be a relaxed and fun time without pressing on quantities or content but frankly, I find mealtimes wearing. The last thing I want to do is to melt into persuasion and declining on a fun day out. We sat on the front bench , under the sun to watch the sheep song and dance thingey and I asked him to look back at the the crowd on the benches. I asked him what the children were all doing, ‘eating sandwiches’. So I asked if he would like one too. Very simply, it’s a no; he is three years old and he has never eaten a sandwich.

Spicy fenugreek chappati (thepla) are the ultimate food for days out, or at least they have been for me. As I was growing up, they travelled with us to picnic and coach journeys to the beach. They even made it to the airport and beyond, you know- just in case. They came with me to university as they have a longer life than many other foods and during my pregnancy I ate them every day with lashings of yoghurt and some pickle. Is it any wonder then that my boy loves them too? I think of variations on thepla to get some added nutrition in; sometimes I add paneer to give a real moist texture and sometimes roasted vegetable and I have even added banana. One of my favourites is this hot pink version, which my boy calls ‘peppa pig thepla’. I ate them with The Cheeky Food Company’s mango pickle which they sent me to taste. Have to say, it took me by surprise; it’s not vinegary or overly sour or even too hot, it has the home made taste!

Ingredients to make approximately 20 thepla

2 cups of chapatti flour

¾ cup finely chopped fenugreek leaves

2 pinches of ajwain (carom seeds)

½ tsp. turmeric

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. plain yoghurt

half bulb of roasted garlic (I put mine in the oven for half an hour at 180 degrees)

100g cooked beetroot, pureed

Salt to taste

3-4 tbsp. water, if needed

Vegetable Oil for greasing the chappati

Tip: keep a small bowl of vegetable oil with spoon ready near your tava to use for the thepla


  1. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the oil. Mix the oil with the flour until it’s evenly distributed.
  2. Now add the turmeric, salt and ajwain and mix well, then mix in the fenugreek leaves
  3. Introduce the yoghurt, beetroot, roasted garlic and then knead the dough. Add water until a soft and springy dough forms. I usually drizzle on a little oil over the dough.
  4. Heat the tava on a medium to low flame and then start to roll the thepla.
  5. Take equally sized portions of dough (about the size of a golf ball) and roll them to a thin chappati and then toast it on side until it begins to form bubbles and then flip it over and repeat. Flip it over again, drizzle it lightly with oil- uses the back of your spoon to evenly distribute the oil and then repeat.



Padron pepper, paneer, carrot & quinoa salad in a teriyaki dressing

30 Jul

Padron pepper, paneer, carrot & quinoa salad in a teriyaki dressing

Padron pepper, paneer, carrot and qunioa salad in a teriyaki dressing by Deena Kakaya

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I stood in the kitchen amongst the pre-dinner pandemonium as we had our toddler boy perched on the worktop reciting a loud hum of, ‘mum..mumma, I want to talk to you, I need to ask you a question…Muuuum’ and quite abruptly, I disarmed all tools, turned down all simmering pots, swiped for some work surface space and exhaled, ‘ I think we should give thanks. Let’s do something to show our gratitude, you know…give back’.

Of course I knew he would say yes, but I explained anyway; he had achieved a recent promotion, our boy was going to ‘that’ nursery school. The one which we used to talk about when I was a new bride of 23 years of age, when we lived in our rented flat in an upmarket area. There was a school uniform shop on the high street and once or twice when we evening-walked past it, my husband softened as he divulged that he has always liked the idea of having a son, and if we should have one he would go to ‘that’ school. So we had received a few blessings. I had even ended my term of lectures on a high with positive and glowing feedback from both institutions I delivered courses at; with students writing in ‘I would love to have Deena as a lecturer again, she goes above and beyond’. I had waited so long for things to be positive again, that I really needed to show gratitude.

The following week, a hole appeared in the path. An uncomfortable hole appeared. This is life. Arrogantly, I had never contemplated a hole of this size and shape would ever be presented in my path, but this is life. Now I will spend some lengthy time and energy in building a bridge and mustering enough will to keep moving forwards. This is something I am not unfamiliar with, but this indeed, is life.

