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.