Today’s post will be short – we have visitors and I am going to be a tourist with them.  We are going to the Museum of Modern Art, then the NBC shop, lunch somewhere, the 9/11 Memorial, St Paul’s Chapel, back here to change and then out for an early dinner followed by Orlando Bloom in Romeo and Juliet.  I will then bring the under-21 home while Dad takes John and Jackie to the Campbell Apartment for a real Long Island Iced Tea.  So I have been wondering what I can tell you today that is short and useful, and have decided on halloumi.

Halloumi can be really tasty if cooked properly.   Halloumi is the quintessential Cypriot cheese.  It is a sheeps milk cheese and is commonly found on both sides of the Green Line.  It is eaten in pretty much every meze and used in cooking as I mentioned in my moussaka recipe.  I like it raw with watermelon, in salads and simply to nibble.

My first taste was unsurprisingly in Rosslyn Avenue and cooked by Bapu.  In those days, he used to cover the grill pan with foil, and grill the halloumi, making sure it was well-browned on both sides.  For me, halloumi has to be eaten hot – as it cools, it becomes waxy and just isn’t as good.   When we were living in Hong Kong, I was thrilled to find halloumi on sale – Dad was less enthusiastic.  I had never noticed that he didn’t eat halloumi.  He said that he had too many memories of cold halloumi at Greek wedding receptions.  Somewhere along the line he changed his mind, and he now enjoys it as much as the rest of us.

My preferred way of cooking halloumi is dry fried in a frying pan.  Halloumi expels a lot of water, and the trick is to get the pan hot enough that the water evaporates, but that the cheese doesn’t then get too brown.  I know that in restaurants they use griddle pans, but I have had less success with this.  Griddles become that bit too hot and when I turn the cheese, I leave the cheese churins* on the pan and I find that really irritating!  One block of halloumi should be cut into no more than 8 pieces, 6 if you want it thicker.  Heat the pan, add cheese and watch what you’re doing.  Serve immediately.

Of course, the traditional way of serving is with lounza, smoked pork loin, or the absolute best bit of bacon.  It can be hard to find lounza outside of Haringey, but Polish sepocka is almost the same and is much more readily found.  What I do to make sure halloumi and lounza are ready at the same time is to put less halloumi in the pan, and when the first side is browned (which takes longer than the second because of the water), put in the lounza.  When the second side is browned, put the halloumi on top of the lounza and move to a heated plate.  Serve immediately.


*chorin is the Urdu word for the delicious bits of food that get stuck to a pan.


Basil is one of my favourite herbs, the aroma is enticing and when I was in London I grew pots and pots of it in the garden.  I grew bog standard basil, Thai basil and Greek basil.  Greek basil has much smaller leaves and honestly since I couldn’t taste any difference, it seemed like so much harder work to use than ordinary basil.  The Thai basil was a bit more temperamental and harder to grow.  I had planted it with the idea of cooking one of my favourite Thai dishes, Chilli Beef with Basil.  I didn’t even make it once.  By the time I remembered that the purple herb was in fact Thai basil, it was past its best and there you go.

Ordinary basil thrived however and was most often used torn over fresh mozzarella di buffala and some olive oil.  My other main use was today’s recipe, Pesto, an easy recipe which freezes easily.  I remember one summer calling Matt from France to talk through the recipe for pesto, so that he could, in my absence, harvest the basil and get it in the freezer.  I obviously cared a great deal more about the ordinary basil than I did the Thai basil!

There are different variations of pesto but I really prefer the classic Italian recipe.

Pesto – Ingredients

  • 75 g / 3 oz basil
  • 30 g / 1 pine nuts, roast gently in a pan – do not burn, be careful.
  • 30 g / 1 oz, freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Olive oil, at least 100 ml 3. 5 fl oz
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


The traditional Italian method is to crush a teaspoon of salt with the garlic with a mortar and pestle.  When this has become a paste, add the pine nuts and basil and crush.  Add the cheese and oil.  Stir.  If the mixture seems a bit thick, add more oil.

