Portrait of Ghillie at home
Portrait of Ghillie at home
Ghillie Basan at home in the Braes of Glenlivet

We sent out our intrepid intern Nicola Torch to find out a little more about Ghillie Basan and the background to her new book, Spirit & Spice.

  • In Spirit & Spice, you talk about growing up in Kenya and then travelling around India, America and Turkey. What is it about the remote Scottish hills that made you eventually settle in the Cairngorms? The experience of growing up in East Africa has been at the root of all my travels and all my decisions– something to do with a thirst for inspiration and space. The remoteness of my home feels normal to me but the space and the view around me are essential to my sanity. 
The view from Ghillie's house, looking onto a sunlit and empty valley
  • What would you say is the best part about raising a family in such a remote location as the Cairngorms? Freedom. Freedom to explore. Freedom to have adventures. Freedom to be children. That is priceless. And freedom can lead to common sense and curiosity – two fundamental tools for survival the world.
  • How do you think your outdoorsy upbringing and subsequent travelling has affected the ways in which you cook? Nothing phases me. I’ll cook in primitive conditions and I’ll cook in luxurious ones and the food will still taste good in both. I’ve just learned to adapt  – to ingredients, to cooking equipment and to my surroundings. At the end of the day that is just life, if you allow it to be.
Ghillie's children, Yazzie & Zeki, building a fire to cook on outside
Ghillie’s children, Yazzie & Zeki, building a fire to cook on outside
  • You also mention in your introduction that you attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School and then studied Social Anthropology. How do you think these two experiences have shaped your cooking? The Cordon Bleu was not my choice and most of the time I felt a little bit like a fish out of water. I’m not a ‘chef’ at heart – I’m just a fan of good food, hospitality, conviviality, and I love learning tricks and flavours from different culinary cultures. But I did learn importance of organisation and preparation and found the confidence to tackle all the culinary hurdles that I encountered over time. The university degree in Social Anthropology was more of a natural progression from my childhood in Africa. It is at the root of my interest and understanding of the different cultures I have written about.
  • How did you come about writing Spirit & Spice? I had recently hooked into the whisky market, which is on my doorstep, and I was beginning to get a reputation for food and whisky pairing. Then I had a chat with Emily at Kitchen Press who thought there might be mileage in such a book. She had big brass balls though as she took an enormous risk by signing me!
Ghillie talking to a group of whisky ambassadors in her garden
Ghillie talking to a group of international whisky ambassadors in her garden
  • Spirit & Spice is all about local Scottish produce and your expert spice and whisky knowledge. What would you say is the biggest link between whisky and spice? The journey. The aroma and taste of whiskies take you on a journey  – on your palate and in your mind – and spices do the same. All whiskies exude a spice element, even if only very subtle in some. But the connection is there and you can enhance that or contrast that to emphasise it and savour the pairing.
A dish of spiced stuffed mushrooms, with a dram of whisky by the side
Spiced stuffed mushrooms, with a dram…
Photo © Christina Riley
  • There is a chapter in the book about wild food and foraging. Is this an important part of your culinary life? It is, I am happier outdoors than in and so are my children. Foraging is just a part of a walk or a picnic and is very much part of our seasonal table. But we are careful to only forage for what we need; we don’t exploit the land but appreciate the riches it bears.
Wild trout, cooking on sticks over a campfire
The finest way to eat freshly caught trout, Ghillie Basan-style
  • What was the most challenging part about writing Spirit & SpiceWriting about myself. I have written 40 books and never mentioned myself. I always regarded my books as an introduction to a culture and a cuisine so it was important to get facts and recipes right. But now people want to feel they are experiencing something, the more ‘authentic’ the better, and I suppose the ‘Ghillie Basan’ life story, my home and my food is an authentic experience for some!
  • Do you have a favourite recipe from the book? No, I don’t. Because the book is about the food we cook at home, they are all recipes we eat all the time. It’s more about mood and what’s in the fridge that day than having a preference. If food is flavoursome and made with love it is always delicious.
Ghillie in her kitchen, a whirlwind of warmth and hospitality
Photo © Christina Riley
  • What do you hope readers take away from Spirit & Spice? I hope they will feel inspired – but inspired in different ways. Some might just be inspired to play around with spices and create different flavours; others might be inspired to pair food with whisky. A few might be inspired by the life story of living remotely, of reliance on inner strength and coping. Or they simply might see it as a story of hope. We all need one of those!
whisky being poured into a glass
Slàinte!
photo © Christina Riley

Get inspired by Ghillie Basan and get outside to make these delicious gözleme, which are at their best cooked on an upside-down wok over a camp fire.

