The ash gourd (Benincasa hispidia) is called petha in Urdu and is also known in English as wax gourd, white gourd and Chinese preserving gourd. It is sometimes called the winter melon or white melon. It is native to tropical Asia and Africa, although it grows in other parts of the world including Polynesia.
   The ash gourd has been used since ancient times as a medical plant and a vegetable, although it is also the main ingredient of a sweet which we give the recipe for below.
   In traditional Asian medicine it has a number of uses and is good for diabetics as it is low in calories and a diuretic and detoxifier. The juice is the part primarily used in medicine and this has traditionally been taken from old ash gourds. If you grate the flesh of one of these gourds and collect the water that exudes from it, and then squeeze the flesh, you should add an equal amount of water and drink this on an empty stomach every morning three hours before you eat anything to get rid of peptic ulcers. The juice also gets rid of intestinal parasites and will increase tissue growth especially if you mix it with coconut milk. It’s good for the digestion too and cures constipation. If you mix the juice with a teaspoon of gooseberry juice or lime juice and take it in small sips rather than gulping down, it stops bleeding in the lungs and will stop blood being emitted in urine.
    The juice can also be an effective mouth wash, and gargle, helping to sooth mouth ulcers, gingivitis (bleeding gums) and will protect the teeth and gums from bacteria.
     In Ayurvedic medicine it is used to banish sleeplessness, to help with epilepsy, asthma and lung diseases, as well as a diuretic to prevent urine retention, and to stop internal haemorrhages. Apparently it is good for coughs, colds, sinusitis, and flu and it is not reported to have any side effects. It can help lower cholesterol levels and is effective in treating Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) or prostate enlargement. For this you should boil 50 gr of chopped seeds in 250 ml of water for 30 minutes, strain and drink 50 ml (small sips) three times a day for a week. The inflammation will be reduced in 2 days and should have disappeared after a week.
   It is rich in dietary fibre, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and contains magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6 and folate. It also contains the essential amino acids, tryptophan, lysine and methionine. It also contains fatty acids and traces of selenium. It has been found that the seed has anti-angiogenesis properties, which means that there is a substance in them which can stop the growth of tumours and the progression of cancers by limiting the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis).
  So the ash gourd is good for our health and tastes good too. It can be used in vegetable dishes, and in preserves and pickles. Below is a famous dessert recipe.

1 kg ash gourd, skin and seeds removed and flesh cut into cubes
750 gr sugar
1 tsp alum powder
1 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
1 stick of cinnamon
30 gr chopped pistachio nuts
30 gr desiccated coconut

Prick the cubes of the ash gourd flesh with a fork, put in a pan and cover with water (just).
Add the alum powder and boil for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and wash under running water.
Now put the cup of water in a pan with the sugar and heat until the sugar has dissolved; add the lemon juice and cardamoms.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the boiled ash gourd cubes. Cook until they are soft and the syrup hangs off a spoon leaving three strands when raised from the pan.
Remove from the heat, remove the petha and place them separately on a plate or tray so that they don’t stick together.
Allow to cool then sprinkle with the garnishes and serve.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Amino acids are molecules that can be synthesized by the body, but the protein needed to do so must come from our diets. The amino acids are the building blocks for all proteins and some are used by the body to manufacture hormones. There are many amino acids, but here we concentrate on the 8 essential amino acids we need in our diets. These 8 amino acids are necessary for normal growth of babies and infants, and adults need them because they maintain the correct level of nitrogen we need in our bodies.
Leucine: - This one can’t be synthesized by the body; it is obtained by hydrolysis of food protein during the digestion process.
Lysine: - This is found in dairy and meat products, wheat germ and brewer’s yeast and is used to treat cold sores, herpes simplex infections, Bell’s palsy, and rheumatoid arthritis. It cannot be taken during pregnancy or during the lactation period by breast-feeding mothers.
Methionine: - This is obtained from proteins and contains sulphur.
Phenylalanine: - This is converted by the body to tyrosine which is a protein building-block used to make melanin. Phenylalanine is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and used to treat sleep disorders, enhance cognitive functions and alleviate the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
   Melanin is the dark insoluble pigment which is present in our skin, hair, and the choroids layer of the eye and in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. It protects the skin from the harmful rays of the sun, and variations in skin colour are produced because of the levels of melanin present in our bodies. (If we live in hot countries there will be more melanin in our bodies.)
Threonine: - This is naturally present in our bodies and is derived from hydrolysis of protein.
Tryptophan: - This is used in the treatment of insomnia, depression, behavioural disorders, stress and PMT (PMS). Serotonin is formed from tryptophan and this occurs in the body’s tissues especially in the brain, blood serum and gastric mucous membrane. It is active in the stimulation of the smooth muscles, transmission of impulses between nerve cells and regulation of cyclic body processes (e.g. menstruation).
  If the levels of serotonin in the body are low, you may suffer from mood disorders, especially depression, as serotonin reduces irritability and depression as well as blood pressure and it also inhibits gastric secretion, thus keeping the digestive process functioning normally.
Valine: - this is another essential amino acid which is necessary for normal growth in babies and infants and which helps maintain the nitrogen balance in adults’ bodies.