It is absolutely fine to put all the ingredients in a mixer – only use about 50 ml of oil.  Add more oil until you get the consistency you require.  I have used both methods and can’t taste the difference.

For those of you who can’t eat nuts, there is the southern French dish of Pistou, traditionally served with a rich vegetable soup.  I would put all the ingredients into a mixer – much the easiest method.

Pistou – Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 50 g / 2 oz basil leaves
  • 100 ml / 3 fl oz olive oil
  • 75 g / 3 oz finely grated Mimolette cheese (have also used parmesan and while not authentic it tasted lovely)

Both pesto and pistou freeze well.  I used to put them in an ice cube tray and when frozen, put into a plastic bag.  Pesto and pistou both taste wonderful with fish or meats.  One ice cube will serve two people.

BTW, if you were wondering, the title is supposed to be shouted a la Sybil Fawlty.


Dad’s First Contribution

I have said many times how much I enjoy shopping for food and how much I appreciate the new foodstuffs to tempt us on this side of the Atlantic.  We live a 15 minute stroll from Union Square and its Green Market.  Dad and I enjoy wandering down on a Saturday and seeing what is in season and looking at the meats and cheeses.  As we spend longer here, we have begun to recognise the various producers and we know whose offerings are the best.  We particularly like the goats’ cheese chocolate truffles although these are only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have tried bison – very lean and it took a couple of efforts to get it right.  There is a lamb producer and we have tried and enjoyed the merguez, chops and steaks.  Our biggest favourite, though, is the Hudson Valley duck breasts.  These breasts are huge and one serves both of us.

I first ate duck in the classic dish Duck a l’Orange.  It was a favourite item on the menus of the 60s and 70s, and spawned Papa’s joke that when you were eating duck, there should only be two of you at the table, you and the duck!  Oldie but goodie, and I can see the twinkle in his eye as he said it.  From there, it was duck in the various Chinese dishes.  I much prefer Crispy Aromatic Duck to the more famous Peking Duck.  I find Peking Duck rather too fatty though I know that’s the point of the dish.  Traditionally, the skin and fat is served with pancakes; the meat is minced and served later with lettuce; and the carcass is boiled during the meal to provide soup at the end of the meal.

Our myriad visits to France introduced me to Magret de Canard and the various sauces.  My favourite still remains the one I ate at Le Bateau Ivre in Alpe d’Huez.  The duck breast was served with griottines (morello cherries) and was quite simply superb.  My attempts at cooking duck breast were not hugely successful – I always overcooked the meat, although the skin was fine.  Dad had a go, and basically nailed it first time.  I could be annoyed or jealous, but really I’m just happy that one of us can cook it!  So for Tom and Daisy who ate this in New York and have bought duck breast for tomorrow, this is Dad’s Duck Breast, as cut and pasted from his email.

Dad’s Duck Breast – Ingredients

  • Duck breast – normally one per person
  • Salt and pepper



Pre-heat oven to 190 Deg C.

With a very sharp knife, make long criss-cross cuts through the skin of the duck breasts (all the way through the fat layers, down to, but not into, the underlying flesh) so that the cuts  form a diamond pattern (with about 10 – 15 mm sides of each diamond) on the skin.

Heat a non-stick frying pan on  a high heat for a minute or so.  Salt and pepper the duck breasts and put into the pan, skin side down first.  Brown for about a minute on the skin side, and then for about a minute on each other exposed side of the breasts.  This will generate a lot of hot fat, so have a bowl handy so that you can pour the hot fat out of the frying pan into the bowl.  Take care in doing this because the duck breasts will slide to the edge of the frying pan as you are trying to pour off the fat.  An alternative to doing this with the breasts in the pan would be to take them out of the pan while the fat is poured off (so have a plate handy for this moment) and then put them back in again afterwards.