Rolling out the dough for gözleme

Cooking gözleme on a wok

Photos by Zeki Basan

Gözleme on a Wok

from Spirit & Spice by Ghillie Basan

Makes 4–6

Gözleme are Anatolian flat breads, often rolled out to the size of a bicycle wheel and cooked over the arched dome of an upside-down cauldron. They can be drizzled with honey and sprinkled with sugar or they can be filled with savoury ingredients like chopped spinach and onions, potatoes and spices, and cheese and herbs.

When I make gözleme at home, I make small, plate-sized ones over an upturned wok, which always takes me back to my early twenties when, after working in Italy for a year, I walked and hitch-hiked from Venice to Istanbul through former Yugoslavia with a wok attached to my backpack. The wok was the most useful utensil I had as I could cook soups, pasta and stir-fries; I could heat water in it for washing myself and my clothes; and, turned upside down, I could cook eggs, bacon and flat breads on top of it. I even used to dry my underwear over the hot dome!

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 225g/8oz chapatti flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • a splash of vegetable oil

For the filling:

  • 200g/7oz feta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • a bunch of dill, finely chopped
  • a big bunch of mint, finely chopped
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon pul biber, Aleppo chilli or finely chopped dried chilli
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

  • a drizzle of runny honey
Method

Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt and add enough water and a splash of oil to make a dough. Knead until smooth and divide into four to six balls. Place the balls under a damp cloth for 30 minutes.

Crumble the feta into a bowl and combine with the egg, herbs, wild garlic and chilli. Season to taste.

Place your upside-down wok over a smouldering fire, resting it on logs or stones either side, and leave it to heat up. Place the ghee in a small pot beside the fire to melt it.

Stretch or roll one of the balls of dough into a wide, flat, thin circle large enough to cover the dome of the wok and go down the sides a bit. Brush a little ghee over the dough and place it ghee-side down over the hot dome. Let the flat bread cook for a few seconds, then spoon some of the feta mixture into the middle, spreading it as wide as you can.

Pull up the sides of the dough to form a parcel, brush the top with ghee and flip it over to seal and cook until brown, then flip it back again and cook until almost crisp.

Lift the parcel off the dome, drizzle with honey and chomp on it straight away while the cheese is soft and the honey dribbles down your chin. You have to be patient and make the gözleme one by one.

Spirit and spice book cover

Buy Spirit & Spice by Ghillie Basan here.

Vietnamese tofu

Vietnamese tofu

photograph by Christina Riley

A delicious and quick snack from Ghillie Basan‘s new book Spirit & Spice. And it goes perfectly with a dram!

Vietnamese Tofu with Turmeric and Lemongrass

Serves 4 as a snack

Tofu tends to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it ingredients because it can be very bland, but over the years I have managed to convert many haters with this Vietnamese way of cooking it. The key is to pack the marinade with lots of flavour, which the tofu absorbs, and then to stir-fry it quickly.

In Vietnam, aromatic pepper or purple basil leaves are often added but you can toss in sweet basil, coriander or lime leaves. The peanuts added at the end add contrasting texture to the smooth tofu. I often use Turkish pul biber for heat as it is so fruity and versatile but you can use dried or fresh chillies if that’s what you have.

The umami flavour of soy and the sweetness of the jaggery complement whiskies with smoke and spice notes with a hint of citrus – Ardbeg 10 would be perfect.

Ingredients
    • 3 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and finely chopped
    • a thin finger of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
    • 3 tablespoons naturally brewed soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon mirin
    • 1–2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped, or 1–2 teaspoons pul biber or Aleppo pepper
    • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
    • 2 teaspoons turmeric
    • 2 teaspoons jaggery, honey or brown sugar (or try coconut sugar)
    • 300g/10oz firm tofu, rinsed, drained, patted dry and cut into bite-sized cubes
    • 2 tablespoons groundnut, sesame or coconut oil
    • 3 tablespoons unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • a small bunch sweet basil leaves (reserve a few for garnishing)
Method

In a bowl, mix the lemongrass, ginger, soy sauce, mirin, chilli, garlic and turmeric with the jaggery or sugar until it has dissolved. Gently toss in the tofu, making sure it is well coated and leave it to marinate for two to six hours.

