When you think “cucumber” you probably think of the long green one that we know in Europe, the one that is grown in greenhouses, but in Pakistan there are different varieties of cucumber, the desi kheera, which is a relatively small, thick yellow cucumber and small green cucumbers which are kheera and look like mini-cucumbers. The seeds and leaves are used for medicinal purposes to cure a variety of ills including jaundice, sore throats general weakness and insomnia, to name but a few uses.
  Cucumbers originated in the Indian subcontinent, and are known to have been cultivated in Western Asia for at least 3,000 years. They were probably introduced into Europe by the Romans and were cultivated in France in the 9th century, in England in the 14th (although they had been introduced earlier, but had disappeared, it would seem in the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire) and were grown in North America by the mid-16th century. Christopher Columbus apparently took cucumber seeds with him to Haiti in 1494.They are mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as being eaten in the ancient city of Ur, and were cultivated in ancient Thrace which is now parts of Bulgaria and Turkey. The cucumber is part of traditional Greek and Bulgarian and Turkish cuisine, used in desserts and yoghurt-based soups. It is also used in raita in the subcontinent and tzatziki in Greece.
   The Emperor Tiberius insisted on having cucumbers on his table every day in winter and summer and so they were cultivated for him in the first “greenhouses” protected from the cold by frames of oiled cloth at night and taken into direct sunlight on warm winter days. Roman matrons who were barren would wear cucumbers around their waists believing that they would make them fertile. In Roman times they were also carried to births by midwives and thrown away after the baby was born. Clearly this had something to do with the phallic appearance of the cucumber.
   In English we have the phrase “cool as a cucumber” which comes from a poem “A New Song” by John Gay and English poet and dramatist of the early 18th century. Cucumbers are used for their cooling properties in medicine and can be placed on sunburn to relieve the pain and calm the skin’s redness. They are useful to get rid of puffiness around the eyes- just put a slice on each eye and leave it there for 15 minutes to half an hour while you lie back and relax. This is also a remedy for tired eyes. The cucumber cools the eyes and skin and rehydrates it. Try pulping a cucumber and applying the pulp to your face. It will leave your skin feeling rejuvenated and glowing with health. The pulp can also be applied to burns and scalds and applied to sunburn to reduce the heat.
  Cucumbers are members of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants which include the watermelon, pumpkin, courgettes and gourds such as the ash gourd or petha. Although the English cucumber is sold as seedless it still has a few seeds, and these are considered very beneficial in Ayurvedic medicine and other traditional medicinal practices in the Indian subcontinent.
   Cucumbers contain a lot of water, of course, so are good in warm weather, and cucumber juice is full of nutrients and very refreshing. They contain vitamins A, C, E and some of the B-complex ones as well as minerals such as potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, phosphorous, calcium, copper, sodium and zinc. They also contain silica which the body needs to strengthen the connective tissues, the muscles, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Amino acids including arginine are present, and arginine is especially beneficial for the immune system and the heart and circulation. Arginine also boosts nitric oxide in the body which relaxes blood vessels and has the same basic effect as Viagra, so eating cucumbers with the peel on them, can help with erectile dysfunctions. The skin of the cucumber contains silica, potassium, manganese and fibre, so should be eaten and not discarded. The ascorbic acid and caffeic acid contained in cucumbers means that they are good for preventing water retention, and are used for their diuretic properties here in Pakistan. They are also used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine to dispel kidney stones and to stop haemorrhages.
Desi Kheera
  In Pakistan the traditional healers or hakims use the cucumber seeds as coolants in fevers, for their diuretic properties and because they are highly nutritious for general weakness. The leaves are boiled and mixed with cumin seeds then mashed to a pulp and given to relieve throat infections. They may also be dried and powdered, then mixed with gur and given to stop water retention. For sunstroke pieces of cucumber are placed on the head so that the sufferer will breathe moistened air to neutralize the body heat. Pulped cucumbers with seeds are made into a paste to relieve burns and headaches and for skin problems. It is also believed that cucumbers cure insomnia, although I haven’t worked out how. Another recipe is for 1 oz of cucumber seeds and the same of yellow melon seeds, watermelon seeds and raisins (probably sultanas though I think) 2 oz chicory 10 ounces of gur or jaggery and a litre of water. The seeds are boiled then strained and the liquid drunk in ½ -1 oz doses three or four times a day for water retention and to cool the body during fevers.
  To cool down during summer, try this Turkish recipe for cucumber and yoghurt soup or our raita or tzatziki recipes.

1 large pot natural yoghurt
1 lb cucumbers, grated
2 tbsps fresh dill, snipped into ½ inch pieces
2 tsps distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh mint, snipped into small pieces
mint sprigs to decorate each bowl of soup

Put all the ingredients except for the mint in a bowl and whisk so that they are all thoroughly combined.
Chill for at least an hour.
When ready to serve you may have to whisk the soup again as you need to add the freshly snipped mint.
Pour into bowls and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
This has Taste and is a Treat.