The custard apple is native to the Amazon rainforest, and was taken from the South American continent to other tropical parts of the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. It now grows in many countries including the Indian subcontinent, Spain and Taiwan. In southern Spain there is a custard apple festival during the 11th – 14th October in Almunecar in Granada and in Madeira the custard apple festival is held in Faial as part of the regional Folklore Festival.
   When I first saw a shareefa, I thought it was a variety of small pineapple because of its shape and outer skin, but inside were seeds surrounded by soft flesh, which is sweet and nothing like the taste of a pineapple.
   This fruit is relatively expensive in Pakistan, fitting perhaps for a fruit that was mainly eaten at the courts of the Moghul Emperors because it was too expensive for ordinary people to afford. The very wealthy are the ashrafiya (the superior ones) and it is from this word that the shareefa gets its Urdu name. Today people seem to prefer to eat amrood (guava) which tastes a little like the custard apple.
   The custard apple not only tastes good but has many health benefits and uses, although the seeds are toxic and should not be eaten. The roots and seeds have abortifacient properties, so the fruit should only be consumed in moderation during pregnancy to be on the safe side. A paste of the powdered seeds is applied to the scalp to get rid of headlice, but is not a recommended treatment as it will irritate the eyes a lot if it gets into them and can cause blindness. In Mexico the leaves are strewn on the floors of chicken coops to repel lice and other insects. An extract of the dried leaves has proven to be an effective insecticide and a natural way of inhibiting the breeding of the dengue carrying mosquito in the Indian subcontinent.
   Lac-excreting insects live on the bark of the tree as they do on the banyan tree so it plays host to these and gives us even more financial benefits. Fibre from the bark can be used to make ropes, and if diarrhoea occurs then a tonic made from it is given. If the diarrhoea is chronic or someone has dysentery, the bark, leaves and unripe fruit can be boiled together in a litre of water for 5 minutes to make an effective remedy. 
   On its own, the root bark is used to stop toothache, and is said to be an abortifacient too.
   The leaves can be crushed and made into a paste to be applied to ulcers, boils or abscesses on the skin and the crushed leaves will heal wounds. A decoction made from the leaves is said to be effective in removing intestinal parasites. In India the crushed leaves are sniffed if someone has a fainting spell or becomes hysterical, in much the same way that smelling salts were used in Britain in the 18th century. If a decoction of the leaves is added to bathwater it is said to alleviate the pains associated with rheumatism.
   The fruit contains a little carotene, a lot of calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid as well as the amino acids, tryphopan, methionine and lysine. It is good for people who are recovering from an illness, and satisfies hunger too, so is a good dessert if you still feel hungry after a meal! It aids digestion too, and is sieved and made into ice cream in Malaysia. It is naturally cooling and will relieve any burning sensation in your body. Medicinally the fruit is used to stop a bout of vomiting and to cure diarrhoea. It is believed that if you leave a shareefa outside at night so that the dew falls on it and then eat it in the morning, it will cure inflammation even better than if you just ate the fruit. However, that seems strange, as you’d have to suffer the discomfort all night. Be that as it may, the fruit is also used as an expectorant, stimulant, and for anaemia.
  If you’ve never tasted it, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s delicious. You can grow your own custard apple tree indoors, although they grow from 3 metres to 8 metres high.

Rhubarb and Custard Apple Compote
2 custard apples cut in half, seeds removed and flesh reserved only
1 bunch red rhubarb, cut into cubes
1 stick cinnamon
2 tsps soft brown sugar or misri
the juice of half an orange

Stew the rhubarb with the sugar, orange juice, cloves and cinnamon. (Approx.20 mins)
Allow to cool and add the flesh of the custard apples.
Mix together and serve as a dessert, topped with vanilla ice cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


8 medium-sized karella(bitter gourd)
2 tbsp salt
½ kilo minced/ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger root, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ajwain or thyme
1 tbsp ground pomegranate seeds (anar dana)
salt to taste
oil for frying

Remove the knobbly skin from the karella with a knife, leaving smooth skin on the karella.
Cut the karella (not all the way through) in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a teaspoon.
Rub the salt into the inside and onto the outside of the karella and leave for ½ an hour to remove the bitter juices. Then rinse off the salt under running water. When you have done this squeeze the karella to remove excess water.
Put the meat, with all the other ingredients apart from the karella and oil into a pan with a glass of water, and cook this, stirring well, until the mixture is dry.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Put the meat mixture in the karella and sew up the slits so that the mixture doesn’t fall out.
Now heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the karella for 15 minutes on a medium heat, until they become brown all over.
Remove from the heat and serve.
They can also be eaten cold.
These have Taste and are a Treat.


½ kilo minced/ground beef
100 gr yellow dhal (chana dhal)
1 onion very finely chopped
1 tomato, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of root ginger, finely chopped
6 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry fried then ground
1 tbsp coriander seeds, dry fried and ground
1 tsp ajwain or thyme
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
salt to taste
oil for frying

First cook the dhal in boiling water until it becomes soft.
Meanwhile, put the minced meat and all the other ingredients except for the eggs and oil in a pan with a glass of water. Cook over a medium heat, stirring well, until the meat is thoroughly cooked, and the water has evaporated.
Drain the dhal thoroughly then mix it with the meat mixture and either pound well with the other ingredients or mix in a food processor. Mix an egg into the mixture and knead well.
Now take a handful of the mixture and press into a flat round with your hands. Repeat until you have used up all the mixture.
Heat enough oil in a pan to shallow fry the kebabs, or add oil as you finish each batch of kebabs, as you can only fry 3 or 4 at a time.
Beat the other egg in a small bowl and dip each kebab into it.
Put the kebabs in the oil and fry on each side for 2 mins on each side (or until they are brown). You can fry them without dipping them into the beaten egg if you like.
These can be cooked and kept in the fridge if you don’t want to eat them all at once. You can eat them in a sandwich, bun, or pitta bread with raita.



