With Chicken Tikka Masala labelled as “a true British national dish” by the UK’s Robin Cook, with at least three generations of indigenous American Muslims living in the US, and centuries of solid Islamic presence in China, Eastern Europe and states of the former USSR, I wondered how much scope and coverage there would be in the recently published cookery book, ‘Heavenly Bites – The Best of Muslim Home Cooking’. The author is Karimah bint Dawood, the UK’s well-known niqab-wearing TV presenter and chef on Islam Channel and Ramadan TV, herself a convert to Islam with English and South African roots. This cookbook delights and slightly disappoints at the same time.
I applaud Karimah for sheer ingenuity and effort in picking such a diverse theme. The book beautifully presents her culinary picks from Morocco, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Persia, Pakistan, Turkey, Moorish Spain, the Caribbean and African countries. Almost all the ingredients are either commonly known or easy to source from speciality food shops. She takes into consideration the needs and familiarity of home cooks worldwide by providing metric and imperial units – plus a boon for numerically-challenged people like me, who prefer neither, and rely on simple cups and spoon measurements for ingredients. Her instructions are easy to follow and most of the recipes can be comfortably tried by a kitchen novice.
She focuses on the health and medicinal benefits of most of the food that is presented – nudging me to reconsider my aversion to okra or lady’s fingers, which seems to be the author’s favourite vegetable. But I simply cannot add them to my Chicken Korma! (See the recipe below.)
The majority of the recipes are nourishing, delicious, fragrant and appealing to the senses. Each recipe is accompanied by stylishly composed and photographed images – a testament to Karimah’s aesthetic background in fashion modelling, makeup artistry and photography. From starters to desserts, the book covers the entire menu – an asset for the strapped-for-time home cook.
The only two aspects of the book that did not score points with me were the limited range offered, and the desserts selection. With a sub-title like ‘Muslim home cooking’, there was a huge potential and expectation to truly showcase the unparalleled diversity of Muslims around the world. On a culinary level, it had the scope to break the ‘all Muslims are Arabs’ myth or dispel the notion that Islam only resides in the East. That, it does not do.
Conspicuous by their absence were Indonesia and Malaysia – the former being the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. My Bosnian, Kyrgyzstani, Afghani or Saudi neighbours would probably not find a representation of their ‘Muslim cooking’ here.
As for the desserts, even based on the limited nationalities focused on by the author, I could not see Peach Melba, Apple pie or Lemon Polenta cake fitting under any. I would have loved to learn how to make the Lebanese sweet pastry, bakhlawa, the Bengali’s famous rasagolla or the Pakistani Eid special, sheer khurma, instead.
All in all, ‘Heavenly Bites’ is a delicious collection of accurate and easy to whip-up recipes. Just add okra to anything to achieve that “healthy Karimah’s touch”.
Huma Imam has a diploma in Nutrition and Home Sciences.
Book: Heavenly Bites – The Best of Muslim Home Cooking
Available: Amazon and all mainstream bookstores
Price: GBP. £11.99
Karimah’s Chicken Korma
“This mild curry has its roots in the cuisine of the Moghul Empire, which was influenced by subtle Persian and Turkish flavours. It’s a dish of braised, stewed meat in a nutty yoghurt or creamy sauce; and is a great curry to introduce the uninitiated into the curry club. I have added okra to it for texture and health reasons, and it’s great for people who are fasting or ladies who are pregnant.” – Karimah
• 1kg/ 2 ½ lbs/ 8 cups chicken breast, diced
• 3 onions, finely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic
• 20ml/1 heaped tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
• 150g/ 5oz/ ¾ cup plain thick yogurt
• 15ml/ 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 100g/4oz/1 cup okra, topped and tailed
• 45g/1½oz/ 3 tbsp ground Almonds
• 5ml/1 tsp turmeric
• 5ml/1 tsp ground coriander
• 5ml/1 tsp salt
• 5ml/1 tsp black pepper
• 1 dried chilli
• 5ml/1 tsp garam masala
• 5 crushed cardamoms
• 2 bay leaves
• Pinch of saffron (optional)
• 235ml/8oz/1 cup/1 tin coconut milk
• 511ml/18 fl oz/4 cups of cold water
• 100g/ 3½oz/ ½ cup raisins, optional
• Some coriander leaves, finely chopped to garnish
• ½ lemon, juiced.
Wash and drain the diced chicken.
Blend all spices (except the bay leaves) and the yogurt together in a bowl and then add the chicken.Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in a cool place (at less than 10ºC/50ºF) for at least an hour, but not for more than 48 hours.
Once the chicken is marinated and you are ready to cook, fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil until golden. Then add the chicken and cook on a low to medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes.
You will see the chicken begin to release juices, making a gravy. Add the coconut milk and water, and cook for a further five minutes.
Then add the crushed almonds and raisins, and turn down low to simmer for another 15 minutes.
Finally, add the okra and cook for a further ten minutes on a low heat. Garnish with fresh coriander, and serve with either wholemeal rice or brown pitta with an accompanying salad.