Peaches have the Latin name Prunus because they were thought to resemble a plum and Persica because it was thought that they originated in Persia. However we now know that they originated in China where they have been cultivated for thousands of years and where wild peaches still grow. It is thought that they may have grown along the Chinese trade routes of the ancient world as traders threw away the peach kernels (which like almond kernels contain hydrocyanic acid which is toxic). The English word peach comes from the Old French peche. They were called Malus persica in the ancient world, meaning Persian apples. Peaches are members of the rose family of plants as is the strawberry. They are caller Aarhoo (pronounced aru) in Urdu.
  There are different kinds of peach and the white variety so loved by the Italians is a delicious one to use in desserts. Poached in wine with cinnamon they make very tasty ones.
   The peach was known to the ancient Greek physician, Theophrastus in 329 BC and was in the writings of Confucius. In fact it is sacred to the Taoists and is the symbol of longevity. There is a legend from China which talks of a peach tree which belonged to the gods and which grew fruit once every 3,000 years if someone ate the fruit of this tree they were assured of virility and immortality. The peach is a symbol of longevity in China and gifts of peaches or decorative items with the peach motif on them are highly valued.
   Peaches are high in fibre and can be used as part of a weight loss diet, as they can be eaten as snacks and suppress the appetite. There is now the Saturn variety of peaches which is a flat peach, sometimes referred to as the doughnut peach, which has gained in popularity in Britain since 2004 mainly because it can be eaten without being too messy. The flesh doesn’t cling to the stone, and as it is flat, (rather like the flying saucer shape of the popular imagination) you don’t tend to get juice all over you and have to resort to licking parts of your anatomy. These have not been genetically modified as you might be forgiven for supposing, but have been grown in China since the 19th century.
  Peaches come in a variety of colours as well as shapes and may have white, yellow, red, pink or orange flesh. They are rich in vitamins A and C and also contain some B-complex ones as well as E and K. As for minerals, they are rich in potassium, and also contain iron, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, selenium, manganese, copper and zinc. They have anti-microbial and antioxidant properties and may inhibit cancerous growth and reduce the risk of certain cancers, although trials are on-going.
  In the Indian subcontinent peaches and leaves and bark are used for a variety of illnesses including anaemia, asthma, gall bladder and kidney stones, bronchitis, constipation, dry coughs, gastritis, high blood pressure and poor digestion.
  Peach leaf tisane is given to get rid of internal parasites and for coughs including whooping cough and it is also supposed to be good for bronchitis as it has expectorant qualities. To make peach leaf tisane, take 1 oz dried peach leaves to 1 pint boiling water. Pour the water over the leaves and allow to steep for 15 minutes, then strain and drink. Flavour with honey if necessary. A tisane can also be made from ½ oz of dried bark to a pint of boiling water as in the leaf tisane. Peach leaves and flowers can be distilled to make cordials and peach wine can be made from the fruit. The leaves and bark have sedative, expectorant and diuretic qualities. In Italy people used to place a peach leaf on a wart and then bury the leaf. It was believed that as the leaf rotted so the wart would drop off.
   You can make an infusion of peach flowers which was reckoned to be good for jaundice, and which has purgative properties.  The best time to harvest the leaves is early summer, while the bark should be stripped from young trees and then sun-dried, taking it in at night before the dew falls.
   The 16th century English herbalist John Gerard grew peach trees in his garden, and Culpeper recommended the powdered leaves for staunching blood flow from wounds and to close them. He also suggested using the sap from the cut tree mixed with coltsfoot, sweet wine and saffron for “coughs, hoarseness and loss of voice.” He went on to say that this was also good for the lungs as it “clears and strengthens” them and “relieves those who vomit and spit blood.” Finally he recommends that the bruised kernels should be boiled in vinegar “until they become thick and applied to the head, it marvelously causeth the hair to grow again on any bald place or where it is too thin.”
  The recipe below for the Bellini cocktail is the original one first concocted in Harry’s Bar in Venice by Giuseppe Ciprianti who was inspired so it is said, by Bellini’s art. It’s best with white peaches but any variety will do.

Serves 2
1 white peach, peeled and blended
½ bottle champagne or sparkling white wine
2 peach balls

Put the peach pulp in a champagne flute and add champagne (originally Italian Prosecco was used).
 Put a melon ball in each flute and let it sink to the bottom.
If you want to add a measure of crème de peche and a dash of peach bitters to each flute this will be closer to the Bellini that you will be served in a cocktail bar.
This has Taste and is a Treat.



Devil’s Claw is a native to the Kalahari Desert so stretches through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, and also grows in Madagascar. The San tribe of the Kalahari is believed to have been the first to recognize the medicinal properties of Devil’s Claw which is still being investigated by medical researchers in the West because of its analgesic (pain-killing) and anti-inflammatory properties.
  Harpago means grappling hook or iron, in Greek, and phytum is plant, procumbens, meaning prostrate describes the way it spreads across the ground as it is a vine-like plant with red, purple or pink trumpet-shaped flowers. These give way to spiny fruits which then produce dark-brown or black seeds. However it is the thick, fleshy secondary roots which have been subject to investigation which is still ongoing. It is related to the little sesame seed.
  Traditionally in African medicine Devil’s Claw has been used as a virtual cure all for such diverse diseases as fevers, malaria, menstrual cramps, the pains of childbirth, TB and other infectious diseases, hypertension, gout, liver disorders, peptic ulcers and other stomach disorders, to stimulate the appetite, lower cholesterol levels, purify the blood as well as for the relief of pain associated with arthritis and rheumatism. In ointments it is used externally to heal wounds, get rid of ulcers, boils and rashes and it is reportedly also used for insect bites.
   The German Commission E has approved its use for dyspepsia, stimulating appetite and resting degenerative disorders of the muscoskeleton.  It is an active ingredient of ¾ of prescriptions for arthritis and rheumatism and has been over-harvested to the point where it is under threat of extinction. In Namibia there is a sustainable project which was established to harvest the root set up in 1999 and seeds have been deposited in the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank, so that it won’t actually become extinct because of irresponsible harvesting. Unfortunately it, like the Himalayan Yew has been discovered by the West and so the market for Devil’s Claw roots has exploded.
  Because of its anti-inflammatory properties it is being investigated as a possible alternative to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which have received such bad press because of their adverse side effects. The active ingredients of the root believed to be responsible for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are the glycosides harpagoside and acteoside. Medical research has shown that inflammation is the key pathological factor in such common diseases as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, which is why such extensive research is being done on Devil’s Claw. However, although researchers have had good results in vitro and in vivo there is much still to be done before they will say whether or not drugs which contain Devil’s Claw can help with the above-mentioned diseases.
Devil's claw Seeds
  It can be brewed into a tisane and drunk to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion, and this can also be applied to skin problems.
  Hopefully our increasing demand for Devil’s Claw will not lead to its extinction from its natural habitat.


