40 Foods at 40

Early this year, in the middle of a stingingly cold and choppy Atlantic Ocean, a toast was raised for me. I had turned 40. It’s a ‘big one’ they say, but honestly I don’t get hung up on age – one minute I can act like a stroppy teenager, the next have all the wisdom of Master Shifu.

But, I thought now would be a good time to explore some foods that have shaped me, that I love, have loved, and couldn’t live without.

So, in no particular order, may I present my top 40 food (I’ve kept it quite brief for all our sakes):

  1. Garmar
    I should start by saying, I haven’t had this in many, many years, and nor would I be able to now, because I know I KNOW it will get stuck in my teeth. This happens a lot recently with certain foods, why is this? Is this a thing, or just me? What’s going on? Garmar, the coleus root (or ‘those yellow sticks please mummy’ as I used to call them) is simply pickled in lemon juice, turmeric and salt. I could quite happily sit there with a jar in my lap, watching Tom and Jerry, scrunching my face at every sourly delicious bite because that’s normal five year old behaviour.
  2. Vegetable Spring Roll
    After waiting for what feels like a lifetime, you take a gamble. You know it will be too hot when you bite through the crisp pastry and into the filling that burns your mouth, only for a split second. But alas, it’s a chance you must take. That’s the story of me and every single spring roll to date.
  3. Maru Bhajiyas
    Kenyan. Style. Maru. Bhajiyas. (Insert Homer Simpson dribbling gif). The first time I went to Kenya was at six months old, and I’ve been going back to my second home ever since, to see my family….. and going to Slush cafe in Nairobi for Maru Bhajiyas. I have used my own recipe to create them, and they are the best thing in the world ever, and I’ll be taking no further questions at this time.
Maru Bhajiyas

4. Potato Waffles
Ok hear me out, judgey. Firstly, just put them in the toaster. Job done. But how I really enjoy a good waffle is this…wake up, pop the kettle on, toast waffle, toast two slices of white bread, put waffle between bread, add a drizzley squidge of Sriracha, and some grated mature Cheddar cheese. Press down. Devour. Drink tea in devouring intervals. You’re welcome.

5. Berenjenas con miel y Canela
Or aubergine crisps, with a sprinkle of salt and cayenne pepper, and a drizzle of cinnamon honey. Possibly the best way to eat aubergines? And because I needed to go slightly more high-brow after waffles.

Berenjenas con miel y Canela

6. Chevro
How do you describe chevro? Perhaps as the greatest gift given to humankind? Fried potato matchsticks, puffed rice flakes, fried mung beans, split chickpeas – it’s slightly sweet, salty, spicy, and always crunchy. This is the most addictive thing on my list. Whenever my mum or sister come back from Kenya, they kindly bring bags of the stuff back for me. Probably an illegal amount actually. Watch out for them on the next Border Force Security Airport programme.

7. Spaghetti
The favourite of all pastas. I remember my big sisters asking me how they were able to cook long spaghetti when the pan was small. It was magic, and it perplexed me for days, but they were toying with my emotions, until they eventually told me the ‘secret’. Well, it was quite underwhelming but at least I now knew, and was part of the ‘how to cook long spaghetti in a small pan’ society. I used to eat it (as my oldest friend reminds me) just plain with cheese which I blasted through the mircowave. Ahead of my time I wasn’t, but today I still prefer it simple, with good quality olive oil, garlic, chilli and toasted herby breadcrumbs. There’s something pure and emotional about it. Like when Lady and the Tramp accidentally (on purpose) kiss whilst slurping the same strand. It’s joy.

8. Parsnips
I don’t fully trust people who don’t like parsnips. They are one of the most inoffensive vegetables out there, so if you have an issue with parsnips, you have an issue with me. Apart from making soups, purees, roasted, crisped, the game changer (for anyone), is by the wonderful Sabrina Ghayhour, from her cookbook Bazaar, and flavoured with harissa, honey and orange.

Harissa Parsnips

9. Galaxy Chocolate
No messing around here. Nothing fancy, just a simple bar of chocolate that needs to be Galaxy. Oh and there needs to be wine too. It’s a thing.