Morels are one of the most highly prized mushrooms in the culinary world, and can command anything between $10 and $20 for only one ounce; if you can find them that is. Most people go foraging for their own morels, but in some parts of the world where people have found that collecting morels is a lucrative business, their numbers are depleting. In Pakistan and Britain morels or Gucchi as they are called in Urdu are not rare, but in Montenegro they are on the red data list for flora and are becoming rare in other countries too. In Pakistan morels are found in Swat and Kaghan and are exported to Europe. Morels are easy to spot because they have a sponge-like cap which grows upright.
   It seems that mushrooms in general are not much used in cooking in Pakistan or not where we are at least. I have found it difficult to track them down. As with other mushrooms morels are good for your health. However you shouldn’t eat morels raw as they can cause a stomach upset; neither should you attempt to eat old ones that are showing signs of decay as these are poisonous.  
   Morels are good dried as the flavour becomes more concentrated and you can do this by threading string through the caps and hanging them up to dry in the sun.
    Like other edible mushrooms they contain the B complex vitamins, vitamin D and essential amino acids, but the morel mushrooms have an uncommon amino acid in them cis-3-amino-l-proline. The polysaccharides they contain have several medical properties including antiviral, immunoregulatory, anti-tumour growth effects and they give you more resistance to fatigue. Extracts from the polysaccharides have antioxidant effects and these morels can help prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer as well as having numerous other benefits. They are rich in the minerals potassium, zinc and iron and contain relatively high proportions of selenium which prevents free radical formations. These mushrooms potentially lower the risks of breast and prostate cancer too, in the same way that pumpkin seeds do.
   When Linnaeus the Swedish botanist first named morels in 1753 he called them Phallus esculenta as he may have believed that they were a stinkhorn mushroom. However they are in no way related, so the botanical name was later changed. It could be of course that Linnaeus was struck by the phallic shape of this mushroom. Thomas Middleton may have had this morel in mind too rather than the common mushroom when in his play “Hengist, King of Kent” he gives us the line “Thou mushrump, that shott up in one night with lyeing with thy Mistress.” He was a Jacobean playwright and both they and the Elizabethans loved a good phallic pun.
   One of my favourite ways of cooking morels is to wash and slice them and fry in olive oil and butter and then eat them on toast for breakfast.

250 gr morels
120 gr minced lamb or beef or cooked leftover meat
1 small onion thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
2 tsp ajwain or fresh thyme finely chopped
butter and olive oil for frying
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the stalks from the morels, and chop these, leaving the cap whole.
Melt the butter and add the oil and fry the onion, garlic, and morel stalks. When the onion is about to turn golden, add the minced meat, nutmeg and thyme or ajwain and fry until it is cooked, stirring well. (If you are using cooked leftover minced meat, there is no need to cook it, and you should stop cooking at this point, and mix the meat with the onions etc.)
Remove the meat mixture from the heat, allow it to cool a little and then stuff the morel caps with it.
Preheat the oven to a moderate heat and place the morels on a baking tray.
Put the stock in a pan and bring to the boil, then pour over the morels. Cover them with foil and cook for 20-30 mins.
Allow to settle for 5 minutes and then remove the foil and serve.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Mushrooms or khombi as they are called in Urdu grow all over the world. They have been eaten by people since prehistoric times and there are many varieties. Some are rare in some parts of the world but grow abundantly in others, but a lot of people are wary of picking wild mushrooms because they could easily be confused with the poisonous type of fungi commonly called toadstools in English. The two most widely eaten types are the morel mushrooms, of which the genus Morochello esculenta (Gucchi in Urdu) is perhaps the best known and most highly sought-after, and the common mushroom, Agarius bisporus. Because of urbanization and deforestation some mushrooms are now rare in Pakistan but 56 edible varieties grow here, including the two already mentioned. They grow in the province of Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, Azad Kashmir and the Swat Valley and the Murree Hills.
   Mushrooms have a long history of usage in Chinese traditional medicine and are renowned for providing longevity and good health. They have a high protein content and are the only non-animal food that contains vitamin D. This is good for decreasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and colorectal cancer. The skin of a mushroom cap also contains vitamin B12 which is more commonly found in beef liver and fish. They contain the B complex vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin etc) and are an excellent source of dietary fibre. They also contain all the essential amino acids and are rich in the minerals iron, copper, zinc, calcium and potassium as well as containing folic acid and pantothenic acid (B5). The Chinese believe that they make good expectorants and are good for anaemia. They help to lower the cholesterol in the blood and so reduce blood pressure. They have a higher protein content than dates, potatoes and carrots and are a possible source of anti-cancer agents. In fact their protein value is double that of asparagus and cabbage, 4 times that of carrots and tomatoes and 6 times that of oranges.
 Mushrooms used to called mushrumps and they certainly had a bad press. The favourites of the Royal court in the 16th century were known as mushrumps because they sprang up overnight from a bed of excrement. (In autumn in rural Wales people hunt for mushrooms in fields where horses graze.) In his play “Edward II” Christopher Marlowe (the Elizabethan dramatist who was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s) describes the king’s favourite as a “night-gown mushrump” and Shakespeare refers to them in Prospero’s speech in “The Tempest” in Act 4 scene 2
    Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
    Ye demi-puppets….
              …   and you whose pastime
    Is to make midnight-mushrumps that rejoice
    To hear the solemn Curfew.”
 (This is the speech in which Prospero “abjures” his “rough Magicke”.)
   In Jacobean times Thomas Middleton also refers to mushrumps in his now almost forgotten play, “Hengist, King of Kent”:- “thou mushrump, that shott up in one night with lyeing with thy Mistress.”
    Mushrooms grew in the dark and so were thought to be evil, although people still enjoyed eating them if they could find edible ones.
   Mushrooms are good fried in butter or olive oil and used in pasta sauces or white sauces with chicken. They can be used in vegetable dishes or with any meat. They can be stuffed and grilled and are a very versatile addition to almost any savoury dish.