Watermelons (Tarbooz in Urdu and Adwana in Punjabi) originated in Africa and were discovered growing wild by the famous explorer, Dr Livingstone. They have sustained the Kalahari Bushmen for centuries, supplying them with much needed liquid and nutrition. They are believed to have been cultivated in many different regions in antiquity, including in the Mediterranean region, North Africa and Sardinia as well as the Indian subcontinent.
  In the 16th and 17th centuries they were described by European botanists as having yellow, white as well as pink and red flesh. They are members of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants and so are related to pumpkins, gourds such as the ash gourd, (petha), marrow, courgettes and the yellow melon. Today you can buy seedless melons which have been genetically engineered, but in Asia and Greece, watermelon seeds are dried and roasted either with or without salt, as pumpkin seeds are and eaten as snacks. The seeds may be white, green, black, or speckled, and are as varied as the watermelon (actually a vegetable not a fruit) which comes in different shapes (square and heart-shaped for example) and sizes, from small 3 lb watermelons to those weighing a hefty 90 lbs.
  The Moors took them to Spain during the 13th century, and they traveled through Europe afterwards. Watermelon seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and were cultivated in Egypt along the river Nile at least as far back as 2,000 BC.
  A tisane made from the cut seeds will purify the system and help to dissolve kidney gravel and stones. You need a tablespoon of powdered or chopped watermelon seeds to a pint of boiling water. Pour the water over the seeds and allow them to steep for 15 minutes. Strain and drink the tisane.
  Watermelons are not only delicious but incredibly beneficial to our health. The red fleshed ones contain lycopene which has potent antioxidant activity and which protects against cancers and heart disease. It is generally known to be found in tomatoes and red carrots, and is what makes fruit and vegetables red. Tomatoes need to be cooked to release the full properties of lycopene, but that in watermelons doesn’t need to be released in this way. However it is best to store them at room temperature in order to get the most out of their potential health benefits. Watermelons are rich in vitamin C and the mineral potassium and contain amino acids including citrulline which is especially rich in yellow and orange fleshed varieties and which helps in healing wounds and cell division.  A watermelon also contains other vitamins including vitamin A, D, E and K and the B-complex vitamins and is particularly high in B6. As for minerals it apart from potassium it contains calcium, copper, iron, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, selenium, sodium and zinc.
Golden Watermelon
  Mark Twain, (1835-1910) the US writer and humourist (in “Pudd’n Head Wilson”) has this to say of watermelons, “When one has tasted it, he knows what angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve ate, we know it because she repented.” There is a Chinese proverb which says,“Pick up a sesame seed, but lose sight of a watermelon” and a Turkish proverb which aptly points out “Two watermelons cannot be carried under one arm.” One of my favourite books is by Richard Brautigan “In Watermelon Sugar” which shows that the watermelon has not gone unnoticed in popular culture through the ages.
  Research has found that men who combine eating watermelon and drinking green tea, or eating pink grapefruit, strawberries, pommelo, tomatoes and other lycopene rich fruits (apricots, papaya, and guava) help reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
  Citrulline is an amino acid which our bodies use to produce another amino acid, arginine which is used by the urea system to remove ammonia from our bodies. This also helps the cells lining our blood vessels to make nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels and so lowers high blood pressure. Arginine works on the immune system and benefits the heart and circulation. It is a kind of natural Viagra as it relaxes the blood vessels and so helps reduce problems associated wit erectile dysfunction. In other words watermelon is an aphrodisiac for men. The combination of citrulline-arginine may also prove to be helpful to those who are obese and who have Type 2 diabetes. Research is underway to breed a watermelon in which lycopene is more prevalent in the flesh than the rind as is the case in most varieties of watermelon currently. (The rind can be eaten if pickled.) However it is still more concentrated in watermelons than tomatoes. 
  If you buy a whole watermelon, hit it to see if it is ripe. If it has a hollow sound then it is. You can liquidize watermelons to extract the juice and this is delicious, but my favourite way of eating it is with Feta cheese. This may sound weird, but try the Greek recipe below.

1 watermelon, cut into cubes or scooped out into balls
4 oz Feta cheese, crumbled or sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced (optional)

Simply put the watermelon on a plate and add crumbled or sliced Feta cheese and a cucumber if you want to. You don’t need salt because of the Feta.
This has Taste and is a Treat


