Christmas spring rolls made with paneer, butternut squash, puy lentils and beetroot

22 Nov

During Christmas my family and I eat throughout the day, you know to keep the energy up! There are no rules around the 5/7 a day or consideration of portion controls during the festive season and indulgence is high up on the agenda. The table is laid with abundance and variety and as we chat, chase children and chuckle we consume copious canapés like these pretty, seasonal and utterly Moorish spring rolls. They are filled with soft pillows of homemade paneer, sweet beetroot and butternut squash, nutty lentils and spice. The surprise ingredient is a hint of orange, because it’s Christmas.

Christmas spring rolls made with paneer, butternut squash, puy lentils and beetroot by Deena Kakaya

I made these spring rolls for demonstration at the Taste of London festival, at the tobacco docks.  I was on the busy and bustling a2Milk stand as part of the Great British Chefs team and wow, what an experience!  a2 Milk™, was used to make the paneer for this recipe. Regular cows’ milk contains A1 and A2 proteins and for some, the A1 protein causes side effects such as nausea, bloating and mucus build up. A2 carefully select dairy cows that naturally produce the A2 protein and not the A1 protein. If you have had trouble digesting regular milk, a2 Milk could be for you.

Makes approximately 24 spring rolls


For the paneer cheese (makes approximately 150g)

1 litre of full fat A2 milk

2-2 ½ tbsp. lemon juice

For the spring rolls

35og butternut squash (peeled) and cut into 2 cm cubes

70g puy lentils, cooked per packet instructions

130g cooked beetroot, cut into 2cm cubes

The zest of one medium orange

The juice of one orange

2 ½ tbsp. desiccated coconut

Finely chopped green chillies to your taste (I used 4)

5-6 curry leaves

2 tbsp. vegetable oil for the tempering

Vegetable oil for deep frying the spring rolls

½ tsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Salt to taste

12 spring roll sheets


You will also need

Tightly woven fabric such as muslin or handkerchief material for making the paneer

Keep a finger bowl of water ready, this will be used when binding the spring rolls


  1. Start by making the paneer. I would suggest making the paneer the night before you make the spring rolls, to allow the paneer enough time to set. It is important to use full fat milk, as any other milk will not contain enough fat. In a non-stick pan, heat the A2 milk until it starts to boil. Turn the milk down to a simmer and then add the lemon juice. You will see that the milk starts to curdle and large clumps that look like cottage cheese appear. Turn the heat off and allow the acidic reaction to fully separate the curds and whey; give it about ten minutes. In the meantime, line a colander with muslin in an empty sink. Pour the paneer cheese into the muslin and then tie the muslin and remove any excess liquid. You keep the whey and use it to thicken curry bases. Put some weight (like a saucepan) on the paneer and allow it to set. Once set, cut the paneer into 2-3cm cubes.
  2. Line a baking tray with baking paper and then coat the butternut squash with a light layer of oil. Roast the butternut squash at 190 degrees for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the squash is lightly crisp and soft enough to pierce.
  3. In a large bowl combine the (cooked) puy lentils, beetroot, orange zest, butternut squash, paneer (cut into 2cm cubes), orange juice, desiccated coconut, salt and toss all of the ingredients together.
  4. For the tempering, heat a non-stick pan and add the oil before introducing the cumin seeds, curry leaves, chillies and turmeric. Allow the seeds to sizzle and then add the tempering to the spring roll mixture and then toss to ensure even coverage.
  5. Cut the spring rolls in half to create two rectangles. Leaving approximately 3cm centimetres space at the bottom and sides, place a dessert spoonful of the filling towards the bottom. Fold the sides inwards, close the bottom panel and fold the spring tightly in a cigar shape. Seal the end panel with a little water.
  6. Allow the spring rolls time to settle and the let the sealed panel dry before frying the spring rolls in hot oil. Fry them until they are lightly brown and golden and then use a slotted spoon to remove them from the frying pan, placing them onto kitchen paper


Deena Kakaya at Taste of London Deena Making paneer

Rose Harissa, parsnip and paneer puff pastry plait + you can Win £50 waitrose vouchers

15 Nov

A winter main dish, for me should be one that tickles all the senses; a bit of heat to stoke the internal flames, a little sweetness to lift the fog and some light and easy depth to satisfy the heart. What better way than to wrap it all in pastry? Home-made paneer tastes fabulous when heated through and even more so with the rose scented Harissa and sweet roasted parsnips that this pastry plait holds. Merry Christmas 2015!