 4 sirloin or rump steaks
300 gr mushrooms, washed and thinly sliced
1 large onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, torn
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig rosemary
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
½ wine glass of Madeira (brandy will do)
small pot of double cream or thick natural yoghurt

Crush the black peppercorns and rub them into the steak. Leave them to stand for at least ½ an hour.
Meanwhile fry the onion, garlic and in the butter and oil. When the onion is about to turn brown add the mushrooms and stir well until they change colour.
Grill the steaks (the length of time will depend on how you like them).
Add the rest of the ingredients except the cream or yoghurt. Stir well and add salt to taste. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the cream and mix well. Simmer for a few minutes.
Pour over the steaks and serve.
This has taste and is a Treat.


by Kurt Stuebar
Houseleeks Latin name means always alive on the roof, reflecting where this plant could mainly be found in the past. It can still be found on roofs of cottagers in rural Mid and South West Wales in the UK. If the Welsh have a houseleek on their roof, they will want to keep it there as it is believed that if it is removed or picked by a stranger, bad luck and perhaps the death of one of the family will ensue. The houseleek protects the house from fire and lightning and keeps the household members safe and prosperous. It is also believed that it protects the household against witchcraft. If the plant has to be moved, it will be safely transplanted to a rockery (these plants don’t need much soil and can withstand drought) and used for stings, as it has superb anti-inflammatory properties and relieves the pain of insect bites and stings virtually immediately. You might think it strange that it can grow on roofs, but in Wales people in remote rural areas have roof gardens. From the road you can’t tell that there is a house under the garden where typically daffodils, but not leeks (the vegetables) grow.
   The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 AD) ordered all his subjects to grow houseleeks on their roofs, presumably to offer protection against lightning as it was believed in ancient times (pre-Charlemagne) that the houseleek was connected with Jupiter (the Thunderer) and with Thor, the Norse god of Thunder. Some of the names the houseleek has been known by are Jupiter’s beard (because the huge numbers of flowers were supposed to resemble Jupiter’s beard) Jupiter’s Eye, Bullock’s Eye, and in Anglo-Saxon, Sengreen, Ayran and Ayegreen (meaning evergreen). In German it is called Donnersoart (Thunder beard).
  The houseleek is native to Central and Southern Europe and the Greek islands, and is known as the common leek. There are several other varieties of houseleek, one of which is known as Stonecrop. One variety is native to Western Asia. It is believed to have been introduced into Britain by the Romans, like the wild rose or dog rose as it is called. The flowers have no perfume, but bees and butterflies love them.
   The botanist Linnaeus mentions that in the 17th century the Swedes used to grow it on their roofs because it helped preserve the thatching materials used.
   The word leek comes from the Anglo-Saxon word leac which means plant, so the name means house plant, and it was one literally in Roman households as they used to grow houseleeks in vases near their windows. Dioscorides says that the houseleek should be used for weak eyesight and inflamed eyes. The juice from the plant would be used to soothe the eyes. Pliny believed that the juice if taken internally would cure insomnia.
by Aldo de Bastiano
   The juice and leaves have been used in folk remedies for centuries, for their coolant, anti-inflammatory, astringent and diuretic properties. Bruised leaves of the fresh plant or the juice from the plant can be used as poultices for burns, scalds, ulcers and any inflammation as the pain is quickly reduced. Honey mixed with the juice helps relieve the pain of mouth ulcers. The juice can be used as a purgative if taken in large doses. According to Parkinson it takes corns from the toes if feet are bathed in the juice and then the toes wrapped in the houseleek’s leaves. He also said the juice could remove warts. Culpeper thought that it was good for all inflammatory problems and that if the juice was made into a hot drink with honey, it would bring down the temperature of a fever sufferer. He went on to say that if a drop or two of juice were put into ears, it would cure earache. He also used it to treat ringworm and apparently it is also good for impetigo and ringworm according to modern medical research. He also claimed that it “easeth the pain of the gout”. Another of Culpeper’s remedies was to apply the juice to the forehead or temples for relief of headaches. He also recommended that the bruised leaves should be put on the “crown or seam of the head” to stop a nose bleed. Gerard merely agreed with Culpeper and Parkinson.
by Leo Michels
   The houseleek was once used in Italy as a love charm. However, that use for it has fallen out of fashion.
   Modern medical research has shown that the houseleek contains carbohydrates, isocitric acid, citric acid, malic acid, malonic acid, free amino acids (asparagines), phenol carbonic acid, flavonoids and mucilage. The flavonoids it contains contribute to its anti-inflammatory properties. So once again, modern scientists can confirm what the ancients and rustics have known for centuries.