The name coconut comes from the Portuguese, cocos, meaning a grimacing face, such as that on a jack o’ lantern made from a turnip or pumpkin, and makes reference to the monkey face of the coconut, with three eyes or indentations in the shell, and the ‘hair.’ Nuciferus means nut-bearing. It is native to the Pacific region and is and has been widely used throughout South Asia as food and medicine, as well as for religious purposes.  Coconut palms are referred to in Indian writings dating back to the 4th century BC and were in Tamil literature from the 1st to 4th century AD. They feature in the Hindu epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas, and are sacred to the god Shiva having three eyes as he is often depicted as having. The coconut was adopted into Aryan rituals later, and so scholars believe that they were introduced into northern India later being they were familiar in the south of the country first. The coconut was known as “sriphala” and the fruit of the gods, so it was forbidden to cut the coconut palms. In India the coconut symbolizes absolute usefulness, selfless service, generosity and prosperity. The trees are believed to be able to grant all wishes. It is used in rituals such as marriage ceremonies, and for temple offerings to various deities, and in ceremonies for installing a household deity. The flesh of the coconut is sanctified in these ceremonies and then, being so blessed by the gods (prasad), shared amongst the guests. In fishing communities in southern India coconuts are thrown into the sea to appease the sea gods so that the fishermen have peaceful trips out to sea.
   All the parts of the coconut palm are used, either in medicine, for food or for making decorative items or those that have a domestic purpose. The midrib of the leaves is used to make brooms, while there is a cottage industry in areas where the trees flourish, plaiting the leaves for thatching for homes and sheds and for basket weaving.
  Palm hearts form the tips of the tree are the heaviest of all palm hearts and can weigh up to 12 kilos. The juice is tapped from the coconut flower stalks and given to people suffering from fevers or diarrhoea and dysentery. The seeds, roots and flowers are made into pastes, infusions and ointments for medicinal purposes to treat a variety of ailments and are used for burns and skin irritations among other things.
  The white meat and water from the nut is used for heart problems, dysentery, fevers, to quench thirst, as a diuretic and for urinary tract infections, and as an aphrodisiac. In Ayurvedic medicine the coconut is used to increase sperm count, and to rehydrate the body. To treat diarrhoea in traditional medicine, the oil from the coconut is mixed with other ingredients and rubbed on the stomach to stop diarrhoea. Oil extracted after boiling coconut milk is antiseptic and soothing and used on burns and ringworm as well as to stop itching. Modern medical research has supported these uses of oil. The oil is also applied to the scalp to encourage hair growth and prevent grey hairs appearing.
   Coconut oil is also used in cosmetics as a moisturizer to prevent signs of ageing and to moisturize the skin. Mixed with sugar it is used to exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells, thus rejuvenating the complexion.
  The sweet sap( called ‘toddy’ in India)which the tree exudes from its unopened flowering branches tapped is boiled to make gur or jaggery which in turn is converted to a strong alcoholic beverage.
  Shampoo is made with coconut oil which is boiled with lemon juice to take away the smell of coconut and is then mixed with jasmine water. The roots of the palm are traditionally made into toothpaste and frayed to make toothbrushes, rather like walnut tree bark is used in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
   In the Pacific Islands, the coconut palm is called the “Tree of Life” and is a cure-all. Its parts are used to cure STDs such as gonorrhea, and for a multitude of other diseases including earache, flu, malnutrition, scabies, jaundice, menstrual cramps and irregular periods, to kill lice and internal parasites, , to cure TB and diabetes.
  Modern medical research into the benefits of coconut oil and its other products has been extensive and it is believed that the oil is unique, and currently research is underway to investigate its benefits for HIV sufferers and it anti-inflammatory effects. It is believed that it has potent anti-microbial and anti viral properties and so it may be useful to combat the common cold, herpes, flu and a whole host of other diseases. It would seem that it may indeed warrant the name “The Tree of Life.” It has no harmful effects, and has been found to reduce inflammation, improve insulin secretion and aids digestion and the absorption of nutrients by the body.  
  The coconut meat and water supply the body with energy and boost the immune system.
The meat and water from the nut (which is a seed) contain amino acids, vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as a number of B-complex ones. As for minerals it is potassium rich, contains iron, calcium, phosphorous, copper, magnesium, and selenium.
   Here in Pakistan we eat a lot of the dried fruit or copra, and put it in desserts such as Carrot Halva. Coconuts are sold on barrows in the bazaar and so is coconut water to quench one’s thirst on blisteringly hot summer days. They are often accompanied by red carrot sticks, which make an eye-catching contrast to the white meat of the coconut.
   Coconut oil can be used in cooking as well as in medicine, and is also used as a body oil. After the oil has been extracted the coconut ‘cake’ or residue is fed to cattle. Coconut shells are used to make decorative items- you’ve probably seen the monkey figures made from the hollow shells, and they are also burned to get charcoal and to make ladles and other household and decorative items. Coconut wood is used to make wall panels, furniture, windows and doors and decorative items. Virtually nothing of the palm goes to waste.
  If you don’t know how to open a coconut you need a hammer and a long nail and should hammer the nail into one or all of the three indentations or eyes which are the shell’s weakest points. Allow the water to drain out over a bowl before you use the hammer to crack then shell to get at the white meat.
   You can buy desiccated coconut in packets, and reconstitute it to make coconut water, but it isn’t as good as the real thing straight from the shell.
   The recipe below is for a “chutney” which is a coconut sauce, and good with steamed rice cakes, or as an accompaniment to chicken or fish dishes.

