A culinary journey
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.