But there is a difference. I now have a few coping skills. I have learned a few ways of calming myself and pushing myself to see beyond the physiological reactions right now. Look, if I strip away that one hole, the other blessings are still there. If I strip away all the blessings that are ‘things’ the promotion, the accolades, the praise the recognition, the work the good stuff… even if we strip all that transient, ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ stuff, there is still enough to be grateful for. In time, the all the meetings the cancellations, the delays and the frustrations…all of it and none of it matter little. Around the dark hole is colour and beauty.

And that of course brings me to this recipe of delicate and mellow Padron peppers, succulent paneer, carrot and that low GI and high iron grain of quinoa. I have probably mentioned that I always have carrots in the fridge that are permanently in the at-risk status (at risk of going limp). But look at the colour they give the salad, and they work so well with spring onions and Padron peppers, which are one of my recent foodie best friends for being so easy, addictive and darn tasty. I have dressed the salad in home-made teriyaki sauce, though dark and bold it made my home smell lovely as it simmered away. All colour in darkness here.

for the full recipe follow this link to Great British Chefs

Quorn rendang curry

26 Jul

Quorn rendang curry by Deena Kakaya

As children, we knowingly grew up with and revelled in some food traditions.  During the week we typically had one ‘green’ curry which was something like okra, cluster beans or spinach for example with a lentil or pulse based dish and of course abundant chapatti and rice with, salad and pickles on the side.   When my aunts visited, we knew dad would go out and buy bright orange and sticky sweet spirals of jalebi, fluffy and lightly sour rice and lentil cakes of dhokla and all the children got bounty chocolate bars at the end. There were potato and cassava dishes for celebratory fasting days and summers full of steaming hot, spiced rice flour dough which puffed aromas of chillies as we lay the poppadum’s made with that very dough onto sheets of unused saris in the garden. On Thursdays we had hot, buttery Khichdi made of simmered down rice and lentils with potato curry, Kadhi and crisp poppadum’s. On Fridays, dad made proper chips after chopping and lightly boiling thick cuts of potatoes and they were accompanied by fried eggs, beans or mushy peas and lashings of vinegar. It was either that or a Chinese take-away or home-made pie but goodness my brother and I loved those Friday meals.

When I started working in London things altered. Every day was a food adventure rejoicing a different cuisine of the world with my friends or colleagues. One of the things I love about London is that pretty much any cuisine I want to explore is accessible. Some of these cuisines became regular features on my home-cooking menu such as Malaysian recipes with their fresh and sprightly flavours of lemongrass, chillies and lime leaves. Over the years I have read about the fusion of cultures that influences Malaysian cooking; Malays, Chinese, Indian and apparently even Portuguese and Dutch and for me this makes it such a testament to the success that fusion food can deliver. I am shameless when it comes to slurping up bowls of fragrant Laksa but the dish that has always made me most curious is rendang curry. I think it is the thick, clinging curry sauce that just makes me swoon for vegetarian alternatives to the traditional heavy meaty-based versions of this recipe. The curry gravy reaches thrilling levels of wonderfulness when simmered for around an hour, making it unsuitable for vegetable based dishes but Quorn works well in that it just becomes tender and soaks up the flavours of the curry base over this time. I have cut back on my intake of sugar so I haven’t added brown sugar, palm sugar or any sweeteners to this recipe but what I have done is add tamarind paste and also powdered some toasted coconut to give a little touch of sweetness.  It has taken me about three attempts to get to a rendang recipe that I am happy with and I have to say, this one is just divine. I have served it with a really easy and colourful carrot salad and steaming hot rice.

for the full recipe, head on over via this link to Great British Chefs

Pea and vegetarian Quorn mince Kofta curry

15 Jul

Pea and vegetarian mince Kofta curry

Sometimes, when my brother visits us, together with my family from Leicester, he makes unexplained (but definitely not mysterious) disappearances. Sometimes they are explicated. None of us feels illuminated. Let me explain;

Pea and Quorn mince Kofta curry by Deena Kakaya

When it comes to lunch or dinner, applying a menu favourably to the fussy audience that is my family is complicated. Each of them declares ‘I’m easy, whatever…’ but this is not factually correct. The children of course require a balanced, nutritious and mild diet and my parents like a more traditional menu these days or something with an x-rating on the chillies factor. But my dad is sick of chapatti every day so the mere indication of them will spin him off into, ‘that’s fine I will have Weetabix or toast for dinner’. What my diabetic dad really wants is something that resembles (or actually is) an obscenely dirty take-away; you know mounds of Chinese food, maybe some massaman curry or some deep fried aubergine Bhajhia.