Repeat a minute in the frying pan for the skin-side down first, and then for each of the other sides of the breasts.

Transfer the duck breasts to a grill pan (skin side up) and put into the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes.  Exactly how long depends on the size of the duck breasts and how pink you want them to be, so you may want to take them out after 10 minutes and cut into them to see what’s going on inside.

Put the plates you are going to serve the duck on into the oven for the last couple of minutes of the cooking time so that they are pre-heated.

Plate and serve.  If you want to be dead posh, cut the breasts into slices about 5 mm or so and serve that way.


For George

I have rewritten this a few times in an attempt to tease you as to the actual recipe, but I have failed!  To give my history with the dish, I have to tell you almost immediately what it is.  So, I first tasted today’s recipe when Suzy worked in a pub called the Non Plus near Northallerton.  In those days, it was a pub with a restaurant, nowadays it would be called a gastropub.  The idea of soup with toasted cheese on top was absolutely wonderful.  (Yes, today’s recipe is French Onion Soup).  Even though I was still in my ‘awkward with vegetables’ stage, I enjoyed the richness of the cheese, crunchiness of the toast and caramel of the onions from day one.

Grandma made it occasionally and she taught me that the most important things to remember are to have good quality stock and to cook the onions for ‘as long as it takes’. This is not a soup to hurry.  I have never made beef stock from scratch, but there are some Knorr stock cubes which are called Rich Beef and they are very tasty.  Equally you can buy ready made stock in most supermarkets.

George discovered a passion for this soup when we first went to the Chateau Lake Louise, and ordered it at every occasion.  Their version had many more herbs and was much lighter, making me think it was made with either a mixture of chicken and beef stock, or maybe even vegetable stock.  So for those of you who don’t eat red meat or any meat, there are other options.

Although I know that everyone enjoys this soup, in my head I always make it for George.  He is always so appreciative of it, and I know he’s made it himself on more than one occasion.  Despite that, here is my recipe, Georgie.  I will make it for you soon, and we can discuss whose recipe is better!

French Onion Soup – Ingredients

  • 50 g / 2 oz butter
  • 1 kg / 2.25 lbs onions, peeled and thinly sliced (use white or brown onions, not red)
  • 3 sprigs of thyme (in garden)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3 tbsp brandy
  • 1 l / 2 pts good quality beef stock
  • 1 baguette – slightly stale is fine
  • Olive oil
  • 100 g / 4 oz grated Gruyere


Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onions, garlic and thyme and cook gently for about an hour.  It is ok to let the onions brown a bit, but they are not supposed to look like fried onions.  The aim is soft and tan coloured!  Stir so that they don’t stick.  This can take up to an hour.  I like the thyme to still be on the stem because I like the rustic effect.  If you don’t feel like picking out the stems, add only the leaves and discard the stems.

Add the brandy, and simmer to burn off the alcohol.  After a couple of minutes, add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer.

In the mean time, slice the baguette diagonally into slices that will fit your bowls.  Drizzle with oil and put on a baking sheet in a hot oven until they turn light brown.

Put soup into bowls, put the toasted bread on top and sprinkle with cheese.  Grill until the cheese bubbles.

Serve immediately.

And the answer to Papa’s question, what do the French call French Onion Soup is Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee!


Weekend Jobs

My first job was pumping petrol at the garage at Stone Cross in Northallerton.  4 star petrol cost 55p a gallon and I got 20p an hour so you can see how long ago it was!  I was 14.  A couple of school friends and I shared the rota and it was lot of fun.  I remember very clearly Hazel one of my friends wasn’t concentrating on filling up a motorbike (because she fancied the motorbike owner) and as she turned to put the nozzle in, she squeezed too early and managed to pour petrol into the owner’s wellies.  It is only now that I wonder why he was wearing wellies.

