recipes

Healing

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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No items found.

Two years ago I started therapy. It was prompted by an attack on my way home on a busy central London road. It triggered a latent PTSD and anxiety left behind from a previous attack on another busy suburban London street as a teenager.

I pride myself on being resilient, seeing it as my strongest quality. However, what I discovered in therapy was that my perception of my own resilience was masking deep bruises from the trauma of my attacks, and preventing my true self from being out in the open. 

My therapist encouraged me to do all the activities I found calming and creative. It was many years ago in a sun-soaked Seville kitchen where I discovered my creative calmness: making meals for family and friends using local, seasonal ingredients. So I got cooking, making elaborate meals with themes, inviting friends over for lunches every weekend. 

There was a biryani feast with all the trimmings, a Persian one where the saffron rice - tahdig - turned out just crispy and aromatic. I started making pasties again. Having trained as a French pastry chef in my early 20s I had quickly abandoned it because I lacked the perfectionist discipline, and the buttery and sugar-rich content had professional conflicts as a dentist and nutritional therapist. The process of cooking and baking began to soothe my anxious thoughts, the ones that made me relive the feeling of losing control associated with attacks.

As I eased into the creative experiment - as I called it - my friends and family recognised this talent and urged me to share my recipes that combined local seasonal British ingredients with techniques learned in pastry school using spices and flavors from my eastern Pakistani heritage. So I committed to one recipe a week on my website. It allowed me to be free from my mind for the first time in my adult life. I used my anxiety as fuel for flavours in my kitchen. The results were delicious – but then the pandemic hit.

I was forced to get back inside my mind. Being a healthcare worker I didn’t have the luxury of staying home. I was on the front line and in those early days last year, it was an out-of-body experience I have yet to make sense of. I sobbed on my way to work whenever I saw rainbows in the windows (which was often). I chastised myself for being selfish in the face of uncertainty because what I was mourning was the loss of freedom from my mind. A year's worth of working on myself all gone in a flash.

Like everyone else, I took to the kitchen except this time I was not allowed to share table lunch gatherings of friends. I persevered just the same. I would come home from work ready to switch off in the kitchen. This was back in the days of stockpiling,  I would go to empty supermarkets so my creativity had to step up a notch with the leftover I could forage on the produce aisle. My mind exploded with ideas, I wrote these ideas down, I drew them, and I would walk to and from work thinking about ten different ways to cook cabbage. I shared these ideas online. People responded positively. 

I started therapy again, remotely and this time I explored my past through food. I unravelled and went back to events in my childhood spent in Ireland where the dishes featured local produce such as root and cruciferous vegetables cooked with spices and fenugreek. Back to early adulthood university years spent in Hungary feasting on potluck dinners featuring dishes from around the world, with interludes to my grandmother’s place in Pakistan where the courtyard tandoor was the focal point of her home used to roast vegetables and make bread. Cooking my food memories, writing about them, and sharing them with the world brought on a new kind of inner peace and a community on a small corner of the Internet. 

The tastes and stories locked in the cells of my mind came undone, taking on a new force of healing. One I couldn’t even imagine a year ago. All this began when I decided at the beginning of 2019 to break away from the scars of my attacks and to actively work on healing by going to therapy. It took me on an unexpected journey of discovering the magic that occurs in my kitchen and from the words within my soul.

Below I share recipes for galettes. A sweet and savoury. Through lockdown 1.0, in my grief of a past life, I became a woman possessed with perfecting pastries. While everyone else baked banana bread and sourdough, I obsessed over the temperature of the butter to get my galettes flaky without tearing. In retrospect, these are the perfect metaphor for my life; these French pastries have local ingredients flavoured with spices familiar to Pakistani cooking.



Vegetable Galette


For the crust:
80 g plain flour plus extra for dusting
35 g wholemeal flour
½ tsp sugar 
Pinch of salt 
½ tsp crushed black pepper 
115 g butter cold 
Handful of finely chopped thyme, rosemary and oregano leaves 
60 ml ice cold water

For the filling:
1 Aubergine sliced 
1 Courgette sliced 
2 Plum tomatoes sliced
1 can of chickpeas 
2 cloves garlic crushed 
1 tbsp tomato purée
½ tbsp crushed chilli
½ tsp cumin powder 
½ tsp of cinnamon powder
3 tbsp olive oil plus a little extra for drizzling 
Seasoning to taste
50 g of feta crumbled 
Handful of chopped thyme 
An egg beaten for the wash

Method:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees

Pastry:

  • Mix the flours, salt, sugar and the herbs together in a bowl. Add the butter and crumble with your fingers till it looks like coarse breadcrumbs
  • Add the water and work it together so it comes together into a ball 
  • Transfer to a floured surface and roll it into a rectangle. Fold the shorter ends in towards each other to meet in the centre, the fold in half like a book
  • Roll it out once again and cover with cling film. Refrigerate for an hour. 

Filling:

  • While the dough is chilling make the filling.  Arrange the aubergine and courgette slices on a tray, drizzle with olive oil, thyme and seasoning. Roast for 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and set aside for assembly later
  • In a pan heat a tablespoon of oil and cook the garlic until it's aromatic. Add the purée, chickpeas and spices. Cook for 5 minutes and take off the heat and set aside for assembly 
  • Take the dough out on a well-floured baking sheet. Roll into a rough circle about 28cm wide.  Leave a 1-2cm rim to fold over the filling
  • Assemble by placing a layer of aubergine and courgette in a circle. Spoon the chickpeas and then a layer of tomatoes and feta crumbles. Repeat this twice more
  • Fold the edges to cover the filling leaving the top layer to tomatoes exposed
  • Drizzle with olive oil and do an egg wash
  • Transfer to a baking tray or sheet and bake for 30 minutes. It's ready when it's golden and crispy looking
  • Serve hot or at room temperature. 



Fruit Galette


For the pastry:
85 grams of cold butter cubed 
120 grams of plain flour 
¼ cup of ice-cold water
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon  

For the filling:
500grams of fruit   
¼ cup sugar
(more if the fruit are tart and less if its sweet)
1 tbsp ground almonds 
1 tbsp flour 

To finish:
Egg for the egg wash
Sesame seeds 
Icing sugar 

Method: 
Pastry:

  • Place the flour, cardamom and cinnamon in a bowl with the butter. Work the butter through with your fingers until the butter and flour resembles coarse breadcrumbs
  • Slowly add half the cold water and incorporate until it looks shaggy
  • Move the dough into a ball and be careful not to overwork it, as it will lose its flakiness. Cover with cling film and chill in fridge for at least an hour – longer will make the dough more workable
  • If the dough has been in the fridge for over 3 hours, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Should be malleable but not soft.  Dust the working surface with flour and with even pressure roll it into a circular shape about ½ cm thick
  • Place the pastry on a baking sheet for easy transfer to the oven.

For the filling and to fill:

  • Depending on the fruit cut to the appropriate shape. For blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, use the fruit whole. For strawberries, plums, peaches, apples or the like cut into thin slices
  • Place the fruit in with the sugar and chill for the same amount of time as the pastry dough
  • Once the pastry is ready and rolled, mix the ground almond and flour in and mix to combine. Arrange the fruits in concentric circles until the final 5cm around the pastry
  • Fold the border into the centre. Brush with an egg wash, icing sugar and the sesame seeds. 

To bake and finish:

  • Cook in a pre-heated oven (180 degrees) for 40-50minutes until the crust is golden and the fruit oozing
  • Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack to prevent soggy bottom
  • Once cooled dust with icing sugar and mint (optional)
  • Serve warm.