10. Baked Okra
I grew up eating slimy okra shaak, and to be honest I quite liked it. I have since then discovered a new way of eating okra which I never knew existed. Slicing into thin strip, drizzle a little oil, add a ton of seasoning, spices and breadcrumbs, pop in the oven until crunchy, and come to mama. Even more excellent with a beer in hand.

11. Cheese Scone
After school, a little cheese scone would wait for me. I’d cut in half and microwave to an inch of its life, before piling on an obscene amount of butter. My favourite way of baking scones is firstly always savoury, secondly full of cheese (of course), and an added bonus of chillies, herbs and garlic. Making cheese scones are outrageously easy, get my recipe here.

Cheese Scone

12. Chana Masala
Little golden chickpea balls are transformed in a rich, spicy tomato sauce. I like to add a little cream at the end of cooking for mine.

Chana Masala

13. Mushroom and Chestnut Bourguignon
Imagine the scene…it’s dark and blowing a gale outdoors. You watch the leaves blustering past, as they and the rain tap at your window. But you’re inside, curled up on the sofa, wearing the biggest, fluffiest socks known to man, and hugging a glass of 2014 Chateau la Lagune. The warming smell drifting in from the kitchen is a winey, garlicky and herby sauce as you wait patiently for it to thicken. And that my friends, is a mushroom and chestnut bourguignon, which is served with a herby mash, when only cozy and comforting will do.

14. Curry Leaf
The smell of this herb is out of this world (no, it doesn’t smell like ‘curry’), it’s actually from the citrus family and when cooked in hot oil there’s a beautiful sweet, anisey, nuttiness. I did have a plant, but I killed it.

Curry Leaf

15. Matar Bhaat
I’m pretty sure every family that cooks matar bhaat has a different way of doing it, but at it’s core is a light, beautifully savoury and fragrant rice. The moment the cumin seeds hit the hot oil and the smell whacks you in the face. That.

Matar Bhaat

16. Popcorn
I’m a savoury popcornist all the way. Sweet varieties taste a bit cardboardy to me, which is an odd way of describing it, as I’m sure the last piece of cardboard I nibbled on was not sweet. Anyway, I used to pop my own popcorn but I can never get it as fluffy as pre-made, so now I just use shop bought salted popcorn, drizzle a little olive oil, add cayenne pepper and pop into the oven for 10 mins. That and a good movie or book is perfection.

17. Stuffed Paratha
Before I begin writing anything about this, just thinking about it, makes me want to close up my laptop and start making it straight away. Oh god, it’s good. Spiced mash potato rolled into roti dough and pan-fried. Carb on carb action at its best.

Stuffed Paratha

18. Sausage & Mash
That’s correct, it’s singular. Mainly because vegetarian sausages are ok, but that’s it and I find more than one a bit meh. So I happily pile up the mash, veg, and sometimes Yorkshire Pudding, and the all important veggie gravy.

Sausage & Mash

19. Pizza
WHO in their right mind doesn’t enjoy some form of pizza? Ok, there’s one guy I know who doesn’t because he ‘doesn’t like cheese’. Any cheese. And so that includes foods made with cheese. I don’t really talk to him anymore. I dream of going to Italy just to have a slice of classic Neapolitan perfection. In the meantime, you can’t beat homemade, with a little rosemary and dribble of chilli oil.

Homemade Pizza

Like in Eurovision… you’re halfway. Well done, keep going.

20. Chilli Paneer
All forms of chilli paneer are wonderful. My Indo-Chinese version is sticky, spicy, sweet, and embarrassingly easy. Fry paneer cubes and green peppers until the cheese is nicely golden. Add a squirt of Sriracha, some drops of soy sauce and a squidge of honey. Chuck some coriander on top, and ta-da. Bow. Exit stage.

21. Dauphinoise Potatoes
Or Dolphins as we lovingly call them at home. The creamy sauce garlic and a hint of nutmeg is to die for. I know it’s a side dish, but I have been known to eat this on it’s own, with just two rocket leaves on the side, you know for balance.