That job ended when a well-meaning parent of a friend told the garage that it was illegal for under-16s to be working with petrol.  I then started working in the shop attached to the garage.  I didn’t enjoy this very much – I found it quite boring and even the princely sum of 25p an hour didn’t make it better.  I was then headhunted (poached) to work on Saturdays only in the houseware/toy shop of some family friends.  Suzy had worked there too.  I really didn’t enjoy this even though my other Saturday co-workers were friends too.   The other problem was that once a month I had orchestra practice all day Saturday for the North Riding Schools Orchestra (again, pre- North Yorkshire so just dated myself…).   The Saturdays that I wanted off never seemed to coincide with the days that the others wanted to work.  I hung on because I liked having the money.  I didn’t like getting into trouble from my violin teacher though.

There was one lovely restaurant in Northallerton at the time, Romanby Court Restaurant.  It was run by Toni and Giovanni, two Sardinians.  Toni was the majority share-holder and ran all the operations.  Giovanni was the chef.  The food was slanted towards Italian but included more Yorkshiremen-friendly food too!  As a family, we had started going there once a month as a treat.  After one visit, Toni asked if I would like a job.  Hurrah!  I would now waitress Friday and Saturday nights and help setting up on Saturday during the day.  He was fine about my missing Saturdays during the day for orchestra and I would earn £7.20 for the weekend.  I was rich.  I also had no social life.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and I got on well with my co-workers.   I particularly enjoyed being in the kitchen and at the end of shift would help them clean.  The school summer holidays of 1974, I needed money to buy a 21st present for my brother and so asked if I could help in the kitchen.  1974 isn’t on record as being a hot summer, but it certainly was in that kitchen.  I did the washing up, cleaned ovens, and dodged flying knives.  Giovanni was quite temperamental and generally the knives were thrown towards the outside, usually at the cat, but sometimes…  Away from the pressure of cooking to order, Giovanni was a kind, funny man, but when stressed he was appalling.  I remember quite clearly that he couldn’t find me once – I had gone upstairs to get some more napkins.  I heard him yell ‘Where is that putana?’  I stormed downstairs, napkins in hand, squared up to him and yelled, ‘Don’t you dare call me a putana – I am not a putana.’  He backed off and immediately apologised, saying he wasn’t really calling me a whore, really it was a term of endearment.  I gave him what in later years became my Killer Death Stare, while everyone else laughed.  He never called me that again, and I like to think he had a new respect for me.  Anyway, he showed me how to make today’s recipe.  It was served throughout the year with the main courses.  During that summer of 1974, I often prepared the vegetables for him and he taught me that it was more important to have the vegetables cut evenly than to always have the same proportions of vegetables.   I always remember that as I chop them.  Everyone who knew Giovanni had their story about him – he wasn’t an easy man, but, temperament aside, he cooked well and he was happy to teach me, because he knew I was interested.  He died some years ago, and I was sad when I heard the news.  Romanby Court had long since closed and Giovanni had opened a takeaway which was a terrible waste of his talents.  So today’s recipe is Ratatouille – made the way Giovanni showed me in 1974, but in family-sized quantities!

Ratatouille – Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red pepper, cut into pieces
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into pieces
  • 1 aubergine, cut into cubes
  • 2 courgettes, cubed
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes or 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper


Put about 3 tbsp olive oil into a pan, and gently heat.  Add the onions and soften – do not brown.  Add the garlic – again do not brown.  Add the aubergine, peppers and courgettes and sauté gently till softened.  If using the tinned tomatoes, add, cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked through.  If using real tomatoes, peel and slice and add to the pan.  Then cover and simmer until all vegetables are cooked through.  Season according to taste.   Add parsley and serve.


Aphrodite’s Island

I have been thinking about Greek and Greek-Cypriot food since I wrote the post with keftedakia and dolmades.  So much so that I have booked a table for Dad and me at Thalassa tonight!  I haven’t found a Greek-Cypriot restaurant in New York yet, but I have already been to this restaurant and it’s really rather nice.

