One of the things I have reflected on during this social isolation is how lucky I am to have seen as much of the world as I have. Who knows what travel will look like moving forward and I am so grateful that my childhood as a Foreign Service brat gave me access to so many different countries, cultures and… you guessed it… cuisines. My parents were big proponents of enjoying what each country we lived in or visited had to offer and that always included enjoying local dishes and food traditions. I have fond food memories associated with lots of countries – the fresh fish we would have for breakfast on vacation in Penang, Malaysia, the raclette and spaetzle we would eat when visiting my grandparents in Switzerland, the croissants d’amandes I would get in the patisseries and boulangeries while living as an exchange student in France, and the fresh papaya with a squeeze of lemon that was so readily available in Zaire. But my strongest food memories, and probably my favorite type of cuisine if I were compelled to name just one, come from the four years we lived in Pakistan.
As is true of most expat households, we had a cook named Sharif who made us wonderful Pakistani food. He ended up moving to Washington, DC many years later with another family who brought him back to the States with them to continue cooking for them but, unlike us, they did not want him making any of his national dishes. He tracked me down (I was in law school at Georgetown at the time and David and I were living in Silver Spring, Maryland) and asked if he could come over and make me a Pakistani feast on his day off. Who turns down an offer like that? Thus began a wonderful tradition of Sharif and I shopping together for ingredients and his teaching me how to make the samosas, chapatis, rice and curry he first taught me to love as a child in Islamabad. We would invite friends over who loved devouring the Pakistani delicacies almost as much as Sharif enjoyed seeing his country’s food so appreciated. Smiles all around.
Sharif eventually returned to Pakistan and we have lost touch, but I still make his food. And it is something my whole family enjoys as well. In fact, when Eliza was vegan and there wasn’t much overlap in what she could eat and what we enjoyed as a family, Pakistani/Indian food was the one place where we could find common ground. This type of cuisine is also very vegetarian-friendly. The curry I made the other night is a lamb curry, but you can easily substitute sweet potatoes or other veggies and make it a vegetable curry. I leave the curries up to you, but here are my recipes for all the yummy sides. And the mango chutney is also a great accompaniment to other meals, such as grilled meats or to add to rice.
2 cups sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
6 cups mangoes (4 to 5), peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup golden raisins
¼ cup crystallized ginger finely chopped
¼ cup fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (hot)
Combine the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 40 minutes. Allow to cool then store, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator until ready to use. (The chutney will thicken as it cools.)
Peel and thinly slice one cucumber. (I also remove the seeds and slightly salt the cucumber in a colander to release some of the liquid.) Add 1 cup plain yogurt (some recipes call for less, but I like this ratio) and 2 teaspoons each of diced green onion and cilantro and ¼ teaspoon cumin. Mix together and refrigerate until ready to use.
Mix two cups of whole wheat flour with 2 tablespoons olive oil and enough water (about ¾ cup) to make a soft, pliable dough. Let it sit, covered in plastic wrap, for about an hour. Divide into large walnut-sized balls and roll out. Grill on a lighty greased griddle pan or frying pan until cooked on both sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. I make the chapatis ahead of time and cover them in aluminum foil, then reheat them in the oven in the foil just before we eat.
The snack bar at our school, The International School of Islamabad, used to sell these and they were my daily staple. I was distraught to learn that my middle school in Maryland did not offer them in their cafeteria!
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablepoons vegetable oil
¼ to ½ cup water
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the oil and mix it through with your hands, then add the water a bit at a time until the dough comes together.
It should be fairly stiff. Cover the dough with a moist cloth (I run a dishtowel under the sink and then wring it out) and let it rest for about an hour.
3-4 potatoes (really any variety)
2 tablespoons oil
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 green chil, finely chopped
1 cup green peas (if frozen, defrost first)
1 teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Oil for frying
Boil the potatos for about 10 minutes until mashable. Peel the skin and mash them then set them aside. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, cumin and chili. Cook for one minute, then add the potatoes and green peas. Mix well, then add the garam masala, chili powder and salt. Remove from the heat.
After the dough has rested, divide into large golfball-sized pieces. Keep the other pieces resting under the damp towel. Take each piece and roll it out into a circle, around 6 inches in diameter. Cut the circle in half. Take one of the halves and brush water onto the straight edge. Bring the two edges of the straight side together and pinch them to form a cone. Fill the cone with the potato filling, then brush the open edges with water and pinch together to seal the samosa. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. (Note: I sometimes use the leftover filling to form little patties that I fry up as a yummy side dish.)
Once all of the samosas are filled, heat enough oil in a frying pan (I use a cast iron one). This is the tricky part because you do not want the oil to get too hot, or the samosas will brown before they are cooked. To test the oil, drop a small piece of dough in. If it immediately pops to the top, the oil is too hot. It should take a few seconds to come up to the surface.
Fry the samosas in batches on the relatively low heat. After about 5 minutes per side, you can increase the heat to ensure they are brown and crispy. (But then lower the temperature for the next batch.) Don’t overcrowd the pan.
Eat right away or reheat them in the oven when ready to eat. I also made a dipping sauce by pulsing a handful of fresh mint and cilantro in my Cuisinart (a blender would work too) and adding some plain yogurt.
I also make basmati rice and grill a bunch of sliced onions to serve on top. And this type of food is almost better the next day, so make enough for leftovers. The following day we were so happy to have leftovers to heat up when we got home, sunburnt and wiped out from a fun day on the lake (and I was happy to have a night off from cooking). This is definitely our family’s version of comfort food.