½ coconut, white meat grated
½ inch piece of ginger root
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsps urad daal (yellow lentils)
salt to taste
2 tbsps oil

Put the coconut meat, ginger and green chillies in a grinder and grind.
Heat the oil in a small pan and when it is hot add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chillies and the lentils, Fry until the lentils turn brown and the chillies are very red.
Remove from the heat and add the coconut paste and salt.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


The common potato has an extremely long history and something of a checkered past. The name potato comes from the Peruvian Quechua language’s batata which is one of the Latin names of the yam and the sweet potato. The potato is a member of the Solanaceae family along with nightshade, tomatoes, aubergines and chilli peppers. Solanum means ‘soothing’ in Latin, so the potato’s name actually means ‘soothing root,’ thus aptly describing the favourite comfort food of many. Potatoes originated in the Andes Mountains in South America around 8,000 years ago, and were cultivated by the indigenous peoples there around 6,000 years ago. The Spanish explorers found them in the 16th century and took them to Spain. Because of their vitamin C content they were taken on long voyages to prevent scurvy.
   They come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours of flesh and skin, ranging from the usual white or yellow fleshed ones through to blue and purple-fleshed varieties such as the Purple Peruvian and Purple Majestic, Congo is a blue-skinned blue-fleshed variety. In Pakistan they grow Rodeo, Spunta and Diamond varieties for export, but these are the usual colour.
   Potatoes have been spurned in the past, as when they were first introduced into Europe, people-especially the French believed that they were the cause of all fatal diseases, from leprosy and syphilis through to any disease which caused an early demise. This edict was passed in Besançon, France, “In view of the fact that the potato is a poisonous substance whose use can cause leprosy, it is hereby forbidden, under pain of fine, to cultivate it.” Later Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, who had been imprisoned in Germany and fed only on potatoes, popularized the poor tuber by a few ruses. He persuaded Louis XIV to grow potatoes and put guards around the patch. The peasants naturally enough then believed that they were valuable and stole them. He also made mashed potatoes from these edible tubers and so they became popular as they tasted divine and didn’t look anything like the root that “caused leprosy.” Marie-Antoinette and the ladies of her court wore potato flowers in their hair rather like the women in James I’s (James VI of Scotland) court, who wore carrot leaves in their hair.
   Sir Walter Raleigh the English explorer or buccaneer, depending upon which way you look at his role in history, brought the potato back to Britain with him from the New World in 1589, and took them to his estate in Ireland near Cork where he planted them. One story is that he presented a potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I who was highly pleased with the gift (along with tobacco) which her favourite had brought. She held a royal banquet in which every course featured potatoes, but the chefs had not been told that it was the tuber they should prepare, so they threw these away and served the stems and leaves of the plant which are poisonous. The wealthy aristocrats all became deathly ill and potatoes were subsequently banned from the royal court.
  John Gerard ( 1545-1612), the English herbalist had a more open-mind attitude and grew potatoes in his garden which he called the “potato from the Virginia” although in fact they came from South America, not Virginia in the US. They were grown in London by 1597 and soon became popular in Scotland and Ireland.
  Attitudes gradually changed towards the edible root, but in Russia as late as 1774, the peasants refused to eat the free potatoes sent them by Frederick the Great to relieve the famine, and only ate them when he sent troops to “persuade” them to do so.
   The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) had this to say of the potato “A diet that consists predominantly of rice leads to the use of opium, just as a diet that consists predominantly of potatoes leads to the use of liquor.” Of course this is a sweeping generalization but vodka comes from potatoes and the Irish moonshine Potcheen does too.
  The Irish cultivated the potato extensively and after the Industrial Revolution it was a popular staple of the working classes who needed a cheap, energy-giving food, so potatoes were the answer. In 1845-49 the Irish suffered from the potato famine and by 1849 the population had been halved, with more than a million people dying at the height of the famine and the rest emigrating to North America and Australia. It was the Scots and the Irish immigrants who began growing potatoes in New Hampshire, USA thus popularizing the vegetable there. Benjamin Franklin had been present at one of Parmentier’s potato feasts so knew the value of this root, and in his presidency (1801-9) Thomas Jefferson served “French Fries” at the White House.
  Crisps were said to have been invented by a disgruntled chef, George Crum. Legend has it that the railway magnate, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was dining at an up-market restaurant in Saratoga Springs, USA and sent back his potatoes back because they were too thick. Mr. Crum gave vent to the sarcastic side of his nature and cut the offending potatoes extremely thinly, fried them in oil and threw salt over them and sent them back. Commodore Vanderbilt loved them and so the Saratoga Crunch Chips were the precursors to the crisps we have all over the world today.
  Potatoes have won several distinctions; in 1995 they were the first vegetable to be grown in space; 2008 was the UN International year of the Potato. Mr. Potato Head was introduced to the children of the world in 1952.
  In the UK alone 94 kilograms of potatoes are consumed every year by each person, and more than 80 varieties of potatoes are grown on a commercial basis and there are more than a thousand varieties grown throughout the world.
  Potatoes, especially baked in their skins are very good for our health. They have received a bad press because of the ways they are cooked- particularly when deep-fried in oil that isn’t changed as often as it should be, or cooked in beef dripping (Harry Ramsden’s chips). They are delicious mashed especially with parsnips and/or swede or carrots.
  Apart from vitamin C they contain the B-complex vitamins, Vitamins E and K, folate, pantothenic acid, amino acids and the minerals, calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc as well as a little Omega-3 and -6. So far researchers have identified 60 different kinds of phytochemicals and vitamins in their skin and flesh, and the phenolic compounds in some varieties rival that of broccoli, spinach and brussel sprouts. They have bioflavonoids which have protective activity against cardio-vascular disease, respiratory problems and some cancers. A compound found in some varieties (not all have been investigated), kukoamines, has so far only been found in the wolfberry/Goji berry Lycium chinensis, and it is believed that this might lower blood pressure. To get the full health benefits from potatoes you should eat them with their skin, and baking them is the best way of doing this. You can top them with almost anything or scoop out the flesh and mash it with boiled eggs, and grated cheese; sprinkle grated cheese on top of the refilled shells and put them back in the oven until the cheese melts. This is a real “comfort food” especially when served with hot baked beans. It’s simple too and packed full of goodness.
  There is a lot of folk lore about the potato; one story is that pregnant women wouldn’t eat them in case their babies were born with big heads. If you cut a potato and rub it on a wart then bury the potato, as the potato decays, so the wart will disappear. If someone put a potato peeling on a young girl’s doorstep on May Day it meant they disliked her.
  In Britain during the Second World War, people had to survive on what could be grown in Britain (which meant there were no bananas or citrus fruits), and below is one of the recipes that kept people going. Lord Woolton was Minister for Food during the war years and this recipe is named after him.