Greek and Greek-Cypriot cuisines are not interchangeable, but they have many dishes in common, in name at least.  Greek-Cypriot food is much more influenced by the Levant, being only 70 miles from the coast of the Lebanon,  and includes the wonderful meze as a standard.  Greece is a large and sprawling country with many, many islands and dishes with the same name are cooked quite differently throughout the land.  Neither country has yet become known for fine cooking and that’s perfect for me – fine dining doesn’t go easily with this style of eating.  Cyprus has been influenced by successive waves of occupation.  Imam Bayaldi is a Turkish dish, meaning literally ‘The Imam fainted’ – presumably from the joy of the dish.  Hummus, originally a Lebanese dish, is eaten throughout Cyprus, but not as commonly in Greece.   Pasticcio, a form of lasagne, seems to be a relic from the Venetian rulers.

I have been to Cyprus three times – twice in quick succession in 1992/1993 and then not again until 2011.  In the two early visits, we stayed in Paphos, a popular tourist destination in the south.  It seemed to me that every restaurant we ate at on those two visits was excellent – that the mezes were memorable.  I came to the conclusion that it was nigh on impossible to eat badly in  Cyprus.  Unfortunately when we returned with Bapu in 2011, the situation was very different.  We had very average Greek food twice in Larnaca and Paphos.   On the second occasion, at a restaurant we had visited on the previous trips.  Bapu was very disappointed at how hard it was to find Greek-Cypriots in the restaurants and how many foreigners there were – living, working and with second homes.  We had three wonderful meals – a home barbecue at the home of Bapu’s sister and family; fresh fish and meze in Risokarpasso, now in the Turkish area but the food was Cypriot and excellent; and the best meal of all, at a restaurant recommended by Bapu’s family, Soutsos near Larnaca.  I looked around and I know I was the only person in there without Greek blood.  We had a fantastic meze, with dishes I’ve never seen and more food than we knew could be served to three people.  Bapu bravely ate his way through everything Dad and I disdained, including two platters of snails, large and small… and then asked for glykko (super sweet candied fruit)!  We rolled him back to the hotel.

Today’s recipe is a classic Greek dish, eaten widely in Cyprus too.  It is an example of the differences between the two cuisines.  Moussaka is always thought of as being a layered lamb and aubergine pie.  It certainly is in Greece, but in Cyprus the lamb is sometimes replaced by beef, and the aubergines are often replaced by courgettes or potatoes.  I prefer it with aubergines, but some of you don’t like them which is why I am giving you the Cypriot recipe.  I was told once when I was in  Greece that one should never eat moussaka for dinner in a restaurant, because it is made in the morning and therefore sits around all day waiting to be eaten.  I was told this after I had ordered it, but happily suffered no ill-effects.

Moussaka – Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg / 2 lbs aubergines or courgettes, or a mixture trimmed and sliced lengthways in thick slices, or
  • 1 kg /2 lbs large potatoes, cooked, pealed and sliced
  • 1/2 glass / 100 ml olive or sunflower oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 450 g / 1 lb minced beef or lamb
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated (peel first) or 1 x 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 glass / 100 ml red wine
  • Salt and pepper

For the white sauce

  • 75 g / 3 oz butter
  • 4 level tbsp flour
  • 1 pint milk
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 g / 2 oz grated cheese – in Cyprus they use halloumi (acquired taste like this, frankly), or kefalotiri (nice but you’d have to go to Wood Green to get it).  Parmesan works well or strong Cheddar.  Keep a little extra to sprinkle on top before baking.


If using, lightly salt the aubergines and leave for half an hour.  Rinse and pat dry with kitchen towel.  You don’t need to do anything to courgettes or potatoes.  Fry whichever vegetables you’re using in the oil.  Brown but don’t over cook.  Leave to drain on kitchen paper.  Aubergines absorb a huge amount of oil.  One tip I read but which I haven’t tried is to lightly beat the white of an egg, dip the slices in the egg and then fry – allegedly much less oil is absorbed and the dish will be healthier.

