Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan, written by Sumayya Usmani, features the incredible cuisine of Pakistan in over 100 recipes and beautifully written stories. A few highlights include Peshawari Namkeen Gosht (Salted Meat Curry), Double Ka Meetha (Hyderbadi-Style Saffron Bread Pudding), Karhai Ginger Chicken, Salty Lassi with Cumin, and Crispy Bhindi (Chickpea Batter Okra). I’m also sharing a recipe for Sumayya’s Nani’s Firni (Pakistani Screwpine-Infused Ground Rice Pudding) and an overview of this gorgeous book.
Disclosure: I received this book from Frances Lincoln in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Sumayya Usmani is a food writer and culinary teacher currently residing in Glasgow, Scotland. 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. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, Delicious, BBC Good Food, The New York Times, and International Herald Tribune.
Sumayya is also the author of Mountain Berries & Desert Spice.
Summers Under the Tamarind Tree
Along with sharing the delicious food of her country, Sumayya provides a glimpse into her childhood with memories and family photos. For those unfamiliar with Pakistan, she gives a background of what makes Pakistani cuisine and each region unique. It has been a part of many empires over the years, including the British, Greek, Rajput, Arab, Mughal, and Sikh.
Today the country shares its borders and culinary influences with China, Afghanistan, Iran, and India, creating a varied cuisine and people with over 20 different languages/dialects. I personally appreciate the closer look into mealtime practices, celebrations, and other cultural notes.
Chapters are divided by course:
- Masala blends (Traditional family recipes)
- Awakening the senses (Breakfast)
- Tantalising the taste buds (Street food and snacks)
- Breaking bread and sharing rice (breads and rice dishes)
- Meaty markets and weekdays bazaars (Beef, lamb and mutton)
- Birds from the Empress (Chicken and other birds)
- Sailing the seas (Seafood and fish)
- My grandmother’s garden (Vegetables, fruit and salad)
- Homegrown guavas (Chutneys and pickles)
- Under a motia-filled sky (Celebration feasts)
- The sweet taste of mango heaven (Desserts)
- Chai-pani (Hot and cold drinks)
I love the detailed explanation of the techniques essential to Pakistani cuisine including Bhunai (removing moisture), tenderizing, Tarka or bhagar (tempering), dum (steaming), Dhuni (smoking), and making the basics such as ghee and tamarind pulp. This foundation will really help in the success of capturing the essence and authenticity of the dishes. Those new to South Asian spices will also appreciate the notes on how to use whole spices and the recipes for a variety of Masala spice blends.
Measurements are provided in Metric and US Customary. Preparation times, cooking lengths, and serving sizes are also included. The name of the dish is listed in English and Urdu/original language where applicable. Every recipe has a headnote with background information, family memories, tips, and kitchen secrets.
The beautifully-styled food photography is provided by Joanna Yee with Pakistani travel photography by Shaukat Niazi. Many of the dishes are accompanied by a full-page colored photograph, generally of the finished product.
Nani’s Firni (Pakistani Screwpine-Infused Ground Rice Pudding)
Firni (Phirni) is a Pakistani pudding made by boiling ground rice with milk and seasonings. It is also popular in some areas of India and Afghanistan. Sumayya’s recipe comes from her maternal grandmother. This dessert is traditionally served in small earthenware pots that absorb some of the liquid to thicken it further and also contribute an earthy quality. I didn’t have any clay pots available, so I used glass dishes.
I especially love that the rice is ground. As a child I wasn’t a fan of the European style rice pudding due to the texture. This would have been perfect with a more smooth quality. You can make your own rice flour or use premade (not sweet rice or mochiko, just plain rice flour). Rice flour is available in the gluten-free baking section of larger supermarkets, in Asian markets, or on Amazon.
The Screwpine/Pandanus is a tropical tree found in South Asia, Australia, and a few Pacific islands. Its slender, long green leaves have a herby vanilla-like flavor popular in Asian sweets or as a wrapping. The flowers are used to make kewra (pandanus flower water), a floral extract used in sweets and select meat dishes. Do not substitute with pandan extract since that is generally made using the leaves.
For the firni, you can use rose water if kewra is unavailable. Both can be found in International markets featuring South Asian/Middle Eastern products or online: Kewra Water and Rose Water (I have also found Rose Water in Whole Foods and in some larger grocery stores).