For the topping
2 lbs potatoes, peeled, chopped, boiled, drained and mashed with butter and milk

1 lb potatoes, with skins, diced
1 head of white cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 lb swede, peeled and diced
1 lb carrots, scarped and diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
½ bunch parsley, chopped
1 tsp Marmite/Vegemite/other yeast extract or beef or game stock
1 tsp fine oatmeal
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/gas Mark 6.
Put all the vegetables into a pan and cover with water, so that they are covered to half an inch higher than the layer of vegetables. Stir in the yeast extract and oatmeal. Or use stock in which case you just need to add the oatmeal.
Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes stirring frequently.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a pie dish and top with the mashed potatoes.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes have browned.
You could also top this with grated cheddar cheese.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


In Pakistan carrots look very different to the ubiquitous orange ones on supermarket shelves in Europe and they are also a far cry from the disappointing woody ones that so often find their way into shopping bags. Here they are red or purple, and the red ones seem particularly red when seen on a barrow set against the white of a coconut. They look amazing and the taste doesn’t disappoint.
  Wild carrots still grow, but the domesticated strain began life as small tough spindly roots which over the centuries became the thicker, fleshier roots we have today. The wild carrot is indigenous to parts of Europe and Asia and seeds have been found in excavations of Mesolithic sites, which means that we have been using carrots for more than 10,000 years. It is thought that the domesticated carrot, sativa, originated in what is now Afghanistan about 5,000 years ago and these were either the purple or yellow varieties. Natural orange mutants occurred and these were taken by the Dutch so that the orange carrot we have today was produced.
  There has been some confusion over the centuries about the carrot as the wild one was white and so could be confused with the parsnip, to which carrots, as members of the Umbelliferae family are related. They are also related to dill, fennel, caraway and cumin. In fact it is so confusing that no one is really sure if, during mediaeval times, herbalists and others were writing about the properties of the wild carrot, Daucus carota carota or the parsnip. This article is not concerned with the wild carrot, only the domesticated types.
 There are various paintings from the Middle Ages and later that show the carrot in them and archaeologists believe that purple carrots feature in temple paintings from ancient Egypt, dating back to around 2,000 BC.
   In Rome the wild carrot was used as an aphrodisiac and as part of a potion which was given as an antidote to poisoning. Galen (2nd century AD) named it Daucus to distinguish it from the parsnip and Dioscorides adequately describes the carrot. It is later that confusion sets in. In his cookery book of 230 AD Apicius gives the name carrots to this vegetable, and it is believed that the Romans introduced the carrot to Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire, carrots inexplicably vanished into the mists of history, only to re-emerge in Europe in the 12th century.
  The purple carrot spread into the Mediterranean area in the 10th century and the yellow mutant carrot is believed to have been developed there. Both colours of carrot spread from the Med to the rest of Europe.
  In the reign of James I of England (James VI of Scotland) the green carrot fern-like tops were fashion accessories and worn in the hair. In 1633 Gerard calls this vegetable a carrot and says that it cured venomous bites and stomach problems.
  Red carrots, like tomatoes contain lycopene, especially the purple ones, and are rich in beta-carotene also possessing vitamins A, C, K and B-complex vitamins. They also contain the minerals manganese, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, calcium, folate and selenium, so with all these nutrients they have potent anti-oxidant properties and anti-inflammatory ones. Molybdenum and falcarinol) a phytonutrients that may be responsible for reducing the risks of cancer) are also present in carrots. Amino acids and bioflavonoids, including myricetin, kaempferol, quercetin and luteolen, are also present and the humble carrot is indeed good for our eyesight as our grandmothers said. They, like wimberries, improve our night vision and prevent macular degeneration. The red and purple carrots have a high lycopene content and this is believed to have anti-cancer properties. The purple colour is produced by anthocyanins a group of flavonoids also present in grapes, blueberries and cranberries. There are attempts being made to breed red a Chinese carrots with a maroon strain grown by a carrot breeder, Dr. Leonard Pike PhD at the Texas A and M University. The maroon ones have a high beta-carotene and anthocyanin content and the lycopene from the red carrot would make hybrids a super potent carrot for our health. Carrots as they are, however, can help protect us from cardio-vascular disease, some cancers, including those of the larynx, oesophagus and lung cancer, which is good news if you are a smoker.
  On a more mundane level, carrots can also help to stop diarrhoea, and lower cholesterol levels. In Chinese medicine carrots are considered to be a neutral food having neither hot nor cold properties, and they are used for getting rid of coughs, including whooping cough, strengthening the spleen and pancreas, to improve the liver’s function, dissolve kidney and gall bladder stones, to cure tumours, to calm the stomach and get rid of heartburn and indigestion, to improve the hearing and stop earache, and to improve breast-feeding mothers’ milk flow. The juice is also expressed onto the skin for the relief of burns.
  Carrots also have their uses in cosmetics, as they help to combat dry skin, stop acne and get rid of pimples etc. You should grate the carrots and apply them to the face for a face mask, or apply them to eczema, or wounds or burns. Leave the mask on your skin for ½ an hour before rinsing off with warm water.
  Try our recipe for Carrot Halva which is delicious or the one below which is also a dessert recipe.
   If you have children, or want an unusual table decoration, slice the tops off the carrots and put them in water on a saucer and watch them row their fern-like leaves.

