We sat at a picnic table on the banks of the lake, just Baba and me, eating boiled eggs with kofta sandwiches - meatballs and pickles wrapped in naan.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
I read this book years ago - one of the 80-something I flew through in my first few months in the UK. I started life here as a secondary school science teacher, tricked into taking a job in Bushey by my teaching agency, who assured this new arrival that the job was in London. It's not. I had a 110 minute commute each way from Whitechapel, and it was my books (and my students, I guess, on the good days) that got me on the Hammersmith and City line at 5.40am each morning. After a few months, I made a sideways move into the theatre, still working with young people, but outside of the pressure on curriculum and examinations.
Two years ago, I started work at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. One of my central responsibilities is managing our programme for young asylum seekers, refugees and recently arrived migrants. Meeting young people from all over the world, who have come to make a home here with their families (or sometimes on their own), has been a truly extraordinary experience. The population of the group shifts and changes with the global situation. At any one point in time, we're working with students from a growing list of countries - Afghanistan, India, Romania, Libya, Syria. It's been an incredible, eye-opening job.
I was reminded last year, as a group of teenage boys from Afghanistan taught us all a dance they learnt as children, of The Kite Runner. And so I re-read it, moved again by the charged relationship between Amir and Hassan, and the changing world they face. I also read it with my new 'what do I want to eat from this' hat on, and latched on to the quote above. I love naan, I love lamb, and I REALLY love pickles. Perfect. I borrowed a couple of ideas from one of my favourite Kilburn restaurants - Ariana II - lots of aubergine, green chillies, dried fruit with the lamb and plenty of bread.
Kofta, Aubergine Pickle and Naan
Serves 3 (or 2, if you're hungry - you'll have leftover pickle too)
Aubergine and Chilli Pickle (adapted from Helen Saberi's Noshe Djan)
500g mini aubergines
10 cloves garlic
6 green chillies
1tbsp nigella seeds
1tbsp fenugreek seeds
500ml cider vinegar
0.5tsp dried yeast
60ml blood temperature water
Nigella seeds and sesame seeds
250g lamb mince
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tbsp chopped mint
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tsp sea salt
An egg for each person
A spoon of yoghurt
Knife and chopping board
Large jar with a secure lid
Heavy bottomed frying pan
1. The pickles will be ready for use after about three days in the jar (and keep for weeks after that), so start this bit a little in advance. To prepare the aubergine, wash them, trim a bit off the stems, then slice them down the middle, leaving the tip joined at the stem. Put half a garlic clove into the split and sandwich closed.
2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Drop the aubergine into the water and boil for five minutes, pushing them back under the surface as they bob up. Remove the aubergine and any escaped garlic cloves, holding back the cooking water for now. Slice the chillies - I like hot food, but you should test the chilli and chop and add as much or as little as you like.
3. Combine the vinegar with the seeds, salt, herbs and 150ml of the aubergine boiling water. In a sterilised jar, layer the aubergines and the chillies, packing them in up to the top. Pour the vinegar mixture over the top, until it covers the aubergines. Seal the jar.
4. Start the naan a couple of hours before you wish to eat. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the yeast with 2tbsp blood temperature water and the sugar. Leave it for a couple of minutes until you can see bubbles on the surface of the water. Add this to the rest of the water and the oil. Pour this over the flour and combine with your hand. Knead for eight minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl, cover with cling film and leave the dough until it has doubled in size.
5. While the naan is rising, prepare the kofta. Toast the cumin seeds in a heavy bottomed saucepan until fragrant. In a mortar and pestle, pound them to a fine powder. Put all the ingredients in a bowl (except the raisins), and squidge together. Spend a good five minutes doing this, squeezing it through clenched fists. It's oddly satisfying. Kofta are not the same as hamburgers or European meatballs, and the meat needs to be smooth and solidly compacted. Once the mix is homogenous, you can add the raisins and then shape it into 10 balls. Throw each one from hand to hand to pummel it into shape.
6. Fry the kofta in a dribble of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, allowing them to brown on each side before turning them. Turn the heat down and continue to cook until you're sure they're cooked through.
7. Place the eggs in a small saucepan of water. Bring to the boil, then time three minutes and forty seconds. Run the eggs under cold water, then peel.
8. Heat the oven to 220C. Halve the dough and push each half out into an oval about 1cm thick. Make long indentations across the dough with your fingers. Whisk 1tbsp extra flour with 1tbsp water. Brush the top of each naan with this and sprinkle the seeds on top. Slide onto a tray lined with alfoil that has been rubbed with a little bit of oil. Bake for ten minutes until golden. Keep an eye on them to ensure they're not browning too quickly. Store the naan under a clean tea towel until you're ready to eat them, otherwise they'll crisp up.
9. Serve the naan with warm kofta, fridge cold pickles, an egg and a spoon of yoghurt.