A culi­nary jour­ney

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK - By Su­mayya Us­mani Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Ta­marind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­mani.com Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

IRECEIVED mixed re­ac­tions when I de­cided to move to Scot­land. Some jeal­ousy was in­ter­min­gled with raised eye­brows and an un­mis­tak­able smirk when it came will­ing­ness to em­brace Scot­land’s no­to­ri­ously er­ratic weather. “It’s not that bad,” I de­fen­sively re­marked, along with the usual come­back re­gard­ing proper cloth­ing. But the truth is, what I eat de­ter­mines how I brave tem­per­a­tures.

Many Scot­tish recipes are based on com­fort eat­ing, and most in­clude a va­ri­ety of tuber­ous crops – of which pota­toes reign supreme. But breads made us­ing ei­ther mashed or grated pota­toes speak to me.

Since mov­ing here, I’ve been cap­ti­vated by the “tat­tie scone”: a hy­brid be­tween bread, scone and pan­cake. To me it is the “aloo paratha” of Scot­land, be­ing fried on a gir­dle (parathas are cooked on a tawa, which is a sim­i­lar uten­sils). My mother’s recipe for this South Asian ghee-based flat­bread uses a sim­i­lar method of mix­ing flour with mashed potato, spices and herbs, though most Pun­jabi recipes fill the flat­bread with a spicy potato mix­ture in­stead.

Scot­tish food writer Sue Lawrence adds cheese to her tat­tie scones, which she tells me are great with soup, rather than merely part of the Scot­tish break­fast fry-up. Re­cently I have en­deav­oured to find out about other potato breads, in­clud­ing the Ir­ish potato farl or fadge as it is known.

Ac­cord­ing to North­ern Ir­ish food writer Diana Henry, farls are the same as Ir­ish potato bread, ex­cept that they are cut round and into four (the Gaelic word “farl” means “four parts”) rather than be­ing flat and square or tri­an­gu­lar. Diana stresses that no-one who’s Ir­ish would ever eat fadge cold, it is al­ways warmed, fried in but­ter or heated. I wouldn’t eat a paratha cold ei­ther.

Around the world there are many cul­tures that in­dulge in this car­bo­hy­drate dou­ble whammy: flour with potato, which equals in­tense, soul-sat­is­fy­ing com­fort. My friend, the food writer Olia Her­cules, told me about a Ukrainian Easter bread made with fer­mented pota­toes called “kulich” or “pasha” in the south. Olia calls it a “slightly bonkers cousin of the Ital­ian panet­tone”, which she cooks in cleaned-out tomato tins: the recipe can be found in her first book, Ma­muskha (Mitchell Bea­z­ley).

Else­where in East­ern Europe, my taste buds are en­livened to find yet an­other fried potato bread in Hun­gary called “lan­gos” which is some­times called Hun­gar­ian pizza, made with a yeast dough and mashed potato and flour. This recipe, in­tro­duced by the Turks cen­turies ago, is now a firm part of their cui­sine. Rubbed with gar­lic, sprin­kled with salt and the dough in­cor­po­rated with car­away, it sounds like a heav­enly snack with some tea.

The Pol­ish do love their pota­toes, and I par­tic­u­larly like the sound of Pol­ish “chleb kartoflany”. My friend Ren Be­han, au­thor of Wild Honey And Rye (Pavil­ion Books), tells me about this bread made with mashed potato, in­clud­ing the cook­ing wa­ter. I think I might have to roll up my sleeves and knead this one a bit!

Ger­man breads such as “kartof­fel­brot” and Rus­sian “kartofel khleb” use mashed pota­toes to keep the loaves soft and fresh for longer. I am yearn­ing to make Nor­we­gian “lefse”, a pa­per-thin potato bread made with spe­cial long lefte sticks and cooked on lefte grid­dles.

I am sure I have merely scratched the sur­face of the potato bread map, which shows how his­tory, travel and mi­gra­tion have changed the way peo­ple bake, but all th­ese breads re­sulted from a need to use fru­gal in­gre­di­ents and leftovers, stretch wheat us­age and add com­fort with spices, but­ter or herbs.

Christo­pher Trot­ter, Fife’s Food Am­bas­sador, says “there is noth­ing hum­ble about the potato”. To me, the com­bi­na­tion of wheat and potato is a kitchen hero, ever pre­pared to fill you with hap­pi­ness.

Be­ing Pak­istani, I am al­ways drawn to my home-cook­ing, and so I share my mum’s aloo paratha. Now that I’m am proudly an adopted Scot, how­ever, I’m call­ing it my “paratha scone”. It helps me find com­fort in Scot­land with a taste of home.

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