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy-based pan over a high heat. Lift the tofu out of the marinade and toss it in the wok. As the edges begin to brown, tip in any leftover marinade, and cook until the wok is almost dry. Toss in the peanuts and most of the basil leaves.

Tip the tofu onto a serving dish, scatter the remaining basil over the top and serve hot or at room temperature with an extra drizzle of soy sauce, if you like. 

Spirit and spice book cover

Buy Spirit & Spice by Ghillie Basan here.

brick lane street sign

Brick Lane neon sign

For an introduction to the many pleasures of Brick Lane, you can’t be in safer hands than Dina Begum’s, the author of our next book – Brick Lane Cookbook.

‘When I think about Brick Lane I think about food. I go into one of those daydreams only a seasoned glutton can imagine, scanning mental images of food I want to try; that amazing sounding ice cream, freshly fried zilafi from Alauddin, a new burger, or even just… doughnuts. The uniqueness of Brick Lane lies in the fact that the restaurants and eateries that line the street are just as important as the Sunday market. Every stretch and every corner of this famous London market, affectionately known as ‘Banglatown’ due to its large Bangladeshi population, offers up a delicious new flavour. Food takes centre stage: on a plate, wrapped up in paper, slipped inside a paper bag, or enclosed within a box – less Styrofoam, more style.

For uninitiated visitors to Brick Lane, the obvious choices include bagels and curries but Brick Lane these days is much more than that. You’ll be blown away by the melting pot of cultures and culinary traditions, where the past and present fuse together effortlessly and lead you to familiar and unfamiliar tastes. The curry shops of Banglatown are interspersed with cafes selling all sorts of other wonderful foods, and the market stalls that pop up in every available space each Sunday serve up specialities from everywhere from Ethiopia to Argentina. Over 200 food stalls take over Sunday Upmarket for a global feast and permanent food trucks take care of you on non-market days. I’ll often visit to try a new dish and end up on a mini culinary tour, satisfying my craving while gazing at the striking street art and browsing the vintage clothes stores.

I started researching the Brick Lane Cookbook with a definite first point of call – lunch at Sweet ‘n’ Spicy – only to discover its demise. When I used to visit the market with my dad as a child, this Pakistani café used to be our regular lunch spot. You’d walk in and be greeted not only by the friendly staff but also by the mouth-watering fragrance of meat being cooked in the tandoor ovens and the headiness of smoke and spice, enveloping you in the most comforting hug. In remembrance I’ve included a recipe in the book for lamb koftas which deliver a taste of the much loved kebabs I used to enjoy; succulent grilled skewers of meat, folded inside a warm, fluffy naan and drizzled in mint sauce.

Half of the recipes in my book are Bangladeshi or inspired by Bangladeshi flavours, and the other half are contributed by traders and restaurants whose food I love. Some of my favourite contributions include the delectable pistachio crème brûlée from Chez Elles, Moussaka from Damascu Bite and empanadas from Moo Cantina. I love the street food too – like Big Bushi’s Sushi Burrito and The Patate’s incredible Beef Bourginon Burger – and had fun making the truffles from Dark Sugars – the place for good quality chocolate in East London. The traders and restaurant owners I got to know are some of the friendliest and generous people. Along with giving me tasters of their food and welcoming me into their kitchens they’ve shared closely guarded recipes that I’m proud to include in my book.

Here’s my recipe for Dhaler Bora or Lentil Fritters, a snack that always makes me think of Brick Lane.’

Dina Begum makes her lentil fritters

Dhaler Bora – Lentil Fritters

by Dina Begum

Serves 4–6

V, WF, GF

This recipe is based on my mother’s and is super addictive. Ground lentils are mixed with onions, green chillies, spices and fresh coriander to make a batter, which is dropped very quickly by hand into hot oil to make these irresistible fritters. If you’re around Brick Lane during Ramadhan you’ll spot some of the Bangladeshi cafés with their shopfront windows opened up so you can look in on large pans of fritters being fried – a real treat to watch. There’s something so comforting about the smell of frying onions and spices that I’m always hard pressed to avoid buying a brown paper bag full of dhaler bora and tucking into them straight away.