Dried rose petals are available at International Markets featuring South Asian/Middle Eastern food or on Amazon. They are optional, but add a nice touch of color and floral note.
The edible silver leaf (Vark, Varak) is an optional garnish often used in South Asian dishes to elevate the presentation. It is flavorless and pounded into thin, brittle sheets. Be careful of the quality of the silver since some brands use aluminum or other additives. I was unable to find it locally, so I purchased on Amazon. Make sure to keep the package well sealed to prevent tarnishing.
I also made Beef Meatball Pulao with Silver Leaf and Rose Buds, Green Chutney, Sheermal (Semi-Sweet Saffron and Cardamom-Enriched Bread), and Cardamom and Coconut Mattha Lassi.
The Beef Meatball Pulao is an overall simple recipe to make, but is taken up a notch with the adornment of edible silver and rose petals. This was my first time working with silver leaf and it definitely added a bit of sparkle (this can be omitted if unavailable). The meatballs have a little kick of heat with the addition of ground red chilies. The meatballs are arranged over a bed of spiced basmati rice.
The Green Chutney is the perfect herby accompaniment to breads, fish, or as a marinade. It is made easily by blending together cilantro, mint, green chili, coconut, and spices with a little lime juice. I served it with flat bread as a light snack. Sumayya mentions that if the spices are too strong, the chutney can be mixed with some yogurt to lighten the flavor.
Sheermal is a special type of flatbread popular during celebrations. It is richer than the everyday flatbreads with the addition of ghee, cream, and egg. It is often served with Kunna Gosht (Slow-Cooked Lamb Shank Curry) or Kitchra (Lentil, Barley, and Oat Stew). The bread is leavened slightly with yeast and seasoned with cardamom, rose water, and saffron. The top is decorated with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or nuts before baking until golden and puffed.
Claire’s favorite was the Cardamom and Coconut Mattha Lassi. I have made a few different lassis in the past, but this was the first time she got to try one. It was a huge hit! I have made this recipe a couple of times since and she gets so excited when she sees me prep the ingredients. Coconut yogurt (or plain yogurt mixed with dried coconut) is blended with cardamom, milk, and a little sugar. Just a handful of ingredients and less than 5 minutes to prepare.
Summers Under the Tamarind Tree is a great pick for those interested in South Asian/Middle Eastern cuisine. Many of the dishes and flavors were exciting and new to me. The cuisine of Pakistan tends to be meat-heavy, but there are quite a few offerings for vegetarians as well with seasonal, fresh produce highlighted. Breakfast lovers will find a variety of potato, egg, and other dishes to start the day. With Pakistan’s coastline along the Arabian Sea, there is a handful of seafood dishes from crabs and fish to squid, mussels, and prawns. Desserts and beverages are definitely not forgotten. You will find an assortment of sweets, teas, and even a Rose Milkshake.
Having an international market with South Asian ingredients and spices or finding items online is essential to completing some of the recipes. Some more difficult to find items may include rose petals and rose water, whole spices, fenugreek, chickpeas, silver leaf, gram flour, moong daal, white poppy seeds, atta, sultanas, curry leaves, and more.
Nani’s Firni (Pakistani Screwpine-Infused Ground Rice Pudding) Recipe
Excerpt from Summers Under the Tamarind Tree
Nani's Firni (Pakistani Screwpine-Infused Ground Rice Pudding)
- 60 grams (2 1/4 ounces) ground rice
- 200 milliliters (7 fl ounces, scant 1 cup) water
- 500 milliliters (17 fl ounces, 2 cups) whole milk
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces, scant 1/2 cup) caster sugar
- 200 milliliters (7 fl ounces, scant 1 cup) condensed milk
- 4 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Pinch saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon drops kewra (screwpine extract) or rose water
- 1 tablespoon chopped pistachios
- 1 tablespoon dried edible rose petals
- 1 tablespoon edible silver leaf
- In a bowl, soak the ground rice in the water. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. As soon as it is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until thick.
- Add the sugar, condensed milk and the soaked ground rice to the milk and return to the boil. Let the milk boil for another 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly. It should start to thicken up now.
- Add the ricotta and cardamom- this should now be the consistency of thick custard. Keep stirring to prevent it burning. Turn off the heat and stir in the saffron and rose water or kewra. Allow to cool for a few minutes before pouring the firni into terracotta or glass bowls and top with chopped pistachios.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Decorate with rose petals and silver leaf.