Leeks are believed to be native to Central Asia, and have been cultivated there and in Europe for millennia. The Romans have been credited with taking them to Britain, but they might have arrived there earlier than 55 BC via the Mediterranean and Phoenician traders who would have taken them to Greece and Rome.
   Both the Greeks and the Romans used them when they had sore throats and they were believed to be beneficial to the voice even if you didn’t have a sore throat. Aristotle believed that the partridge (a common bird in Greece) had a sweet singing voice because it fed on leeks. The Emperor Nero is reputed to have had a daily diet of leeks in order to have a strong singing voice. He was nicknamed porophagus, or leek-eater. Wales, known as “The Land of Song” may owe some of its reputation for raising singers to the leek, which is a national symbol of Wales along with the daffodil, which is called cenhinen Bedr or Peter’s leek in Welsh.
   The ancient people of Wales were pagans and knew a thing or two about the healing power of plants. By the time of the patron Saint of Wales, Dewi Sant or Saint David, the Druidic lore might have been waning, but the saint ordered the Welsh soldiers to wear leeks in their helmets in the battle against the Saxons invaders so that they didn’t kill soldiers on their own side.  This must have been before his death in AD 589.The leek was used as a medicine as well as for food, and was particularly esteemed for its efficacy against the common cold and for its ability to assist in childbirth. It was believed to ward off evil and to protect against being wounded in battle and the danger of being struck by lightning. It was also used to foretell the future, and one of the fortune-telling tricks was for young girls to sleep with a leek under their pillows so that they would dream of the man who would be their future husband. In the 14th century the feared Welsh archers wore the leek colours of green and white, perhaps in the Battle of Crecy.
   Shakespeare has Henry V in the play of the same name tell the Welshman, Fluellen “for I am Welsh you know.” Nowadays you can see leeks still being worn in Wales on Saint David’s day on the 1st of March, along with daffodils. (At least you can eat the leek if you feel hungry.) They are also worn on the days of international rugby matches in the capital city of Wales, Cardiff. The Tudor kings who came to power in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth had Welsh roots (so King Henry VIII was part Welsh) and the these kings recorded payments to their Welsh household guards for the leeks they sported on Saint David’s Day. Today the leek on the reverse side of the one pound British coin represents Wales.
   Leeks are closely related to onions and garlic but have a milder taste. They are good used in soups and the Welsh cawl is a soup with leeks as one of the main ingredients. They can be steamed, boiled or braised, and roasted with meat or chicken. However you need to clean leeks thoroughly and to do this you should make a slit in one side of the trimmed leek, and cut off the root, then clean the dirt and grit from the insides by placing the cut under running water, and letting it flow through the leek. You can eat the entire leek but the green leafy tops are usually just used for making a vegetable stock. You can also sauté sliced leeks with fennel in olive oil and garnish with fresh thyme and lemon. They can also be finely chopped and used in salads.
   Leeks are also good for our health and apart from helping get rid of a cold quickly and preventing them, the flavonoid, kaempferol present in leeks has been found to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer as well as protecting blood vessels from damage. It might also help the body produce Nitric Oxide (NO) which is a naturally occurring gas that helps dilate the blood vessels and decrease production of asymmetric dimethylaginine (ADMA) which inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce NO.
   Leeks also contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids which we need and it has vitamin B6 (folate) throughout although there is more in the bulb than in the upper leaves. This helps reduce the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases. The antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin (beta-carotenoids) reduce the free radicals that attack the cells and cause skin aging and other health problems. It is possible that leeks can help in atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. It is high in vitamin C and potassium and also contains the minerals zinc, copper, phosphorous,  iron, manganese,vitamins A and K and traces of selenium. The zinc and potassium content means that it will have a positive influence on our sexual health, and the leek can certainly boost our immune system.

