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.


4 thoughts on “Another Part of our Heritage

  1. Do you remember Dad having cold veg curry on hot toast for breakfast sitting at the kitchen table in East Claremont Street?

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