1 kg carrots, cleaned and grated
3 litres milk
¾ cup of broken rice (or any basmati rice)
2 cups sugar
10 green cardamom pods crushed a little so that the flavour is released
 50gr sultanas
50 gr desiccated coconut
a few drops of kiora essence (optional)

Wash the rice and soak it for ½ hour in cold water. Drain.
Put carrots, rice and cardamoms in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the milk.
Simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for 2 hours. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the pan frequently, to incorporate the scrapings into the mixture and to prevent burning.
Stir continuously and scrape the sides and bottom of the pan until the carrots and rice are mushy (the consistency of thick porridge) and the milk has thickened.
Add the sugar stirring until it dissolves then add the sultanas and coconut.
Cook for a further 15-20 mins.
Remove from the heat and add kiora (kewra) essence if you are using it.
This dish can be served hot or cold.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Before the strawberry we have today there were wild strawberries which still grow in temperate zones all over the world. They have a completely different taste to garden strawberries and are somehow more succulent despite their small size. They may be white or red, and grow in out of sight places like the shrinking violet. They are of course related to the strawberry and so are members of the rose family of plants.
   I used to be able to pick wild strawberries in the garden and along the roadside as well as in the woods, and know that they are best eaten freshly picked. Luckily I am not allergic to them as some people can be. Their leaves and roots as well as the flowers are similar to those o the garden strawberries and they have much the same medicinal value. Strawberry juice is astringent and can be used as a face whitener and diuretic.
    Traditionally tisanes were made of the leaves and roots to stop diarrhoea and dysentery. They have been used in many cultures over the centuries both for their medicinal properties and their flavour. Mediaeval stone masons carved strawberry motifs on pillars and cathedral and church altars and doorways as they were a symbol of purity and purification. During these times wild strawberries were cultivated for their medicinal value rather than to eat.
  The Romans had strawberries with grapes as fruit of choice in their festivals, and believed that they were good for the liver, spleen, throat infections, bad breath, gout and to dispel melancholia and fever among other ailments.
   In the Renaissance people were eating them for their taste, and Ben Johnson writing a play in 1603 mentions them in the way we know them now (especially when visiting the tennis tournament in Wimbledon).
   “A pot of strawberries gathered in the wood,
     To mingle with your cream.”
A later poet, George Peele has these lines in his poem “The Old Wives Tale”
    “Strawberries swimming in the cream
     And schoolboys playing in the stream.”
 Doctor William Butler, a writer in the 17th century famously remarked, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless, God never did.”
  In Shakespeare’s play, “Othello,” Desdemona’s handkerchief, which was the indirect cause of her demise, was embroidered with a strawberry motif, the symbol of purity.
  Strawberries have vitamins, minerals, amino acids, bioflavonoids and phytonutrients which have potent antioxidant properties and are particularly good for preventing macular degeneration as are wimberries, being rich in vitamin A, C and E. They also contain zinc, potassium, copper, traces of selenium, and have been found to reduce the rate of reproduction of cancerous cells in the liver.
  Culpeper says that strawberries are “singularly good for the healing of many ills” and they were symbols of healing. However, poor Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife had a strawberry birth mark on her neck, which marked her, among the superstitious, as a witch. As strawberries are not only the symbol of purity, but also of passion, they were given to newly-weds in France along with powdered sugar, watery soured cream, and borage as an aphrodisiac, just in case they needed any extra help on their wedding night.
   Strawberries can be used to whiten the teeth and the skin, and are valuable in the cosmetic industry. They were once used to relieve sunburn, and were also considered to have anti-inflammatory properties and so good for arthritis and rheumatism. They also have useful diuretic properties. In other words, these delicious little fruit are very good for your health, so try to find some, but eat them in moderation as they can cause skin rashes and your tongue to become swollen.


It is now the middle of March, and the yellow melons called Kharbooza in Urdu, have arrived from the province of Sindh. These are not the same as honey dew melons although they look a little like them. They have creamy net patterns on their yellow rind and when opened release a fragrant aroma. They are really sweet and taste like honey. All melons and gourds are part of the Cucurbitaceae family just as the pumpkin, courgette and ash gourd (petha) do. They have a high water content so do not contain many calories, although they do contain sugars so are not the best fruit for those on a diet.
  It is thought that melons (in general) originated in the area that extends from Egypt, to Iran and through to the Indian subcontinent. In Pakistan many varieties of melon are grown, including the cantaloupe and watermelon, and other winter melons (Cucumis melo var. inodorata).
  When you buy a melon, don’t throw the seeds away, you can dry them and eat them as snacks as you can pumpkin seeds. They have been eaten in this way for centuries and are very good roasted.
   Melons were depicted in Roman frescoes and there is a wall painting in Herculaneum on Sicily which shows a melon split in half. This can still be seen if you visit this ancient site that was, like Pompeii, buried under volcanic lava. Galen used them for medical purposes, and the Romans imported their melons from Armenia. Apicius the Roman chef, wrote about the culinary uses of melons in his cookbook but as his recipe requires honey, the melons he used could not have been the honey melon we have here in Pakistan.
  The sweet melons contain vitamin C and K, and B-complex vitamins, as well as being rich in potassium with the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese phosphorous, selenium, copper zinc also present. They also contain amino acids, including tryptophan and have Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in them, so they have potent antioxidant properties as well as being very tasty.
  In Greek all melons that are not water melons are called peponi which is perhaps an admirable attitude to have as to them it really doesn’t matter what a melon is called, they know what it is by looking at it. I have never seen these melons in Europe, but that doesn’t mean they don’t travel there now. These Pakistani yellow melons are among the best I’ve tasted and are very sweet and thirst-quenching. The Chinese use them to reduce fevers and to generally cool the body. They are used in this way here in Pakistan too. It’s good that something that tastes so good has health benefits too.