500 gr leeks, green leafy parts discarded or used for stock, thickly sliced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 wineglass white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme, crushed
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
½ bunch of parsley finely chopped
3-4 cups milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes and leeks in the chicken stock for 20 mins and then add the white wine, parsley, thyme and nutmeg. Cook for a further 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend, with the milk.
Return to a low heat and bring to the boil slowly.
Serve with fresh crusty bread.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Parsnips are native to Europe and western Asia, and in Pakistan are known as wild carrots (jungli gager or safed gager) and not generally eaten as a vegetable, although they are used in medicine. The parsnip looks like a long, thick carrot with an ivory coloured skin. It has been cultivated by the Germans for more than 2000 years, along the banks of the Rhine. Pliny tells us that the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, so loved parsnips that had them transported from along the banks of the Rhine every year when they were harvested. The ancient Germans worked out how to grow parsnips with thicker roots than the wild variety. However Pliny also says that they had to be transplanted or grown from seeds but the pungent taste could not be got rid of. They were a luxury item in Rome, at least the ones cultivated along the Rhine were. The Romans used them in sweet dishes with fruit as they have a naturally sweet, nutty taste.
  They were very popular in the Middle Ages as they are a winter crop and even in 1730, Tournefort wrote in his “The Compleat Herbal” that “they are not so good in any respect till they have been first nipt with Cold.” There is still a belief that parsnips are best after they have had to deal with a frost, and this is because some of the starch turns to sugar, so enhancing their sweet taste. He continued “It is likewise fairly common of late to eat them with salt-fish mixed with hard-boiled eggs and butter…and much the wholesomer if you eat it with mustard.”
   Gerard writing in 1597 believed that they “nourish more than do the Turneps or the Carrots…bread made from the roots of parsnips” was good he thought.
    Culpeper also seemed to think a lot of parsnips and agreed with the Romans and Greeks that they are a good diuretic. He says that the root is good for the stomach and kidneys “and provoketh urine.” He also says that the seeds were used in medicine (they contain essential oil) “much more (than the root), the wild being better than the tame.”
   Parsnip seeds used to be harvested and sold by herbalists, as the oil obtained from them was supposed to be good for intermittent fevers. It was also used to get rid of gravel in the kidneys and gall bladder and in the treatment of jaundice.
   In Ireland parsnips were brewed with hops and then fermented to make beer. In Britain parsnip wine was made and much enjoyed in rural communities.
    The colonists took parsnips to the States in 1609, where they have not been as popular for some reason as the carrot, or as popular as they are in Europe. The parsnip has even come into the language with the old saying, “Fine words butter no parsnips.” This means that you have to act not just talk, or put your money where your mouth is – actions speak louder than words.
   They were even more popular in Europe than they are now, before the arrival of the potato, but they are still a British favourite, and were a staple during the Second World War (1939-1945).
   Nutritionally the parsnip is superior to the potato containing as it does vitamins C, E, K and B6. It also contains Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, along with high quantities of potassium, which is an energy booster and good for the immune system. Parsnips also contain calcium and iron, so they are good for the bones and blood, and niacin which helps the digestive system nerves and skin. Folate helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and the high fibre content means that parsnips are good for constipation. They also contain the minerals phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, zinc (good for male sexual health), traces of selenium and copper. Like turnips and swede they are very good for you.
  It is said that if you dream about parsnips you will be lucky in business matters, but not in affairs of the heart.
  So don’t dream about them, eat them. If you boil them you need only do this for 15 minutes, so add them to soups and stews at the end of the cooking time. They are very good cut in half or quarters and roasted with a joint of meat, chicken or turkey.

500 gr boiled potatoes
300 gr carrots boiled or steamed
300 gr boiled parsnips
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Mash all the ingredients together and serve hot.
If you have some left over you can fry it in oil for breakfast next day.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


amber stone
There are three main types of amber, the fossilized resin that is made into jewellery, ambergris, a product of the sperm whale and liquid amber which is a sap which comes from trees of various species and which is also known as storax.
  All have been used in traditional medicines for centuries, and it is confusing to decipher which is meant in some of the texts devoted to “amber” and “amber products.”
   The most common amber is fossilized resin from a long extinct tree which might have been a pine or an araucaria (the Monkey Puzzle Tree belongs to this family).Often this fossilized resin has insects or bits or tree or other organic matter trapped inside it and these have excited paleontologists as they give them an sight into what the fauna and flora were like in prehistory. (Remember the film “Jurassic Park”?)
   These stones washed up on ancient beaches along with ambergris, and they looked similar so it is understandable that the ancients were confused regarding their genesis. Ambergris is not used now as the sperm whale is an endangered species. However ambergris came to refer to the stone as well as the product of the sperm whale.
amber resin
   Amber, the stone, was regarded as having good luck properties and used to make amulets which could ward off the evil eye. It has been discovered that the succinic acid derived from amber has a positive effect on the human body and has bacterial agents, which may explain why cigarette holders and mouth-pieces for pipes were made from it. It helps boost feelings of well being and promotes a general feeling of good health. Amber can be burned and may be used as incense, although the storax resin would more commonly be found in “amber” products.
   Ambergris is also reputed as having magical qualities and was used in medicines until the sperm whale was endangered and hunting of it was banned. It could also be burned and gave off a wonderful fragrance.
    Liquid amber comes from the Liquidambar trees, and storax is the product of the tree that commonly grows in Turkey, where it is a native species. This is the Liquidambar orientalis tree. Storax resin is produced by these trees in response to the bark being damaged, in much the same way as oud oil is produced. Storax is also a product of the American Sweetgum tree or Liquidambar styraciflua. This has been used in cough medicines and in a syrup for dysentery and diarrhoea. Storax when it first comes from the tree contains free cinnamic acids which are often extracted for use in the perfume industry. If mixed with olive oil storax can help cure ringworm, scabies and other skin diseases. It has been used as a substitute for copaiba (from South America) for treatment of some STDs, such as gonorrhea.
amber resin
   In China and other parts of Asia an aromatic resin is produced from the Liquidambar formosana trees, and this is used as incense and traditional medicine. These trees grow in the wild rather than in plantations, so it is difficult for tappers to harvest the resin from these trees, perhaps in future they will be grown in plantations if the West increases its demand for liquid amber as the resin is known. The resin and oil is highly sought-after and this is reflected in its price. Like oud oil it is more expensive than gold currently.
   The leaves of this tree have been fed to silkworms in China rather than those of the white mulberry tree, and the Chinese use the liquid balsam or resin for infections of the bladder, kidney diseases and fevers.
   It isn’t much used in the West because of the difficulties of harvesting the resin; most of it stays in Asia and the Middle East.


