My Bangladesh Kitchen – a new cookbook from Saira Hamilton
Bangladesh is a land of contrasts, from busy cities to the verdant and fertile countryside, with fish ponds, lakes and rivers at every turn. The cuisine reflects the abundance of vegetables and fish, and has a distinctive taste defined in particular by tamarind, the ubiquitous mustard oil, and the spice blend called panch poran. In this book Saira has brought together her much-loved recipes, with 100 everyday classics, regional specialities, street snacks, and impressive celebration food too. It is packed with background detail and anecdote, vibrant photographs of every dish, and an informative introduction describing the ingredients and cooking techniques of Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh is a country everyone has heard of, but few people know. On one hand, you have the high-energy bustle of the city, enveloped by the dusty, smoggy air, diesel fumes and heady street-food smells. At the other end of the scale you have the beauty of the countryside, with its reddish heavy-clay soil, lush greenery, and the abundance of water in ponds, lakes and rivers. The Bangladeshi connection to the land is still incredibly strong. There are many years and many memories held within these recipes from across the range of Bangladeshi cuisine. These dishes will introduce you to some of the ingredients and cooking techniques which make Bangladeshi cuisine what it is, and I hope that they will become as familiar and dear to you as they are to me.”
Saira Hamilton, 2019
Saira Hamilton is a chef, cookery demonstrator and food writer, specialising in her Bengali-inspired food. Saira reached the finals of MasterChef 2013, and during the competition won high praise for her delicious dishes and deft spicing. Saira’s family settled in the UK but always maintained a close relationship with the country, and spent many holidays in Bangladesh. Saira’s love of cooking was inspired by her mother Nadira, and the passion she kindled in her for the food and culture of their motherland.
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£20.00 / $35.00 288 pages, 255 x 208 mm, hardback ISBN: 9780754834502
There’s a place I go to called Green Street. In the heart of Forest Gate (that’s E7), just down the road from the old West Ham ground at Upton Park, and I’ve been going there ever since I was a little girl. Growing up in Harlow in the 70s and 80s, we didn’t have the luxury of big supermarkets stocking everything we needed from chillies and coriander to black lentils or cumin seeds. So there was a fortnightly trip to Green Street to stock up on all our Asian grocery essentials. And if you need dozens of types of lentil or any spice under the sun, it’s still the place to go.
These days I can get all my Indian cooking essentials at the Asian and Oriental supermarket in Harlow (it’s called M18, off Edinburgh Way, tell Shahid I sent you!) but I still love a trip down to Green Street when I need something special. These photos are from Bharat Stores, which is my first stop for any trip to Green Street.
If you’ve never been down there and you have any love of Asian food, culture or fashion, you won’t be disappointed. Another added bonus of visiting from May through July are the stacks of boxed mangoes which can be bought in the greengrocers or just being sold by some guy on the pavement. There’s something about the mango-selling guys, they really are the Del Boys of the street. Lots of banter, lots of chat about how their mangoes are better than the other guy across the road and lots of offers which always tempt me to buy 2 boxes when I really only wanted 1!
But it’s so worth it. The flavour and melting texture of the Kesar, Chausa, Honey and – the king of all mangoes – the Alphonso, are positively ambrosial. If you’ve only ever tasted a supermarket, South-American mango, you’ll be amazed at how different the two fruits are. They are smaller and sweeter and not at all stringy or fibrous inside. But watch out for the juice! It’s been said that the best place to eat a mango is in the sea or in the bath, but careful use of a napkin can be just as effective.
So a few hours browsing the jewellery, beautiful sarees and shalwar kameez (just looking!) and more importantly cookware and vegetables is always a pleasure and never a chore. Do you have any top tips for Asian groceries? Where to buy them? How to use specialist ingredients in your dishes? Can you find fresh turmeric for sale somewhere near you? If you do, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me on Facebook (Saira Hamilton Chef), Twitter (Saira Hamilton) or by leaving a comment below.
It’s time for a recipe. I’ve been working on an exciting project with a charity called Find Your Feet which runs a brilliant campaign called ‘Curry for Change’ every year. This encourages anyone who can cook, from top restaurant chefs like Vivek Singh to supper club hosts and food bloggers, to hold events to raise money for people suffering from food poverty in Asia and Africa. Click on the link to find out how you can join in!It’s a great campaign that I have supported in the past and this year I am helping them with a new angle to the campaign which encourages home cooks to host a dinner party at home. This is called ‘Host at Home’ and what with my ambition to get everyone cooking authentic Indian food and curries from scratch, at home, it was a no-brainer for me to offer my services to help them.
So watch this space for my Host-at-Home recipe pack, which will come with full recipes for a 3 course meal and step-by-step instructions on how to deliver a fabulous evening with a minimum of stress and fuss. As I was working on my recipes, I realised that there is one recipe I use probably once a week during the summer that I haven’t shared for quite a while.