But of course my husband likes the idea of all that but strokes his jumper down for the 97th time as he says, ‘no I have got to be healthier, I have lost 2kg and need to…’ right. By this time my sister-in-law, who has declined the chocolate cornflakes snack bites in the living room has made another trip to the kitchen corner and come out crunching, so the hunger is stirring. Oh, but where is my brother, how long has he actually been gone? He has of course, gone out in search of protein. It is I a fixation of his. Every meal must be loaded with protein that apparently fuels his work-outs and keeps him satiated for longer and various other reasons I switch off about and if its cabbage curry for dinner with vegetable rice and raitha, he is silently out and munching on chicken because we (which of course means ‘I’) have a no-meat rule in the house.

Pea and Quorn mince Kofta curry by Deena Kakaya

Cue my protein packed recipe. Every time we eat Quorn mince there are remarks from the non-vegetarian people around the table about how convincing it is. I have noticed over the years that it has actually become softer and juicier, less crumbly and they now lend so well to succulent, moist, lightly sweet, spice-soaked and juicy kofta. They hold so well and do not require any egg or potato. Peas are themselves a source of protein as well as the Quorn mince but I chose peas because they keep the kofta moist and add a little sweetness. They look pretty too don’t they? Let me tell you, we had some very happy people and also very quiet people eating these kofta.


for the full recipe, head over on this link to great british chefs

Mexican-Indian corn chaat

12 Jul

Mexican-Indian corn chaat

I was in a waiting room for several hours the other day.

Between moments of exasperated and forced eye contact with staff down the window-less corridor and then stiller and weepily-hungry jiffies of reading ‘The Kite Runner’ I listened to a gentleman whose granddaughter had just graduated from a university in Birmingham and Grandson who had just departed for travels in Australia. His daughters’ tolerantly listened to ‘daddy’ repeating himself. Well, one did whilst the other arranged school pick-ups and take-away dinners. I wondered why they didn’t intervene when their father asked another waiting lady about how many children she had, again. She who had twin 7 year old sons and a four year old daughter had just miscarried and she had gently explained for the third or fourth time that, ‘these things happen’, ‘it’s really common’, ‘I just want to move on’. I wonder if she really was that calm when she heard the older gentleman resaying, ‘was it your first’, ‘oh that’s awful’ and ‘life is so unfair’. Maybe she was thinking the same as me, which is that we are all going to end up where this gentleman was except whether it is a lonely struggle or one accompanied by loved ones remains to be seen.

She tucked her gaze onto the sketch she was making; she is an artist and worked flexibly around her children, describing this harmony as ‘nice’. Across from me a father and daughter nestled into each other. She must have been 11 or 12, long dark and silky hair tied into wafting pony tails but sportily dressed, like her dad. When I was of that age, it would have been less common to see such snuggling in a public area. Things have changed. My husband asked my three year old son what we do in our family, he replied, ‘we just erm, give love’.

On my right a gentleman waited with his family. His wife smiled serenely and his son discussed important subjects around his work and readings. His father listened with eager eyes and encouraging nods, though I did notice him stifle a couple of yawns. His daughter explained how she wanted to gradually transition from her professional job into her own business and her father agreed devotedly. I thought back to my teens when some of my friends were chastised for even hinting at more artistic subjects and felt sorry for parents who could not truly understand, relate or advise their children on many of these education and profession related matters. But they tried, like my parents did.

And so, as an ode to the many colours of life, I share with you a recipe for Mexican-Indian corn chaat. I scoffed an entire (sharing) plate of corn chaat when in Dubai (where it is very easy to be vegetarian) a few months ago as my husband looked on smiling. It was supposed to be a light and easy meal. Sweet corn in chaat is probably not the most traditional chaat recipe but the juicy and cool kernels of corn work well amongst the crispy puffed rice, tangy chutneys and soft potatoes. As I was eating it I couldn’t help think of Mexican corn salad with lots of red onion, corn tortilla and green peppers. And so, the Mexican-Indian corn chaat is born; it has pungent and peppery chaat masala but also smoky Mexican Guajillo chillies. It has green chillies and also a double whammy of crunch from corn tortilla and puffed rice. I have smoothed on some cool whipped yoghurt for the base of the dish too. One serving of this dish is just never enough!

