As I cool off for a few weeks in Scotland, India sometimes doesn’t seem so far away. From my window I can see shops like Bombay Nights, selling sparkly lehengas and Bollywood DVDs; there’s the Mumtaz Mahal sweet shop, purveyors of barfi and gulab jamun to the greedy; and umpteen Indian and Pakistani grocers selling parathas, paneer and ghee.
Edinburgh is a dinky, sleepy capital with a population of less than half a million, but it has embraced its Indian community with a passion. There’s an Indian takeaway on every corner, it’s home to one of Britain’s oldest Sikh communities, and every summer our local park jumps to the bhangra beat when local band Tigerstyle, whose music appeared in the film Singh is Kinng, performs at the city’s annual “Mela”.
We have everything from the cheap and cheerful, flock wallpaper curry houses where chicken tikka masala is still the order of the day, to dosa cafés and a new generation of talented young chefs such as Tony Singh whose Oloroso restaurant is one of Scotland’s most innovative and fashionable eateries.
Scots also have a long, chequered history of trying to export our culinary “specialities” to India. Glasgow comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli recently embarked on a mission to introduce Scottish “cuisine” to India: His attempt to interest a Srinagar boatman in fish and chips made for a hilarious chapter in the resulting book, Indian Takeaway: One Man’s Attempt to Cook his Way Home.
Whilst I accept haggis will probably never make much of an impact, I won’t rest until the fabulous but much derided Deep Fried Mars Bar has found a place in every Indian heart. Early trials have been encouraging—restaurants around Kullu Valley where we stay in July now think nothing of rustling up a “Bar One Pakora” for us.
Nowhere is our shared culinary history more evident than in our mutual love for biscuits; we can match each other crumb for crumb with macaroons, Marie and Bourbon biccies. For today’s recipe, I’ve given Scotland’s national biscuit an Indian makeover. The ubiquitous shortbread, probably a distant relation of India’s nan khatai, is the last word in simple, sweet, butteriness.
I decided to transform the shortie’s natural homeliness into go-get-’em brazenness with the addition of cumin and jaggery. These biscuits are delicious on their own, allowing an uninterrupted appreciation of both sides of their heritage but to complete the transformation from Ma Broon to Bipasha Basu, I filled little chai cups with shrikhand and mango purée for dipping. Oh, did I mention that those grocers across the road are also piled high with boxes of Alphonso mangoes?
Cumin and Jaggery Shortbread Biscuits
250g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
150g caster sugar
Click hereto view a slideshow on how to bake shortbreads
300g plain flour (maida)
2 tsp roasted and ground cumin (zeera)
50g finely ground almonds
1 egg, lightly beaten
150g powdered jaggery
Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
Cookie jar: The shortbread is probably a distant cousin of nan khatai. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and soft. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cornflour, almonds and cumin. Add half the flour mixture into the butter and sugar and mix well. Add the remainder and knead gently until the mixture holds together. Form the mixture into a long sausage shape of about 2 inches in diameter. Chill in the fridge or freezer for about 1 hour.
Sprinkle the powdered jaggery evenly on to a large sheet of baking paper. With a pastry brush, paint the outside of the sausage with the beaten egg, then roll the shortbread in the jaggery until completely covered. With a sharp knife, slice off discs about a quarter of an inch thick, then place, well-spaced, on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. The biscuits should still be pale and the jaggery will have spread out to form a frill, but be careful not to let the jaggery burn.
To make the shrikhand, hang 1kg of plain yogurt in a muslin cloth for about 4 hours. Mix a good pinch of saffron with some warm milk, then beat into the yogurt along with a teaspoon of ground cardamom and sugar to taste. In a food processor, whiz a couple of peeled mangoes to a pulp. Pile the shrikhand into chai glasses, top with the mango purée and maybe some edible silver leaf (varq).