Mountain Berries & Desert Spice: Sweet Inspiration from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea, written by Sumayya Usmani, showcases the sweet side of Pakistani cuisine. I reviewed Sumayya’s first book, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, last year and was so excited to work my way through her newest project. Highlights include Spiced Apple Samosas, Peshwari Pistachio Ice Cream, Khanfaroush (Spiced Saffron Crumpets with Honey), Pakistani Jalebis (Spiraled Fermented Doughnuts in Turmeric-Infused Syrup), Bakar Khani (Sweet Puff Pastry Biscuits), and I will be sharing a recipe for her Afghani Gosh-e-Fil (Elephant Ear-Shaped Fried Pastry).
Sumayya Usmani is a food writer and culinary teacher currently residing in Glasgow and London. She was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan to Muslim Indian immigrants. She originally followed in her father’s footsteps and worked as a lawyer before fully embracing her love of food and turning it into a career. She started her blog (My Tamarind Kitchen) to share this passion and awareness of Pakistani cuisine with the world. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, Delicious, BBC Good Food, The New York Times, and International Herald Tribune. She is also the author of Summers Under the Tamarind Tree.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Frances Lincoln in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Chapters are divided as follows: Journey through a Land of Sweetness and Spice; Childhood Sweets in a New Home; Key Ingredients and Techniques; Sour Morning Berries (Rising to Mouth-Watering Spice); Sugar Almonds and Buffalo Milk (The Sweetness of Diversity); Kites, Kingdoms and Cardamom Samosas (Flavours from Lahore and the Mughal Empire); Through Mulberry Valleys (Summer Fruits in Harsh Winters); A Saffron Blaze (Following the Spice Caravans); Festive Spice and Roses (Celebratory Sweets); and Chilli Mangoes and Ocean Breeze (The Sweetness of Homecoming).
Sumayya begins with an introduction to the cuisine of Pakistan and how it has been touched by the varied climate and terrain along with neighboring countries. She also includes a map of Pakistan and breaks down the most popular sweets and produce based on region with enticing writing of the landscape and food. I loved the added touch of describing her childhood experiences such as saving money to visit the mithai shop, spending time on the seas with her father, a merchant navy captain, and watching her mother create indulgent Eid desserts.
For those new to South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, she includes a helpful guide to basic ingredients and techniques with descriptions and tips. The photography is provided by Joanna Yee. Every single recipe includes a beautifully-styled photo of the finished dish. They did a wonderful job of drawing me into the recipes and I had difficulty decided which to make first.
The name of each dish is written in English and Urdu or the original language when applicable. Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, personal stories, tips, serving size, preparation, and cooking times.
This book is a great pick for those interested in Pakistani cuisine or are looking for new ideas for sweets and desserts. Sumayya has adapted many of the recipes to lower the sugar a bit. Adjust to taste if you want your desserts to have more sweetness. There are a variety of choices from cookies and baked goods to fried pastries and creamy treats. Many of the ingredients can be found in the average American grocery store, but a few may require the use of a South Asian or Middle Eastern market. Some items that may be difficult to locate include rose water, saffron, rose petals, kalamanak (black salt), anardana (dried pomegranate), seviyan (vermicelli), cardamom, edible silver or gold leaf, sultanas, mace, channa daal, semolina, falooda noodles, rice flour, agar agar, chickpea flour, vimto syrup, and Arabic gum crystals.
One of my favorites from the book so far are Gosh-e-Fil. Gosh-e-Fil are small, ear shaped circles of dough that are fried in oil until crisp. They are popular in Afghanistan and Iran and generally served for special occasions, parties, or Eid.
To form the Gosh-e-Fil, roll the dough into a thin layer. I got it to about 1/4 of an inch, but I would have liked mine a little thinner. The thinner the dough, the more crisp the ears will become when fried. Use a circular 2 inch cutter to cut out circles and use your fingers to pinch together one side to create the ear shape before frying.