Ingredients to serve 2-4

3 guajillo chillies

3 green chillies, finely chopped

One medium red onion

½ cup mung bean shoots, or you could use chickpeas

2 tbsp. tamarind chutney (shop bought is fine)

5 tsp. chaat masala

125g chopped, fresh tomatoes

4 new potatoes, diced boiled

1 tin of 325g sweet corn

5-6 dessert spoons of plain, natural yoghurt

¾ cup puffed rice with peanuts (readily available in Indian supermarkets as sev mumra)

A couple of handfuls of corn tortilla, lightly crushed


  1. On a dry pan gently roast the peppers until they start to smoke but don’t let them brown. Take them off the heat and immerse them with enough hot water to cover them. Leave them to stand for about 15 minutes before blitzing them to a paste.
  2. In a large bowl, add the drained corn and toss the kernels amongst the guajillo chilli paste and tamaring chutney.
  3. Now add the potatoes, onions, green chillies, tomatoes, mung bean shoots and then toss all the ingredients. Sprinkle in the chaat masala.
  4. Prepare each plate by layering the yoghurt on the base of the plate.
  5. Before serving, add the puffed rice with peanuts and corn tortilla to the bowl of ingredients. If you add them too early they will soften.




Roasted cauliflower manchurian

5 Jul

These days when I fleetingly look in the mirror, consciously or not I look out for very different signs as compared to a few years ago. I’m not so much checking for neat eyebrows, tidy make up or how large my eyes appear (yes that indeed used to be a consideration a lifetime ago), but the checklist is wearily composed of; do I look tired, how many grey hairs are peeping through, do I spot any facial hairs and mostly…do I look healthy?

roasted cauli manchurian by Deena Kakaya


Pre-child I had promised myself that I wouldn’t let myself go. As I geared up for motherhood my husband heard reaffirmations from me a million times or more that I would continue to shop at my favourite boutiques, wear make-up, go to the gym and still have time for a facemask. It wasn’t until in recent months, when well intending friends pointed out how lovely it was to see the ‘old me’ back that it dawned on me, that I had faded quite a lot…into dark holes of formless, halfway-house and never-ending leggings. I have thrown them all away now, the leggings I mean.

It was going pretty well, I was eating more fruit and I felt light and springy as did my hair. Since then there has been a bit of dip in the bounce partly due to a fatigue induced ravenous appetite. My appetite has been as relentless as my schedule of work and toddler and I caught a flash of self-assessment whilst shopping today. Along with more sleep, it is time to behave well again on the food front but I can’t entertain the thought of any of these juice diets or carb-cycling thingies. I am a temperamental when hungry and I cannot and will not eat beans on toasts and when my husband suggests cereal for dinner after a long night and train journey home at 10pm, I just cannot. Eating cereal for dinner would be just hitting rock bottom.

I am satiated with bold colours and spice, deep texture and might. I crave vegetarian fast food. I tell myself that I must eat healthy recipes, whilst I am gratified by aromas that invite my fingers into the food and draw moisture to my mouth. And this vegetarian recipe for roasted cauliflower Manchurian (or Gobi Manchurian) cuts it. It’s a take on a popular indo-Chinese recipe, but I haven’t fried the cauliflower. It still hits the spot.

Ingredients to serve 2-3

A medium head of cauliflower cut into large florets

1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tsp. minced garlic

A generous pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder

6 tsp. of corn flour

For the sauce

2 tbsp. tomato ketchup

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. siracha sauce

1 tbsp. agave nectar

1 tbsp. freshly chopped coriander

3 spring onions, finely chopped


  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Coat the washed cauliflower with the Chinese 5 spice powder, garlic and ginger paste, soy sauce and then finally the corn flour.
  3. Place each of the florets in the oven and roast them until they are crisp and lightly browned. This should take 45 minutes.
  4. Once cooked, remove the cauliflower florets and place them in a large bowl. Combine the cauliflower florets with the sauce and toss them until they are evenly coated.
  5. Serve the cauliflower Manchurian hot. I served with wholemeal tortilla and beansprouts, as a wrap.