Rose Harissa, parsnip and paneer puff pastry plait by Deena Kakaya

I have created and written this recipe for a2 Milk™, using a2 Milk to make the paneer. Regular cows’ milk contains A1 and A2 proteins and for some, the A1 protein causes side effects such as nausea, bloating and mucus build up. A2 carefully select dairy cows that naturally produce the A2 protein and not the A1 protein. If you have had trouble digesting regular milk, a2 Milk could be for you.

a2 Milk have kindly offered a £50 voucher for one the readers of my blog.  All you have to do is leave a comment on the blog letting me know  your favourite recipe, using milk as a key ingredient, and leave your email address (via the link) and a name will be picked out of the hat! Happy happy. Alternatively you can simply enter the prize draw here you have until 16th December to enter and win! Good luck!

(For more information on how to enter blog giveaways using Rafflecopter please see this short video

a Rafflecopter giveaway


You will find the full recipe here

Rose harissa, parsnip and paneer puff pastry plait by Deena KakayaRose Harissa, parsnip and paneer puff pastry plait by Deena Kakaya




Street food style chickpeas and sprouted mung beans with sweet potato dumplings

25 Oct

Street food style chickpeas and sprouted mung beans with sweet potato dumplings

Sundays, simple Sundays.

It feels good to toss the autumn leaves around our boots; cheeks a little frosty and noses puffing warm mist into the cool air. I composed my boy into the middle of a tree, where the branches heavily parted ways and then took many a picture of his helmet clad, easy-going and shiny hair which looks golden under the sunshine and oh, those tight smiles of excitement. I felt happy. Even happier when he enjoyed his lunch, yes the lunch that he ordered after cycling around the lake. In fact he told me when it was time for lunch and for those of you who have been reading my blog over the years, you’ll know what a big deal it is for my child to willingly eat. So he ordered falafel, chips and flatbread and not forgetting the hummus for mumma. He ate and we talked and I felt joy; a really simple, pleasure.

Street food style chickpeas and sprouted mung beans with sweet potato dumplings by Deena Kakaya


These days, I have learned to let go a little more, for one day I won’t be here to take it all in. I feel that now. As in, really feel it. I am learning to let go of doing things and chasing things that I think that I should, in the name of ‘successes’, stickability, loyalty, ideology, or reality. I am learning that if it doesn’t bring me enjoyment or satisfaction then I don’t have to do it, even if I think I should. That project in the restaurant wasn’t meant to be and I know that the lectures aren’t making me a multi-millionaire or famous but I don’t need to be either of those and I like doing them. Simple. Its ok that I have to find a new cookery venue and chasing a zillion approvals just isn’t me. It isn’t.

I like to meet friends and talk, like we did today. The kiddos played ‘house and shops’ and we talked. It’s not just about how to grow our businesses or progress on a ladder but they make my world feel bigger. They all have their own pleasures and worries and it makes me happy to share in it all. The simple things.

The simple thing that gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling of serenity is when I nestled into the arm of my husband with a blanket and watched some escapism on TV and then dozed off. I love snoozing like that, I felt so relaxed.

Over the last few months our Sundays have been so fluid, we start mooching around somewhere in London, perhaps in a market or by the River and eat what we see- whatever takes our fancy. Sometimes we hop into a taxi or a boat, much to the glee of my boy but often it’s into a train though mainly in the car. Sometimes we stick locally to where we are, play a little Golf with my boy (it’s the only sport he seems taken with so far) perhaps splash around in the pool or meet some friends for a walk and lunch. Most of the time it’s a fairly cheap eat, full of spice and a little fire- you know something to warm us up and give us something to talk about. I like ‘dirty good food’ at the weekend…like Indian street food, dim sum or macaroons. Total, unadulterated food porn. There, I said it. Yes, I do feel a little terrible for not thinking of nutrition, but here is where I come in with the recipe…

So, this recipe I have for you today is based around the Usal/Misal pav Indian street food recipe. Spicy, masala straddling, fire packed recipes which often use lentils, beans or sprouted mung beans and its often eaten with bread buns. In some recipes they use coconut and some use Goda masala, or black masala. In my recipe, I have kept it really simple but added some depth and nutrition with the sweet potato dumplings.


Ingredients to serve 4

1 1/3 cup of mung bean sprouts

1 tin of chickpeas

½ tin of tinned chopped tomatoes

2 medium onions

4-5 dried red chillies, soaked in water

Pinch of asafoetida

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tsp. minced ginger

2 tsp. minced garlic

10-12 curry leaves

1 tsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Salt to taste

½ tsp. ground turmeric

1 tbsp. tamarind paste

3-4 cloves

1 stick of cinnamon

1 star anise

2 green cardamom pods

2-3 tbsp. desiccated coconut

450ml of warm water

For the dumplings

2/3 cup of grated sweet potato

1/3 cup of rice

1/3 cup of gram flour

Spicy sev (crisp gram flour noodles) or sev mumra (mumra are puffed rice) for garnishing