I enjoyed the subtle sweetness of these ears paired with the crisp texture. There isn’t any sugar in the dough itself, only a dusting of powdered sugar over the tops along with ground pistachios and dried rose petals. On a side note: my children have just reached an age where they love shelling and separating pistachios. It has been glorious.
Dried rose petals are available at International Markets featuring South Asian/Middle Eastern food or online. They add a pop of color and a floral note to the Gosh-e-Fil.
Green Cardamom (Elettaria, Elaichi) originated in India and is the third most expensive spice, following saffron and vanilla. It is a highly aromatic, warm citrus-like spice similar to ginger and cinnamon. Most of the flavor is in the seeds encased by the green pods. You can buy cardamom whole or ground, but the seeds quickly lose their flavor once the pods are cut. I have been able to find green cardamom at World Market and other specialty spice stores/International Markets featuring Indian products. Many larger supermarkets carry ground cardamom. It is also available on Amazon: Cardamom Pods Green (Elachi)3.5oz- Indian Grocery.
I also made Gajrela (Carrot Rice Pudding); Sohan Saffron Honey Caramels with Rose Water, Pistachio and Almonds; Dooth ki Bottel (Rich Milk and Rose Water Drink with Spice, Seeds and Nuts); and Makhan Roti Cheeni (Chappatis rubbed with homemade butter and raw sugar).
Gajrela is a carrot rice pudding that originated in the Punjab and is a popular winter dessert in Karachi. Sumayya’s Nani (maternal grandmother) would make it often. A basmati rice base is simmered in a spiced milk mixture with carrots. It is topped with nuts, coconut, and raisins before serving.
The Sohan Saffron Honey Caramels with Rose Water, Pistachio and Almonds are addictive little candies. I loved the combination of caramel with the honey, rose water, and pistachio and rose petal topping. As a note, it seems like the cup measurement for the recipe is off. It calls for 140 gram of almonds, which should be about 1 cup, not 1 3/4 cups. The 140 grams would be perfect, but since I added closer to 2 cups, the caramels were almond heavy.
Dooth ki Bottel is a spiced milk drink with ground seeds, pistachios, almonds, cardamom and a little rose water and brown sugar. It only takes 15 minutes to create and is served chilled in the fridge. This recipe is a great way to use up leftover nuts and seeds from the pantry.
Makhan Roti Cheeni was a childhood snack for Sumayya. Homemade wheat chapati is topped with homemade butter and sprinkled with sugar. This actually reminded me of a favorite childhood snack of my own. When I was younger, my mom would spread butter and a cinnamon sugar mixture over leftover tortillas. My brother and I always looked forward to it. I love discovering these connections with food.
Afghani Gosh-e-Fil (Elephant Ear-Shaped Fried Pastry)
Excerpt from Mountain Berries & Desert Spice
220 grams (7 3/4 ounces, 1 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra 30 g (1 oz) for dusting
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
3-4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
40 grams (1 1/2 ounces, 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 tablespoons whole milk
Vegetable oil for frying
1 tablespoon icing (confectioners’) sugar
1 tablespoon ground pistachio
1 teaspoon pink dried rose petals
Sift the flour, salt, sugar and ground cardamom together in a large bowl.
Whisk the eggs, butter and milk together in another bowl, then pour this slowly into the flour and start to bring it together into a dough. When it begins to combine and is sticky, place it on a floured surface. Using the extra 30 grams (1 ounce) of flour knead for about 10 minutes until you have a soft dough. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
When ready to cook, roll the dough out on a floured surface into a thin sheet about 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick, then using a 5 cm (2 inch) round pastry cutter, cut out 15-20 circles. Using your finger, form the circles into an ‘ear’ shape with a little point at one end.
Heat the oil in a wok-like pan to 180 C (350 F) or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Drop a few ‘ears’ into the hot oil over a medium heat, allow them to float to the top and deep-fry until light brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat until all the ‘ears’ are cooked.
Allow to cool, then dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with finely ground pistachios and rose petals. Store in an airtight jar for 1 week.