½ kg ground/minced meat
½ cup natural yoghurt
½ cup oil
125 gr onions chopped, fried and pounded
2 tbsps garam masala
1 tsp ginger root paste
1 tbsp crushed papaya
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp cumin seeds
salt to taste

Put all the ingredients except the yoghurt and oil and pound it together, then mix well. Now add the yoghurt and mix in well with the meat mixture.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Spread the oil evenly over a baking tray, and make 12 round flat kebabs (like beef burgers or make into meatballs).
Put the tray in the oven and bake for half an hour.
Serve with garlic bread or French fries.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


oud resin
The tree from which oud comes is known by many names including: - Eagleswood, Aloeswood, Agarwood and Kiara. Its name is oud in Arabic and Urdu, but should not be confused with the stringed instrument rather like an old fashioned lute which has the same name. In Hindi it is known as agar, not to be confused with the seaweed used for a gel instead of gelatine, which we in the West call agar agar. Oud oil is the most expensive oil in the world, and has been for millennia. It is the aloeswood of the Bible, and is little known in the West. The markets for it continue to be in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Japan where it is used in religious and cultural ceremonies as well as in traditional medicine.
   The agarwood trees originate in Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia including Papua New Guinea.
tree infected by fungus
   It is mentioned in the Sanskrit Veda texts and in the chronicle written in the 3rd century AD by Wa Zhen, “Nan zhou yi wu shi” (“Strange Things from the South”). It is found in the Far East and Asia and is the most luxurious perfume base that money can buy. It takes around 300 years to form, and trade routes for this and other perfumes and incense such as frankincense and myrrh were well-established by 1500 BC.
   In the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent there is a legend which says that oud came from Paradise with Adam. He covered himself with the leaves from the agarwood to shield his nakedness and when he fell from paradise, the leaves were scattered by the wind and fell over Asia and Indian subcontinent where have grown ever since.
 Ibn Sina or Avicenna as he is known in the West improved the distillation process for making Attar of roses and this helped the production of oud oil too. Today oud oil costs more than $27,000 a pound weight, and the agarwood for making incense or incense burners costs $13,000 a kilo for top quality wood. An ounce of standard quality oud oil goes for somewhere around $1000-$1400 US. A miniscule amount of the oil will release its fragrance for 8 hours.
   The oil is reminiscent of amber oil and in her book, “The Complete Incense Book”, Susanne Fischer-Rice describes the perfume in this way: “Agarwood has balsamic ambergris, woody, deep fragrance. To experience the many nuances of this unique substance is like a journey on the road to spiritual perfection”. So it will come as no surprise to you that it is used by Buddhists to prepare for meditation. The oil and incense produced from the wood has also been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries.
   Unfortunately, naturally enough the agarwood tree is endangered because of the value of the oil. Poachers deplete the stocks of agarwood trees and they are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora CITES). The Aquilaria malaccensis was put on the list in 1995 and all the other species of Aquilaria were added in 2004.
germinating saplings
   Oud oil is produced in trees which have been infected by a fungus, and is the trees’ response to the fungal attack. In cultivated trees they can be infected through injections by the fungus which speeds up the process of producing the oud oil which has taken 300 years. Because of the endangerment of these trees scientists from around the world have come up with ways of replenishing the world’s stocks. In Thailand people are being encouraged to plant the trees in their gardens and nurseries have produced millions of saplings of agarwood trees to prevent their extinction. They are now grown in plantations which use sustainable methods to extract the oil. In Vietnam there are also programmes to assist the growth of these trees.
   In India, Pakistan and Thailand the agarwood trees still exist in the wild, but they are in inaccessible forests which are dangerous for poachers and traders alike. Growing the trees in plantations and using sustainable methods to extract the oil will help the wild trees’ survival, and hopefully they will not go the way of the long extinct Pinus succinifera from which we get amber.
   Oud oil is used in traditional medicine for a number of purposes, including to help in childbirth. Breathing the smoke from the burning wood will help with respiratory problems, colds, coughs and asthma. The oil has been used to help sufferers of rheumatism, as a stimulant and a tonic combined with other ingredients. It helps lift the spirit and boosts energy levels. However it is so expensive that the price prohibits the treatments. It is used in mosques, sometimes they have the wood as a burner for other incense, and sometimes they burn the wood chips as incense, along with amber and frankincense.