Sheek kebabs are traditionally made with minced meat, often mutton but they can be made with beef, lamb, pork, turkey or anything else you like to eat to be honest. If I can’t get mutton, my preference is to use a mixture of lamb and beef mince, as I think you get the depth of flavour from the beef and the nice juiciness that comes from the higher fat content in the lamb.
The recipe is in fact terribly simple. Shove all the ingredients in a bowl together and mix them really, really well. I don’t mean just move them around in a clockwise direction, I mean really get in there and squish it all together so that every mouthful of the finished kebab is soft and yielding, and has a good mix of all the flavours and spices. And then you grill them. Simples!
The mixture can be made well ahead of time (24 hrs in advance if necessary) and stored in the fridge. At the last minute add the lemon, form the kebabs on skewers and the grill on a pre-heated barbecue for 6-8 minutes. Job done! Served with yoghurt raitha and some salad, these kebabs will enliven any BBQ spread. Much more interesting than just the usual burgers and sausages. So give this super-simple and delicious recipe a try and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Recipe: Sheek kebabs
600g minced beef or lamb (or a mixture)
2 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
1½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1 red onion finely diced
1½ tbsp garlic paste (crushed or grated fresh garlic is perfect)
1½ tbsp ginger paste (crushed or grated fresh ginger is perfect)
2 green chillies, finely chopped
big handful of chopped coriander (or mint and parsley)
1 egg, beaten
zest and juice of half a lemon
Place the minced meat in a large mixing bowl, and add in all the other ingredients. Mix together really well, with hands is always best! If you can leave the mixture to develop the flavours for an hour or two, the resulting kebabs will be better. If the mix feels too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If it is too dry you may need to add more egg. If you are preparing the mixture in advance, leave out the lemon zest and juice and only add this just before cooking.
Divide the mixture into 16 equal portions, by dividing the mixture in half and then half again until you end up with 16 balls of kebab mix. Take each portion and roll into a long thin sausage shape; the easiest way is to crimp it around a metal or bamboo skewer. Wet your hands between each ball for a smooth finish. Press the mixture together well whilst shaping the kebabs to ensure you have a good texture to the finished product.
Once formed, cover with cling film and allow the kebabs to rest in the fridge until you are ready to cook them (at least 30 minutes). When you are ready to cook, pre-heat your BBQ to a medium-high heat. Carefully place the kebabs onto the BBQ and grill. The kebabs will need to be turned several times, but wait until they have a good caramelised colour on one side before turning to avoid them breaking apart during cooking. They should only take 6-7 minutes, but always check the meat is cooked to your liking before serving. Serve with raitha and lots of salad dressed with lemon juice, oil and a pinch of salt.
* if you need to make these gluten-free you can use GF breadcrumbs or gram flour instead
Sometimes you have to stop talking and just get on with it. Silence the internal editor that tells you to wait until your website is finished and you have the perfectly crafted blog post and a photo in all its filtered glory and with no stray shadows or double chins lurking. So from now on dear reader, you are going to get a regular blog from me, hosted on my imperfect website. I will share with you great recipes, tips and advice on cooking for the season and special occasions and news on what I’m up to and where I’ve been cooking lately.
So first, an update. I have wanted to write and publish a cookbook ever since my MasterChef experience, and I wrote and independently published 3 cookbooks called Kitchen Favourites with Saira: Chilli, Ginger and Garlic in Spring 2016 – which are all still available to buy on Amazon . And now I am delighted to say I have also secured a publisher for a brand new cookbook, different to anything else currently available, on authentic Bangladeshi home-cooking. The book will contain 100 fabulous recipes accompanied by beautiful photographs showcasing the wonderful cuisine that reflects the heritage of my Bengali family. I can’t wait to share it with you. Publication is planned for Spring 2018, so we have a little while to wait!
I had the pleasure of being asked to participate in one of Hari Ghotra’s networking events #HariHosts at the Shard where I was on a great panel of women sharing knowledge about publishing a cookbook. Hari, who runs the UK’s top Indian food website, organises several of these events and had gathered a great panel together. Alongside Suzy Pelta (author of Miracle Mug Cakes and other cheat’s bakes: Ryland, Peters & Small), Xa Shaw Stewart (senior editor at Bloomsbury) and Kirsten Gilmore (chef/patron Mountain Café, Aviemore), the panel was joined by lots of enthusiastic foodies and bloggers all thinking of writing their own cookbooks. It was a wonderful evening, full of positive energy and enthusiasm and it was a privilege to be there. My first time up the Shard, but I hope not the last.
Another exciting announcement to make is a new partnership I have embarked upon with one of my MasterChef buddies Juanita Hennessey, who was a finalist in MasterChef 2016, famous for her strawberry patch dessert. She and I bonded instantly over rum cocktails and Rick Astley at CarFest for BBC’s Children in Need (it’s a long story!) and have been working on a few projects since then. I don’t want to say too much yet but we have already appeared at a few food festivals with our #HamandHen double act and there will be more to come! Come and watch us in action soon – it’s a hoot!