Gently fry the meat in a pan.  As the fat starts to come out of the meat, add the onions.  Fry together until onions are soft and the meat is completely browned and doesn’t have any lumps.  Add the tomatoes, herbs, spices and red wine and cook for a further 25 mins until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in yet another pan, and then stir in the flour.  Cook gently for 5 mins.  Add the milk gradually, letting it heat through before you whisk.  When all the milk has been added, cook gently for a couple of mins and then take off the heat.  Stir in the cheese and some ground nutmeg.  When the sauce has cooled, add the eggs.

In a baking dish (15 cm / 15 cm /  10″ x 10″ is the recommended size for these quantities), cover the bottom with half of your chosen vegetable/s.  Spread the meat over.  Cover with the remainder of your vegetables (think lasagne when you’re doing this).  Cover with the white sauce, sprinkle with a little more cheese, and bake in the oven 175 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4 / moderate for about 50 mins until the top is a good crusty brown.

For the non-Brits, aubergine = eggplant and courgette = zucchini


Another Part of our Heritage

I often think that I overuse the word ‘love’ in this blog.  Every time I type that I love a certain food, I can hear Auntie Aileen’s (and Papa’s) voice in my head telling me that you love people, you don’t love things.  I have consciously tried not to use ‘love’ on several occasions, but I know it slips into most blogs.  Part of the problem is that I do enjoy most foods, most cuisines and trying to recreate dishes in my own kitchen.  I know that there are things that I avoid (not too keen on pickled beetroot) but honestly the only things I totally yuck are raw tomatoes, tinned baked beans, tea and coffee.   Even with these I’m not consistent.  It’s the consistency of a raw tomato that I don’t like, so chop it very finely through a tabbouleh and I’m fine.  With tea, it’s only the traditional cuppa which I can’t bear – I hate the smell.  Green tea, white tea, Chinese tea, I’m fine.  Even coffee, which incidentally I love the smell of, has passed my lips without incident on a couple of occasions.  Admittedly it was laced with whisky and sugar, and topped with whipped cream at the time.  I have occasionally thought that if Starbucks had existed when I was young, and more importantly had Starbucks made it to Northallerton, then I probably would have drunk things like gingerbread latte or moccachino which seem to contain very little coffee, and lots of things which I do like.  Tinned baked beans are yucky all the time.

I have already said that I was awkward about vegetables as a child, but I did like trying new dishes, even if I picked out the veggies.  Grandma attended a college called the Edinburgh School of Domestic Science (known as Atholl Crescent), where she studied what she later described as Institutional Management.  Other people have told me that Atholl Crescent was almost a finishing school for Lothian and Fife girls, and Grandma certainly learned to sew beautifully, and to cook and plan meals.   Her only job before marrying Papa was as cook/personal chef to one Lady Hutchison who lived near Kirkcaldy.  Grandma loved (oops and this is the only time I’m going to point this out) cooking.  Even when her budget was tight (and it’s only now that I realise this – I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time), she produced two or three course meals.  The starter was almost inevitably half a grapefruit with a maraschino cherry on top.  I have to confess that I haven’t eaten grapefruit since Grandma died – you really can have too much of a good thing.  I remember Grandma telling me that you must think how the plate is going to look.  Think about the colours that you’re presenting.  It is a standing joke that many of her recipes end with the instruction ‘G with P’ which means ‘Garnish with Parsley’ – that final bit of colour makes all the difference.  Aesthetics aside, she was convinced that that wee sprig of parsley helped her Vitamin C intake and put it on almost everything – for soups, if it wasn’t parsley then it was chopped chives.  I think the only person who ever got away with refusing garnish was Alexander, who declared once that he’d ‘rather have his soup without grass, thank you, Grandma’.

