Book review: Ammu by Asma Khan

24 May 2022 by
Book review: Ammu by Asma Khan

Asma Khan has released a cookbook dedicated to the woman who inspired her – her mother

Regular readers of the Revelations column opposite will know that when chefs are asked who has given them the greatest inspiration, the majority will cite their mother or grandmother. Asma Khan is no exception.

When Khan was preparing to leave home in Kolkata to be with her new husband in Cambridge in 1991, she had never even seen a cookbook and didn't know how recipes were written. The hurriedly scribbled notes she took were the start of her cooking career, which began cautiously in her new home before she staged successful supper clubs and pop-ups, eventually opening the Darjeeling Express restaurant in London. As she says, "I was clearly very knowledgeable about food without realising it", a skill she absorbed from a childhood standing at her mother's side.

Ammu is a love letter to her mother, arranged almost as Khan learned to cook, starting with the comfort food of her childhood, the basics learned when she moved to the UK, the dishes she could create when her skills improved, celebration dishes for special occasions, and finally the cooking she does as an Ammu, or mother, herself, mixing her heritage with ingredients found in her new home.

The more than 100 recipes are combined into suggested menus, so for date night you could cook up lamb shanks in yogurt and herb gravy, with a rose, apricot and pistachio pulao, followed by pancakes soaked in syrup, or you might choose an indulgent feast of prawns cooked in coconut milk, with Indian cheese balls, spiced leg of lamb and a vermicelli Eid dessert.

A brunch menu promises prawn croquettes, spicy scrambled eggs and lacy rice flour rotis, and a monsoon menu offers onion fritters with coriander and mint chutney followed by eggs in tamarind gravy and fish omelette.

Considering Khan recently said she wants a new site for Darjeeling Express with an open kitchen, where her self-taught, all-female chef team can be admired by diners, it's no surprise that she has strong views on the "power of the female collective", a view touchingly illustrated in the anecdotes and family memories she shares.

Ammu by Asma Khan (Ebury Press, £26)

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