1 kg minced meat without fat
½ cup oil
2 large onions, sliced and fried
2 tsps desiccated coconut
1 tsp fennel seeds (dry fried and ground)
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp cumin seeds (dry fried and ground)
½ cup fresh papaya pound it with its skin
1 cup chickpea flour (fried in 1 tbsp oil)
½ cup natural yoghurt
4 tbsps ginger root paste (pound or blend it)
3 tbsps garlic paste (pounded or blended)
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsps coriander seeds, dry fried and crushed
Green chillies
Fresh coriander leaves
Mint leaves

Put the minced meat in a large bowl and mix the salt and papaya in it. Cover and leave in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.
Next day: -
Mix all the spices in the yoghurt. Then mix the fried onion slices in the chickpea flour and stir these into the yoghurt mixture mixing all well.
In a large non-stick pan heat the oil and add the minced meat and papaya mixture. Fry well Add ½ a glass of water, stir and cover the pan and cook over a low heat for ½ and hour. Don’t stir it so that the meat will form into tiny lumps.
Remove from the heat and garnish with any or all of the suggested garnishes.
Serve with rice or chapattis or bread of your choice.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Sumac grows wild in many parts of the world and has different botanical names depending on the species. Rhus coriana is native to Sicily, Southern Italy and parts of the Middle East, notably Iran, and can also be found in Greece. It has been cultivated for centuries for its bitter astringent taste and has been employed in the tanning industry.
   The name sumac comes from the Aramaic word “summaq” meaning dark red, the colour of the crushed berries. In Greek it is called summaki, and is added to hummus. The colour of crushed sumac is rather similar to that of saffron, and should not be confused with it.
  Sumac berries grow in clusters on bushes and can be used fresh or dried. They are used extensively in Arabic cuisine instead of lemon juice and can often be found in shakers to be sprinkled on yoghurt for kebabs and to flavour rice. It can also be used in salads or cooked with meat in sauces, as Dioscorides recommended in the 1st century AD. He used it as medicine to treat bowel problems and as a diuretic. In 1597 Gerard the herbalist wrote of it; - “The seed of Sumach eaten in sauces with meat, stoppeth all manner of fluxes in the belly…” and it is still used in traditional medicine to cure such problems, including flatulence.
   There are several sumacs which are native to North America including poison ivy, Rhus toxicodendron which should be avoided as it causes a painful skin rash. Others are Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina and Rhus aromatica. Native Americans used the berries, dried as food for the winter months and also used the leaves, bark, milky sap and roots in medicine. Not only does it act as a diuretic, but it has antibacterial properties so is good for getting rid of yeast infections such as candida (thrush). It can also help to dry out the sinuses if you have a cold, and improve the circulation of the blood as it has antioxidant properties. This means that it can protect from cardiovascular diseases.
   In ancient Rome and in Italy today, the berries are boiled in water, drained and then pressed to extract the essential oils. These are then mixed with oil or vinegar and stored to be used over salads.
   In traditional medicine sumac has been used to cure nervous tension, tension headaches, and mental fatigue.
  You can find sumac and thyme in labni, a cheese made in the Middle East from yoghurt.
A word of warning: - if you are allergic to mangoes, cashews, or pistachios avoid eating sumac. If you are not sure test it by putting a little of the drink below onto your skin. If a rash doesn’t develop within 15 minutes, you should have no problems.

10 clusters of sumac berries
1 pint of boiling water
honey to taste

Pour the boiling water over the berries and let them stand for 15 minutes. Squeeze the berries to extract all the juice and strain. Sweeten with honey to taste.
For a drink containing less tannin, soak the berries in cold water overnight.
This is good for stomach complaints.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Vetiver is known as khus in Urdu and is grown for a variety of purpose. It is native to Asia and gets its name from Tamil. In Sri Lanka the oil of vetiver, (Vetiveria zizanoides) is known as the oil of tranquility.
   It is a tall grass plant and the grass is used to make baskets, and other woven hand produced products. It grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Indian subcontinent, Japan, Haiti, China and Thailand. There are several projects in these areas which were initiated to stop soil erosion and to protect the land as well as to provide rural people with a livelihood from making items from the roots and grasses. The roots are valued for the essential oil they produce, which commands a high price in the perfume industry. It is also used in traditional medicines. It is reputed to have calming properties and can be used as a sedative, but it is especially useful for women’s reproductive health as it helps keep menstruation regular and painless. It also helps to promote fertility. In Ayurvedic medicine it is used to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism and muscle pains and sprains. It is reputed to have antiseptic, antispasmodic, and vermifuge properties and to help cure insomnia and nervous tension. It is also used to treat fungal growths on the skin, such as ringworm.
   The roots are particularly valuable, not just for the essential oil that can be extracted from them but also because they can be used to construct dwellings and to make blinds and screens as well as handbags and fans. Women in Asia love these fans because they act as insect repellents as well as keeping the user cool.
   While still in the soil the roots help it by absorbing water but maintaining the moisture levels in it and by absorbing toxins from chemical pesticides and fertilizers, so restoring the soil to a more healthy state. They can also be used in insect repellents and in sprays to freshen rooms.
   Just like the prickly pear cactus in Turkey, vetiver can help prevent soil erosion and is planted as a hedge for this purpose now.
   The leaves are used to make handicrafts and as fodder for animals, for strewing on the floor of animal pens and stables, and they are also used as thatching material. They make excellent fibre for making paper and are also used for growing mushrooms and as compost material.
  In some parts of Asia brides are traditionally anointed and blessed with vetiver oil before their wedding ceremonies, and in Russia coats would contain sachets of vetiver to retain body heat. In the Middle Ages vetiver was mixed with lime and rosewood as perfume.
   Today oil of vetiver, which is woody and earthy, as you might expect from a grass root oil, and is mixed with jasmine, lavender, rosewood or geranium for use in aromatherapy.