Salt to taste

1 tsp. minced ginger

¼ tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. coriander powder


  1. In a deep pan add 3 tbsp. vegetable oil and add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, star anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and let them sizzle.
  2. Add the onion and salt and cook the onion until it’s transparent before adding the ginger, garlic, cumin powder, coriander powder, desiccated coconut and stir fry until the coconut is lightly coloured. Blitz the red chillies and add them to the mix, then the Kashmiri chilli powder. Add the tomatoes and black pepper and then the tamarind and bring the base to a simmer.
  3. Now pour in the water and then add the mung bean sprouts and chickpeas. On a low flame simmer for about ten minutes.
  4. In the meantime, combine the cooked rice, turmeric, salt, coriander powder and sweet potato and mix it all well before adding the gram flour. You should be able to roll them into equal sized balls, of about a dozen in number. You can make them smaller if you wish. Steam them for about 8-10 minutes and when they are cooked (pierce them with a skewer and if it comes out clean they’re cooked).
  5. When the dumplings are cooked add them to the mung bean sprouts and chickpeas and simmer together for about five minutes.
  6. Toast some buns and serve with the sev/sev mumra on top. You could even add raw chopped onions and tomatoes.

Creole spiced wild rice with carrots, edamame bean and tofu

18 Oct

One of the high-spirited (and what I call) ‘professional mums’ at my boy’s school exhales animated banter full of expletives and honesty in the mornings. I tell her that her dose of reality is like a second breakfast for me.  She comically exudes what most of us are thinking; the temper inducing traffic, the unpalatable lack of child-gratitude for what mum does, the fading of an identity of our own amongst school commitments, after school activities, cooking, driving etc., in-laws and the constant challenge of remaining healthy. Oh, it is all quite draining isn’t it?

creole spiced wild rice with carrots, edamame bean and tofu by Deena Kakaya

So I have made a few changes recently, some are embarrassingly simple but my goodness they have helped. In the mornings we sing rhymes together, the boy and I.  We sing them all through the traffic and when the car is still, I use my hands too- you know to count the ducks and to identify ‘peter pointer’. As we get closer to the school, we turn loudly into Bollywood pop music and we belt out a few tunes and park up in thumping and throbbing car. Maybe I shouldn’t but out bounds a dancing toddler who then wants to run with his friends. It’s better than having to cajole him and then peel him off my body at the entrance isn’t it?

When I am cooking the lunch and dinner at 7am each morning and finishing off the cooking at 5pm, it is usually to the tune of ‘muuuum, muuum, mumma, I need to ask you a question’. Or ‘mum, can you play with me’. ‘Mumma come and have a look at this, mum, pleeeeaase, I said please so I’m a good boy, please can you do it now’.  I really don’t like to tell him off for just wanting my time, so this week, the music went on. The floor piano has been rolled out onto the kitchen floor and equipped with instruments we have a little band playing whilst fresh chappati disco into the plate.

At bedtime I don’t like the silence. Especially when I am on my own. Usually the TV goes on and I fall asleep to some mindless soap starring beautiful actresses with questionable acting performances but the TV flickers on and I’m not sure how relaxing this is for my mind. My glasses stay on too, and these days my husband hasn’t been around to gently remove them. This week I took my glasses off, kept the lamp on and let Ravi Shankar’s music ease me into sleep.

The simple things. The healthy ways. The generous ways. The nourishing things. The happy things. The beautiful ways the smiling things. The spicy and colourful things like this vegetarian stir fry of wild rice, carrot and edamame beans.

Ingredients to serve 4-6

1 ½ cups of wild rice

3 large carrots, julienned

1 ½ cups of edamame beans

5-6 tsp. of creole spice mix (see below)

3-4 spring onions, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

The juice of one lime

200g of firm tofu, cut into bite sized pieces

2 tbsp. sesame seeds

2 tbsp. sesame oil

Salt to taste


For the creole spice mix;

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

2 tbsp. paprika

1 tbsp. hot paprika

1 tbsp. dried oregano

½ tbsp. dried thyme

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. onion powder

1 tsp. ground pepper

Combine all of these ingredients together.



  1. Wash and then boil the rice for approximately 15 mins before rinsing well and removing the water.
  2. In a non- tick pan heat a couple of tbsp. of vegetable oil and cook the tofu until it is crisp and lightly browned.
  3. Heat the oil in a deep pan heat the sesame oil and add the sesame seeds, onion and garlic and sauté for a minute before adding the carrots.
  4. Sprinkle in the creole spice mix and lime juice before adding the tofu and the wild rice.
  5. Boil the edamame beans for 2-3 minutes and then drain them and add them to the stir fry.

I served this dish with hot and crisp Gyoza, with lots of chatter with my pal who visited this week.


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.

I used my Optimum 9400 froothie and I got a superbly smooth and creamy result on this soup which is especially important for the chickpeas; there is no grainy or gritty bits and we are far from lumpy on the texture here. Luckily the size of the jug is plenty big enough to contain the soup without splashes or spills.

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

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