Here we are pictured with Suzy Pelta (ITV1’s Lorraine‘s Cake Club winner) and Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed (winner of MasterChefUK 2017) at a recent Foodies Festival where we had an absolute ball cooking aloo paratha and orange and polenta cake for a packed out crowd in the Stoves Chef’s theatre.
So in these interesting and sometimes turbulent times we live in, I am really looking forward to sharing my cooking adventures with you. So please share and subscribe and I’ll see you soon.
Meeting Harry Lomas MBE during my recent stint as a food judge was definitely one of the highlights of my chef career so far. Harry has been in the industry for over 40 years, he directed food services for the British Army, the 2012 Olympics and has worked in the Royal Household and yet he still has the most incredible passion and drive to achieve excellence and to pass his knowledge and passion on to the next generation of chefs.
When Harry asked me if I would like to come along to The Grove, where he is Executive Head Chef, to run a masterclass about traditional Indian spices and cooking, I was only too happy to do so. The Grove is a luxury hotel, golf and spa resort set in 300 acres of rolling Hertfordshire countryside in Chandlers Cross and only 18 miles from central London, the former home of the Earls of Clarendon and is dubbed London’s Country Estate. The fact that it is luxurious and run by impeccably courteous and groomed staff goes almost without saying. However it was the food and drink operation that Harry runs that I was interested in.
There are 3 restaurants at The Grove, Colette’s is the fine-dining restaurant, and the Head Chef is Russell Bateman, who you may have seen representing the South-East in this year’s Great British Menu. I also recognised the sous-chef Scott Barnard when I popped in to say hi, who was a finalist in 2015’s MasterChef: The Professionals. The Grove is set to get even more TV coverage soon as head pastry chef Reece Collier is leading a team in the next series of Crème de la Crème. The Grove also has a gastro-pub the Stables, and the Glasshouse restaurant both of which run by Andrew Parkinson (previously head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Brasserie Zédel). So a really stellar line-up in the kitchens at The Grove!
The scale of the operation is genuinely staggering. The hotel has 217 rooms, and lots of large events space meaning it is popular for weddings and corporate conferences. The hotel has around 10,000 plates and 5000 teacups. The kitchens get through 500 eggs and four 55kg sacks of potatoes every day! And we are talking 365 days of the year. They have fresh deliveries every single day of the week. I asked Harry what happened if he was let down by suppliers. “That wouldn’t happen”, he says, steely-eyed. I think the suppliers would know better than to mess Harry about! Harry is also very particular about provenance of his ingredients; all the fish is from sustainable sources and the beef is Aberdeen Angus or Charolais supplied by the Queen’s butcher Donald Russell.
My masterclass was with around 12 chefs in the 170 cover Glasshouse restaurant, demonstrating a lightly spiced sea bass, with new potatoes in pickling spices and a chilli sauce vierge, followed by a chicken bhuna curry and a cauliflower and cabbage bhaji. I was slightly nervy to have all these experienced chefs hanging on my every word as I explained to them that sometimes less is more, and a hint of spice can be just enough to enhance the flavour of an ingredient without masking it. They were also impressed (I like to think!) by the freshness and clean-ness of the flavours, which is how traditional Indian food should be. I left them with lots of notes and ideas for new dishes. Given that the Glasshouse boasts 190 different items on the buffet every day, I think some of my recipes may feature one day.
There is so much I could write about our amazing stay at the Grove. The friendliness and professionalism of the staff was impeccable, the food we had at Colette’s was magnificent and the sheer variety and quality of the food available throughout the operation was remarkable. But the Grove is more than a good place to eat and drink, it is an academy for the next generation. On our arrival we were greeted and checked-in by Chris, whom Harry had spotted when he was with his family in the restaurant celebrating his 18th birthday. Spotting something good in the young man, Harry encouraged him to get in touch, and he is now working there under an apprenticeship scheme. Just one more in a long line of Harry’s protégés.
Harry’s ethos is to train the next generation of chefs, which is why he wanted me to go there in the first place. Otherwise, he says, there won’t be a next generation. Unless the chefs of the old school continue to preach the basics of cooking from first principles, i.e. from raw ingredients, the art will soon die away. Harry is also passionate about competition cooking as he says it keeps chefs on top of their game, always learning about new products and new dishes. He also believes it is great for young chefs to have to talk and represent themselves on stand in front of judges, it develops character, self discipline and confidence.
It certainly seems to work, the chefs I met were engaged, bright and curious to know more. I was so pleased to add my little bit of knowledge into the pool to be taken forward. For a truly memorable experience I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a stay at the Grove. And if you see a Lancashire gent in a pristine white chef’s jacket and toque, don’t forget to say hi to Harry.