Spicy beetroot and spinach Puri (fried breads)

4 Jun

Spicy beetroot and spinach Puri (fried breads)

We spent the day chasing bubbles on a sort-of man-made ‘beach’, with friends and giggles today. My boy and his friend ran around in bare legs, shining under their sun cream before washing our efforts into lake. We made, and resurrected sandcastles and settled quarrels over which colour spade belonged to which toddler, before washing gritty eyes out in the public toilets. As ‘I want’ and ‘pleaaaseee’ echoed through my mind, I realised that I had learned to let go a little.

Spicy beetroot and spinach puri by Deena Kakaya

Spicy beetroot and spinach puri by Deena Kakaya

Yes, the route to the park was unfamiliar and I had two loud toddlers in the bank demanding attention, but I made it. The toilets wreaked but it was OK, we washed the eye out. There was sand all over the clothes, but they can be washed and he had no interests in snacks but he would be fine. It’s OK. My phone buzzed but I didn’t check it, they could wait and I realised that I had returned those work emails for three days for the world wouldn’t collapse. We couldn’t get the toddlers out of there, naturally and so, we had two hungry little people who were busting for a wee the entire journey to a family friendly restaurant that I would never would have dined at before my boy was born, a whole hour and fifteen minutes late for lunch. But they ate. They ate cheese and tomato puree on cooked dough, but they ate. So for today, it’s OK.

I am really looking forward to the summer, even though I have this one challenge. On a day out to the zoo, or park or beach we usually take a vegetarian picnic. But we can’t take sandwiches for my toddler. My life would be so much simpler if my boy would eat a sandwich. I lament over the time I would save if he would just eat a sandwich. On our day out to an activity farm park for example (after which I had needed a nap) we took thepla (fenugreek chapatti), so I had been up until 11pm after returning from work the previous night at 10pm. You see my point?

This time, I made puri (Indian fried breads). Who can resist a fluffy, crisp balloon like puri? Not even my fussy toddler. At first he came into the kitchen and inhaled deeply, ‘thank you for making me puri, you are the best’. But at first when he saw them he declared that they would be for girls because they are hot pink. It didn’t take much persuasion for him to dig in; delicately sweet, slightly sour and gently warm with garlic…this is not a usual puri recipe but it really will hit the spot.

Recipe to make approximately 15 puri


1½ cup chapatti flour

½ cup finely chopped spinach

75g cooked beetroot, pureed

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt to taste

2 tbsp. plain, natural yoghurt

1 ½ tbsp. vegetable oil for the dough

Oil for deep frying

½ tsp. turmeric

You will need a large slotted spoon suitable for using when frying and some kitchen paper


  1. Heat the oil for deep frying
  2. To make the dough, start by making in the middle of the flour within a large bowl. Then, using your fingers, blend the oil into the dough to ensure even and fine blending.
  3. Now add the turmeric and salt, again ensuring that it is evenly distributed.
  4. Now introduce the yoghurt, beetroot puree and garlic, together with the spinach. Form dough that is spongy, not sticky. If you need more water add it very little by little and if your dough is sticky then add flour, again little by little.
  5. Divide the dough into 15 equal portions and roll them out to approximately a palm size.
  6. Check that the oil is hot by placing a small amount of dough into the oil and if it rises immediately and begins to sizzle then place a single puri into the oil and gentle dab it with the slotted spoon. It should rise into a ball. Turn the puri around and cook it until it catches a light golden colour before removing it onto kitchen paper.


Baharat roasted potatoes with aubergine and spinach

13 May

Baharat roasted potatoes with aubergine and spinach


Baharat roasted potatoes with aubergine spinach

The lines between ‘going back’ and going on holiday have blurred now, after this many visits to the UAE.  My three year old has made three trips out there and now has a collection of memories and a definite sense of identification with some of our regular haunts.  Neither me nor my husband are from the UAE or have family there but to be honest almost all of the people I talk to in Dubai are ex-pats.

