Dina Begum on Bangladeshi Food

Dina Begum's book 'Made In Bangladesh' starts "Bangladesh is steeped in a rich food history, influenced by Persian, Muhgal and South East Asian cuisine." And you can see this wonderful depth of flavour, taste and influence in Dina's signature style. 

Born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Dina moved to England when she was 4 with her mother and brother, to join her father. She is a passionate advocate and champion of Bangladesh food culture and heritage. And has written about the country's cuisine in publications such as Bon Appetit, Waitrose mag and the Telegraph.

Here, she tells Sous Chef which ingredients inspire her, and where she find her new ideas.

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?

An ice cream sandwich concoction, which included a freshly made doughnut filled with the dreamiest apple pie soft serve and topped with a chocolate brownie and raspberry compote.

What’s the one dish to make anyone fall in love with your new book?

Easily the bhortas (mashed dishes) which have a base of chillies; coriander, mustard oil, onions and sometimes garlic.

This is then mashed with vegetables, or fish and even meat. My aloo bhorta is a staple Bangladeshi dish of creamy, buttery, and smoky potato goodness, offset by the zing of mustard oil. Perfect with rice.

TRY: Dina Begum's recipe for Puchka

What ingredients are always stocked in your pantry?

5-6 please I can’t live without mustard oil, rice, panch phoron (Bengali five spice), date molasses, potatoes, and Bangladeshi vermicelli (shemai).

How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?

I like to keep traditional recipes and cooking techniques as close to the way my mother and grandmother cooked and this rarely changes.

In terms of innovation I reserve this for modern or experimental recipes where I love to try out various flavour combinations and styles of cooking. For example, adding a Bangladeshi twist to baking or spicing up a shepherd’s pie.

Were you always destined to cook? What has been your path into food?

I believe so. Cooking is in my blood as my late grandmother was an amazing cook and passed her skills down to my mother. I grew up watching them cook and began helping in the kitchen at an early age.

I am obsessive when It comes to perfecting traditional recipes, most of which are not written down, so this has been a driving force in my path into food – to master and preserve those dishes which otherwise would become lost.

TRY: Dina Begum's recipe for Shingara

What are the components of a fantastic meal for you?

Good food, great company and dessert is a must, followed by coffee. Bangladeshis have a very sweet tooth!

What is one kitchen tip everyone should know?

Invest in a spice grinder. Toasting and grinding your own spice blend transforms a dish. Especially special occasion dishes.

What do you cook, when you’re cooking for yourself?

I usually cook something easy and flavourful, either pasta, spicy noodles or rice with chicken curry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Family memories and meals, holidays and story time with my late grandmother. I love recreating recipes that I used to hear about growing up and used to eat as a child.

For holidays I tend to travel where I know I’ll love the food. Turkish cuisine is a favourite – especially the sweets, so I always return with ingredients to use at home.

TRY: Dina Begum's recipe for Tenga Shira

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable meal you have had and what made it so special?

An Asian inspired Christmas meal with my late Dad. I remember the last one we had a couple of years ago when my sister cooked a spiced leg of lamb and roast chicken with all the trimmings.

I made Yorkshire puddings and sticky toffee pudding, which we ate with piping hot custard. My niece was 3 then so got really excited about it all, and we took lots of family photos. It was a satisfying and cosy meal.


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