The tomato was once reviled because Europeans thought that it was the “wolf peach” described by Galen in the 2nd century AD; that is what its Latin name means, lyco meaning wolf and persicum, peach. Galen was describing poison given to wolves in a wrapping that looked and presumably tasted delectable to wolves. They ate the “wolf peach” and met their demise.  For this reason, when Cortez the Spanish conquistadore brought it from South America, (he had first seen it in Montezuma’s garden) it was viewed with suspicion and grown for ornamental purposes only. Its English name comes from the Spanish “tomati” first mentioned in print in 1595. It is probable that the first tomatoes were yellow as the Italian and Spanish words for them were Pomi d’oro or golden apples. The Italians were the first Europeans to use the fruit (tomatoes are fruit, and because of the seeds a berry in botanical terms) although it is unclear where they got the idea from, perhaps what is now Turkey, or the area around Lebanon.
  Perhaps the Europeans were suspicious of tomatoes because they are members of the Solanaceae family which includes belladonna or the deadly nightshade, as well as potatoes, chilli peppers and aubergines (eggplants). Although people started eating them, (the French considered them an aphrodisiac and called them Pomme d’ Amour or Love Apples) physicians warned that they caused appendicitis (because of the seeds) and cancer because they thought that the skins stuck to the intestine walls up until the end of the 18th century.
   Joseph Campbell first marketed his condensed tomato soup in 1897 and this was extremely popular, and his company went from strength to strength. Canned tomatoes are the world’s most best selling canned fruit or vegetable and you will be glad to know that lycopene, which makes them red, and gives them their cancer fighting abilities is increased in potency when heated during the manufacturing of tomato products, including ketchup (but the best is organic ketchup), tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, passata and puree.
  Tomatoes are rich in vitamins C and A, both of which have potent antioxidant properties and are immensely beneficial for our health. They also contain vitamins E, K and the B-complex vitamins as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, 17 amino acids glucose and fructose, molybdenum and chromium.
  Recent medical research has shown that tomatoes when eaten with broccoli, together fight cancer very effectively. Professor John Erdman of the University of Illinois said “When tomatoes and broccoli are eaten together, we see an additive effect. We think that it’s because the different bioactive compounds in each food work on different anti-cancer pathways.” If you have 2 pints of green tea in your daily diet and eat tomatoes these are also thought to lower the risk of prostate cancer.
  Lycopene would seem to be the anti-cancer component in tomatoes and other foods which have a high lycopene content are apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava (amroot).
  Drinking tomato juice may reduce the risk of blood clots and is a natural anti-inflammatory so good for osteoporosis, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. However you should choose a brand that has a low sodium content.
  In January 2011 a Japanese researcher, Dr. Teruo Kawanda from the University of Tokyo said “…the tomato allows people to easily manage the onset of dyslipidemia through their diets” thus reducing the risk of cardio-vascular diseases.
  Tomatoes can also help reduce the risks of thrombosis and Alzheimer’s disease, according to research.
  Tomatoes are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and there’s nothing quite like an Italian plum tomato or a Greek ‘beef’ tomato in sauces or stuffed, or just a huge tomato sliced and made into a salad with black olives, cucumber and feta cheese drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil and/or oregano. In 2010 the Italians faced a minor disaster when their staple tomato crop suffered because of a heat wave.
  Tomatoes may be red, yellow, orange, purple, green or even brown. However you shouldn’t eat green tomatoes raw, only when cooked or pickled.
  You can sun dry your own tomatoes as they are delicious in salads and perk them up in winter in a rocket salad. You should reckon on 10 tomatoes producing an ounce of sun dried ones. Slice the tomatoes in half and lay them on wire netting, raised off the ground so that air can get to all sides of them. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and basil or oregano for a full-flavoured effect, the cover them with cheesecloth so that it doesn’t touch the tomatoes. This will deter insects. Leave in a sunny place to dry, but remember to take them in at night before the dew falls. The drying process will take between 4 days to 2 weeks depending on the amount of sun you get in your part of the world. When they have dried, and are crumbly, you can store them in a jar with olive oil with cut garlic and more fresh herbs if you like.
  Below is a recipe for green tomatoes, which shouldn’t be rock hard. It’s a traditional Punjabi dish and really delicious.
½ kg small green tomatoes
1tsp garlic paste (pounded garlic cloves)
1 tsp ginger paste (pounded ginger root)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 handful fresh coriander
1 handful fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup oil

Make a deep cross in each tomato but don’t cut all the way through.
Mix salt and pepper, turmeric and garam masala and then rub this mixture into the slits with a knife.  Leave them to stand for ½ an hour.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic and ginger pastes until they become brown. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until it becomes soft.
Add the tomatoes to the pan, with the cut side uppermost. Put enough water in the pan so that the tomatoes are completely covered.
When the water begins to boil, cover and cook over a low heat for about ½ and hour or until only about ½ a glass of water is left in the pan.
Add the coriander and mint and cook for 2 minutes, then remove and serve with naan, roti or chapattis. It tastes superb.
This has Taste and is a Treat.