Whilst in Oman, Muscat I reminisced about our honeymoon in Thailand because the mountainous back group and still waters evoked those entire serene and tranquil honeymoon images in my mind. Except this time, the people we made passing conversation with were a whole world away. We met an Australian family in the kid’s club and I remarked to my husband that it was they, not a nanny with their two young daughters. Most of the other children in the kids club were accompanied by a nanny that had joined their family to the resort. Australian dad now worked in Qatar and Australian mum was fond of truffles. She emphatically told me about the school her daughters attended and how her children didn’t see race or colour because their friends were of all origins; Indian, French, Japanese. She told me several times over, which I found curious.

People like to guess where you are from when on holiday don’t they? Most of the time people assume that I am from Arabic origin, in fact this happened to me at college and university too but it’s only in the UAE that people never assume that. The entertainer in the kids club remarked on my Indian eyes and English accent and asked if I was a full time mum, for again, I was the only mum in attendance there. An Indian (as in, from India) dad dropped his two smartly dressed children who were also decorated in 24ct gold jewellery, with entertaining lady and after he left she told me that he holds a very high position in the hotel and has since moved to LA to head up operations there. She herself is from a family of 7 sisters and 1 brother in the Philippines.

My little boy likes trains, unsurprisingly and the ones in Dubai are much less congested so this made for fervent and endearing conversation. Indian chap quipped that he should be on YouTube, not the head of a leading bank like he was. My boy replied, ‘maybe when I am 17 I will.’

So, as we stood at the floor to wall screens leading into the aquarium, for shark and stingray viewing my boy patted the screen guardedly inviting the sometimes smiling and sometimes frowning creatures to swim past him. Whilst he pressed his forehead against the cold glass and chattered away about what the fish must be doing, thinking, eating and travelling from a very pink, vivacious blonde haired little girl grabbed the arm of ‘Shanti’ as she explained where she saw similar looking coral. Shanti had a really peaceful demeanour and very smooth and very dark skin on a red-green-gold simple sari so I wondered if she was from southern India. Blonde mummy tried to join in the conversation but those wide eyes were mirroring only Shanti’s imperturbable smile. I wondered if this is what happens if you get caught up in the mode of, ‘because I can have hired help I will’. Or was shanti a friend? Was she the nanny?

‘Come…’ called Shanti and held the little blond girl close as she scooped her up, posing and prompting the parents to take pictures. I don’t know if Shanti heard, but I certainly did when they said, ‘just get her in there on her own, and hold it, that’s it…’

I picked up some freshly ground Baharat spice mix at the same supermarket that I go to each time that I am in Dubai and I know there must be more authentic places but you know, it was there in a big and inviting mound of freshness. A Lebanese lady next to me told me that she uses it in rice dishes and I wondered which other medley of dishes I could use them because the key ingredients are; cardamom, cassia bark, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, all spice, peppercorns, chilies or paprika. For whatever reasons the smoky aubergine, crisp potato and smooth spinach all work with this spice for a healthy vegetarian meal. Although I picked the blend up from Dubai with lasting effect in the suitcase, the spice blend is available in UK supermarkets too.

Ingredients to serve two

3 medium potatoes suitable for roasting

1 tbsp. rapeseed oil

Two medium aubergines

One tin of chopped tomatoes

4 dessert spoons of finely chopped spinach

One large red chilli

Salt to taste

2 tsp. Za’atar spice

3 tsp.  Baharat spice

150g fresh mozzarella cheese


A handful of cherry or plum tomatoes, quartered


  1. Cut the potatoes into even sized cubes and boil them for 7-8 minutes before draining them and letting them dry completely. Then toss them in salt and the oil before roasting them in the oven at 190 degrees for approximately 25 minutes.
  2. Roast the aubergines whole at 180 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the inside is soft and then allow them to cool before scraping away the skins.
  3. Mix the tinned tomatoes with the chopped chilli, salt, pinch of pepper and spread them onto an oven proof dish.
  4. Combine the aubergine pulp with the Za’atar spice and a pinch of salt.
  5. Now layer on the spinach and the roasted aubergine on top of the tinned tomatoes.
  6. Once the potatoes have caught a golden colour, toss them in the Baharat spice mix before adding them on top of the spinach and aubergine.
  7. Tear the aubergine and add them to the top with the tomatoes before returning the tray to the oven for approximately ten minutes.
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