Dauphinoise Potatoes

22. Croissants
This is one thing I’m sure I wouldn’t be tempted to make. Not yet anyway. Maybe when I retire and have years to perfect, but for now, just looking at the recipes for this hurts brain. I’ve loved croissants all my life, my mum used to buy them for me as it was one of the few things I’d eat without drama. The best one I have had was from a bakery in Nairobi, my aunt used to buy them for me (for I imagine the same reason as my mother), it was huge and buttery and flaky, more than any other one I’d ever had, and I still think about them to this day.

23. Batata nu Shaak
No one can beat my mum’s version of this. I try and imitate it, and it’s good, but not good enough, and even my English school friends used to come to my house just for this, and playing with my Lego set came second. The Gujarati potato curry is so simple and light, and best enjoyed in my opinion, with fluffy puri.

Batata nu Shaak

24. Courgette Risotto
Restaurant risotto can be so hit and miss. The worst one I had was steeped with massive chunky veg, uncooked rice, and drenched in wine that had been added at the end. It still makes me cross thinking about it. Luckily, I can make myself a decent version after learning from (name-drop) Marco Pierre White. Whilst there’s different flavours you can use (ok, just one more risotto-gate that upsets me, is seeing mushroom risotto on a Christmas menu as the veggie option. Yes, this still happens. I love risotto, but please stop doing this, it’s lazy), where was I? Different flavours… yes I like grated courgette that runs delicately through the rice. Happy to say I have converted non-risotto people in loving it too.

25. Bhaji
Using a massive bag of spinach, wilting it down to a teaspoon worth, lots of garlic, a bit of turmeric and seasoning. Scooped up with a warm, buttery chapatti or roti.

26. Pasta Bake
This was one of the first non-Indian things I learnt to make to a T. With roasted veg, and rich tomato sauce, a béchamel sauce that sits just under the cheese, before popping into the oven to watch the cheese melt and bubble until golden and a little charred.

Pasta Bake

27. Mogo Chips
Mogo (or cassava) chips are jaw droppingly delicious. Roasted full of spices and heat, it hurts my mouth to eat it, but I still do because of its moorish nature. Go past the pain for all the pleasure.

28. Manchego and Honey
What a winning combo is this? I adore cheese and honey, but this is the best version I have found. The stunning nutty Spanish cheese paired with a drizzle of honey always tops my cheeseboard.

29. Garlic Confit
There is never a better use for the word melty as there is when there’s garlic confit involved. The first time I made this at home was perfect, since then I have made it several times, but often accidentally at a slightly higher heat, as I can’t bear the anticipation. Patience is a virtue which I don’t have when it comes to this. Oh but when it is right… spread it across toast, through mash potato, within a cheese toastie, literally anything can be made better by this.

Confit Garlic

30. Red Thai Curry
I remember the first time I tried this was at a swanky restaurant in London a million years ago, when Thai food wasn’t as common place as it is now here. The taste was like nothing I’d had before and I remember it vividly, the sweetness and the spice, and different complex flavours I’d never experienced, but yet it still tasted fresh too. Of course now, all the other wonderful Thai food is thankfully a lot more readily available, and remains one of my favourite cuisines.

31. Khichi
These little rice flour dumplings meant one thing when my mum cooked them…the start of summer. Khichi, we also used to call it paprinu lot, was the dough to make papper (or poppadoms). We’d set up a little factory in the kitchen, where mum would roll them out, and I’d take them one at a time balanced hanging on a rolling pin, outside where there’d be an old saris layed out across the whole garden weighted down with big rocks or a watering can, and I’d place them on the sari until it covered all of them, and they’d be left to dry. But the sticky little khichi dumplings can be eaten on their own too, just with a little oil poured on top.

32. Tomato Soup
I’m fairly particular about my soup… I don’t like chunks, needs to be smooth, and I don’t like tinned/packet soups either. Making my own tomato soup by roasting little toms, onions and red peppers in a roasting dish with garlic and herbs then blitzing everything together is so simple and satisfying.