Grandma was also notorious for following a recipe once and then changing it.  Personally I can’t see what’s wrong with that!  She loved trying new recipes, new foods, new cuisines.  Maybe it was the war time generation but I can’t think of anything she didn’t eat.   Travelling with her and Papa was remarkably easy because you could take them anywhere.  Papa, of course, had grown up with Indian food.  His aunts had been taught to cook curries by their servants in India, and even when everyone had returned to Scotland, curries were regularly eaten.  On Christmas Day, Papa’s family would eat their Christmas lunch at the flat, and then go to Auntie Jessie’s in the evening, not for turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake, but for turkey curry.  In later years, Papa wondered how the heck they had managed to eat so much.  Auntie Chrissie (known as Churkibaba/Churkie – Urdu for little frog) in turn taught Nana to make curries.  Nana’s curries were really good, even given the fact that it was almost impossible to get the spices to make your own masalas (spice mixes) and so you had to rely on Sharwoods curry powder of varying intensity.   Nana also taught Grandma to make them and I remember loving the smell as it cooked.  Surprisingly I wasn’t difficult about eating the end product – maybe the spicy vegetables seemed less offensive to me?

From the days of Sharwoods curry powders through the excitement of curry pastes to the wide variety of spices now easily available in a supermarket, my style of cooking curries has changed.  I now make my own masalas and the standard of my Indian repertoire has gone up immeasurably as a result.  I have favourite recipes thanks to Madhur Jaffrey, spice stalls in Jodhpur and Goa, an Indian cookery course in Hong Kong and other wonderful books, but my go to recipe was given to Dad and me at the Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons when we did a cookery course there.  Inevitably I have changed it slightly (which even in my head sounds like sacrilege).  I have reduced the amount of salt and I don’t use groundnut oil – I prefer corn oil.  I like to serve with bread and sag paneer (though I’m still searching for the ultimate recipe for that).  The recipe came from one of the sous chef’s mothers.  Today’s recipe is Chicken or Lamb Bhuna and this recipe will serve 8-10, perfect for a group of friends, or eat half and freeze the rest.

Lamb/Chicken Bhuna – Ingredients

  • 500 g onions – diced
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 200 ml groundnut oil/corn oil – in recent times, I have halved the amount of oil without any obvious difference in the taste
  • 30 g finely diced garlic
  • 20 g finely diced ginger
  • 300 g sliced tomatoes
  • 2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g curry powder (I use Sharwoods Madras)
  • 5 g medium chilli powder
  • 5 g garam masala
  • 5 g ground coriander
  • 5 g paprika
  • 2 kg cubed lamb/chicken
  • 5 g cumin seeds
  • 5 g black onion seeds (kalonji in the Indian language used in the shop where I bought them!)
  • 5 g coriander seeds
  • Large handful of chopped coriander
  • Large handful of chopped tarragon (in garden)
  • Large handful of chopped mint (in garden)


Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pan and add the onions and bay leaves.   Brown.  Add the garlic and ginger and stir.  Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook to a paste over a low heat.   This can take up to 1 hour.  You can leave it but it needs to be stirred occasionally.  If it looks like it is sticking, add a couple of tablespoons of water.  The rendering of the vegetables into paste and subsequent addition of spices is what makes this a bhuna.

I find it quite hard to weigh 5g accurately even with my wonder electric scales, so I tend to double the amounts of salt, chilli powder, garam masala, ground coriander and paprika and keep half for another occasion.  Ideally it should be used within a month.  Anyway, when the tomatoes and onions have become the paste, add the correct amount of  spice mix to the tomato paste and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the meat and cook.  20-30 mins for chicken, and 60-80 for lamb.

When the meat is cooked, brown the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black onion seeds in some oil and add to the bhuna.  Add the chopped herbs, stir, check seasoning and serve.