Seasons, heritage & leftovers. In conversation with Sumayya Usmani

613FD4gp8kLPakistan and Scotland are two countries which most people wouldn’t instantly think of when asked for nation’s whose food cultures were analogous with each other. However when you dig beneath the surface you realise that there’s a lot more connecting the Clyde with the Indus, the Arabian Sea with the North Sea, and the Karakorams with the Cairngorms than you might imagine. One person who is rapidly discovering this is food writer and author of the newly released memoir cookbook Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, Sumayya Usmani.

In Pakistan everything is cooked by season

‘I was amazed to discover the similarities between the food culture in my native country with my new home, there’s a very clear bond in the inherent hospitality of both peoples, the desire to feed others. There’s also a natural thrift in the shared food heritage, in terms of reducing waste, re-using leftovers, making the food you buy go a little longer. In Pakistan also everything is cooked by season, in Scotland this seems less prevalent now but I’ve still seen the excitement of the first raspberries, new potatoes and lamb to know that the historical seasonality of produce still runs deep within the psyche.’

It is these bonds which have helped Sumayya settle in Glasgow, a city she now happily calls home, and she is enjoying discovering the Scottish dishes which are analogous with those of her homeland. ‘I love making parathas with leftover mashed potatoes on the girdle, a word I’ve learned since moving here but was a little taken aback by at first! In fact it may well be mashed potatoes which is the ultimate bond between the two countries with patties and cutlets with fish, lentils and my favourite keema (mince) being a staple in Pakistan as they are here. Although I do have to have them my way as I crave the spice!’ There are many recipes using leftovers in this way in Summers Under the tamarind Tree with aloo bharta (mashed potatoes with cumin and chilli) being a particular favourite of mine.

My favourite Scottish dish would have to be stovies

With a cookbook which is based on a childhood learning vicariously from the women in her family it’s obvious that authenticity and heritage flavours run deep in Sumayya’s veins. ‘It’s important to preserve the heritage of a nation through its food, I’m travelling to the north of Pakistan soon and there hope to meet a group of women who are the keepers of recipes verging on extinction, it’s vital these aren’t lost to the future generations simply as they’ve never been taken down. It is with these heritage flavours in mind that Sumayya has had her eyes open to the food heritage of Scotland. ‘I’ve learned a lot about dishes such as stovies, Scotch broth and Cullen skink, the traditions of how these dishes came about and I think it adds to the romance of the nation. These are the Scottish dishes which I love to eat and it’s wonderful that they seem to be growing again in the consciousness of the nation as it starts to take more pride in its heritage flavours and produce. I’m looking forward to learning more of your heritage flavours as my final Guardian residency column spelled out.’

When asked for a recipe that would perfectly sum up the synergy between both countries Sumayya offered up bavette shami kebabs. ‘Bavette certainly wouldn’t the traditional cut but these little kebabs with Scotch Beef and dark spices bring the produce of Scotland the flavours of Pakistan together perfectly.’

Beef shami kebabs

Beef shami kebabs

Makes 6- 8 kebabs

Cooking time: 2-3 hours

400 g bavette steak
50 g channa daal (soaked for about 30 minutes to overnight before cooking)
1 cinnamon stick
2 black cardamom
1 tsp black cumin (or regular cumin if not available)
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 star anise
2-3 dried red chillis
1 tsp black peppercorn
8-10 cloves
½ inch piece ginger, chopped into tiny pieces
½ bunch coriander, chopped finely
20 mint leaves, chopped finely
2 green chillis, chopped finely
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil to shallow fry


  1. Add the first 10 ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and add 1 ½ pint water. Bring to a boil and then return to a simmer, cover and leave to cook for about 3 hours on a low heat, keep checking to make sure the meat doesn’t stick at the bottom, ensure that you stir it occasionally. Do not add anymore water.
  2. After about 2 hours or so check to see if all the moisture and gone, the meat is tender and falling apart and the lentil is mush.
  3. Break and pull apart the meat, add the finely chopped ginger, chopped mint, coriander and green chillis. Mix until combined with the meat.
  4. Take about 2 tbsp of the meat mixture and using your hand, form flat burger patties shapes to make the shami kebabs. Dip each into egg and set aside on a plate.
  5. Heat vegetable oil in a shallow frying pan, once hot add about 3-4 shami kebabs in the pan, fry for about 1 minute each side, until medium brown on either side.
  6. Serve hot with any a hot sauce or ketchup.

Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani is an internationally published food writer, author and cookery teacher. Based in Glasgow and London, Sumayya is passionate about the rich culinary heritage of Pakistan, and her writing and teaching are devoted to sharing those distinct flavours and exploring the cultures and traditions that have influenced them.

Her first book, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories from Pakistan (Frances Lincoln) is a memoir based cookbook which celebrates the food heritage, and recipes she experienced growing up in Pakistan.

About Graeme

I want to tell the world of the natural larder and eclectic cuisine of Scotland

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