Tomato Soup

33. Chocolate Chip Cake
In my first year of secondary school, in a Home Economics class I made my very first cake. A chocolate chip cake, that I proudly took home to my family. They all told me I was very clever, and I was encouraged there on in, to make it all the time. I also remember at the same time, my older cousin was studying at the London School of Economics and I presumed that meant he wanted to bake cakes for a living. I was eleven ok.

34. Full English
I have a small dream of running a B&B one day. I have watched pretty much every Four in a Bed episode, so therefore I feel like I’m fully equipped and qualified to do this. And of course, I’d be serving my Full-English breakfast, which I really enjoy cooking for other people. Mine would be veggie, but I’m comfortable in cooking meats too. And there’d be other breakfast choices as well, including vegan. Have I sold my non-existent B&B to you yet?

Full-English Breakfast

35. Crispy Noodles
Leafing through Kwoklyn Wan’s The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook, I realised how easy it was to crisp noodles. It take a little time, and not playing around with it, but the results are…crispy noodles! Sounds simple and it is. When piling on the stir-fry veg, alway leave a decent size edge, so that remains crispy. Oh and kids love this too.

Crispy Noodles and Stir-Fry Veg

36. Baked Camembert
I don’t really have to write anything here do I? You know, dear reader, why this is on my 40 list.

37. Crepes
This for me can only be eaten one way. And that’s a classic lemon and sugar crepe, I don’t need anything else, no jazz hands or fanfare. I started making these quite young from a Delia Smith cookbook. My favourite crepe eating moment (insert going back in time, movie haze) was 10 years ago when my husband took me to Paris for my 30th, and eating lemon and sugar crepes from a street vendor outside on a freezing January morning.

38. Focaccia
This was the first bread I ever made, and actually as I write this, it was the most recent one I made too. I gave in to internet peer-pressure and did a focaccia garden, and now walk around thinking I’m some sort of artistic genius. Anyway, stuffed focaccia is also delicious by the way.

39. Chilli and Lemon Crisps
Yep, it’s a thing. My grandfather passed this baton down to me and I have ran with it. Always Walkers Ready Salted crisps, a sprinkle of chilli powder or cayenne pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice over the top. This is the king of crisp snacks and I think you should try immediately.

40. Potato Pinwheels
Even though this list has been in no significant order, I needed to end on a potato something.
I often make these when people come over for drinks, because deliciously spiced potato wrapped in puff pastry with a G&T…. come on!

Potato Pinwheels

Well, congratulations you made it to the end. You deserve a drink (and pinwheel). I’d also like to add just one food that I don’t like, after all this love for my favourites. And that is…. Trifle. I mean, what is that about? In a recent official Twitter poll (by me) I am pleased to say 57% of you voted the same as me.

Is there anything from here that would make your list? I’d love to hear!

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Neha says:

    I love these! The rice.. we have it with cashews and it’s is sooo delicious. I never make it like many simple lush Gujarati curries (leave that for my mum). Also veg spring rolls- I haven’t had a good one in ages with split lentils and homemade sweet sour sauce

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sonia says:

      Oh yes my mum puts cashews in her rice too! I’m a bit weird about nuts, prefer eating them on their own. Same in chevro, I pick out the peanuts and cashews!


  2. bejalgosai says:

    I had to read this right away and being a fellow veggie I’m with you on all of these except the baked Camembert and choc chip cake.
    You put one of my absolute favourites Khichi on here, love it with lime pickle. Love your list of 40 foods at 40 and am now thinking I need some chevro with chai! B xx


    1. Sonia says:

      I haven’t had Khichi in ages! As soon as I can get my hands on rice flour I’ll make it! X


  3. Great post – so many of these things I have a sudden urge to cook!!


    1. Sonia says:

      That’s what I was like just writing it! Glad you enjoyed!


  4. I just ate breakfast but now I’m hungry again…


    1. Sonia says:

      Ha! Breakfast 2 sounds good!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Aaron Vallance says:

    What a brilliant list, Sonia! Really enjoyed reading through. I love the sound of “Galaxy and Wine”!. My equivalent is “Milk Chocolate Hobnobs with a shot of Whisky”!


    1. Sonia says:

      Hobnobs and whiskey?! 🤣
      It’s very early in the morning, but that’s made my day already!


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