  • 200g red split lentils, soaked 30 minutes
  • 2–3 green chillies, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, quartered and finely sliced
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli powder
  • 4 heaped tablespoons gram flour
  • 3 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • 500ml vegetable oil, to deep fry

Drain the lentils and coarsely grind them with the green chillies using a hand blender or food processor. Put the sliced onion into a bowl along with the salt and mix together thoroughly with your hand. Add the turmeric, cumin, chilli powder, gram flour and coriander and scrape in the ground lentil mix. Switch to a spoon and mix thoroughly to form a batter that is loose enough to drop off a spoon – if the mix is too thick, loosen it with a dash of water.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat. Once hot (test with a tiny bit of batter – if it sizzles and floats to the surface, the oil is hot enough), reduce the heat to medium and use your hand to carefully drop small golf ball sized portions into the oil, a dozen or so at a time. You can use a tablespoon instead of your hand if you aren’t feeling confident but you won’t get the distinct rounded shape. Reduce the heat to low and cook for six or seven minutes, turning regularly until the fritters are deep golden all over.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a dish lined with kitchen paper. Continue cooking in batches until the batter is finished. Serve immediately with some sliced red onions and chopped fresh chillies.

Cook’s tip – it’s important to keep an eye on the heat as you cook the dhaler bora. Turn heat up to medium-high as you drop the batter into the pan (the temperature drops once the batter falls in); then, once you have a full batch frying, turn the heat to low. This will help them become fully crispy.

Brick Lane Cookbook cover  Pre-order Brick Lane Cookbook here.

colour bowls small

It being pancake day and all, let us introduce you to the glory that is Vietnamese Pancakes. Tran from the Bánh Mì NêN stall at Greenwich Market gave us this recipe for The Greenwich Market Cookbook, and it is not only absolutely delicious but also happens to be gluten-free.

It is a great starter or light lunch – a thin, crispy coconut pancake stuffed with chicken, prawns and beansprouts and served with fresh coriander, mint and a salty-sour dipping sauce. It’s a very straightforward batter but you really do need a non-stick frying pan to cook it. The key is to let the pan get really hot, then turn the heat down to low when you start frying the pancake.

Ingredients

for the batter:

  • 150g rice flour
  • 270ml coconut milk
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt

for the dipping sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1–2 chillies, finely chopped

for the stuffing:

  • 100g chicken fillets, thinly sliced
  • 100g raw prawns, shelled
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 100g beansprouts
  • 100g mushrooms, sliced
  • bunch of spring onions, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1⁄2 iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • small handful of mint
  • small handful of coriander
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

First make the batter. Mix the rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric and salt together in a big bowl and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. If it looks too thick, add another 30ml coconut milk or water so you have the consistency of double cream.

Make the dipping sauce: add the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chillies to 250ml water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Put the chicken in one bowl and the prawns in another and season both with salt and pepper.

When you’re ready to eat, put a teaspoon of olive oil in small non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat. Once it’s good and hot, add about a quarter of the onion and fry for a minute. Next, add a quarter of the chicken and prawns and fry briefly until the chicken is pale and the prawns have turned pink. Turn the heat down to low. Ladle over enough batter to thinly cover the base of the pan – tip the pan around so it spreads evenly and is as thin as possible. Scatter a handful each of beansprouts, mushrooms and spring onions over one half of the pancake, then cover and leave to cook for 3 minutes. When the batter is cooked through and crispy on the bottom and edges, fold over the side with no filling on it to form a half moon. Cut into four pieces and serve hot on a bed of iceberg lettuce, coriander and mint with the dipping sauce on the side. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make three more pancakes. Each diner can then roll up bits of pancake with the cool crisp shreds of lettuce and herbs inside, and dip it into the sauce before eating.

Serves 4

Buy The Greenwich Market Cookbook here.

Bowl illustration by Kath Van Uytrecht

banh mi nen 2

 

Amazing with our meringues, also good added to granola and yoghurt, spread on a warm scone or simply eaten on its own with a spoon…

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 100ml lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (use unwaxed lemons)

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until completely combined and foamy, then add the butter, lemon juice and zest. Set the bowl over a pan with about an inch of simmering water in it and stir continuously until the mixture thickens. This takes a bit of time, but don’t try to rush it and turn the temperature up too high or your curd will end up scrambling – not a good look.

Once it’s good and thick, pour into a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge.

Buy The Parlour Cafe Cookbook by Gillian Veal here.