Review of Jikoki cookbook – Immigrant Cuisine for All.
Jikoni, the newly published cookbook by Ravinder Bhogal, has such a beautiful cover that if it were a fabric, I’d certainly wear it. Published by Bloomsbury and subtitled ‘proudly inauthentic recipes from an immigrant kitchen’ the cover is a painting of exotic fruits – guava, pomegranate and papaya – with three small birds, the likes of which I last saw in the Caribbean. It is evocative and enticing.
Ravinder Bhogal is a restaurateur known to Londoners for her restaurant, Jikoni. She was born in Kenya to Indian parents and grew up in London. In her cookbook, she has taken traditional, regional home cooking and transposed it to her home in London where local availability of ingredients influence a recipe. She terms it loosely as ‘immigrant cuisine’.
Jikoni means kitchen in Kishwali, a language spoken in Kenya where Bhogal spent her early years in Nairobi. Her grandfather left his native Punjab in the 1940s to look for work. The family expanded and during her childhood, there were often up to twenty-five people in the house at once. That is a lot of mouths to feed and all the women and girls had to help. Recipes were passed along the generations through experience rather than written down.
Having visited London for holidays in her early childhood, Bhogal found herself, aged seven, living in the capital permanently. Homesickness is often best assuaged through food and of all the things that the young Bhogal missed most, it was the tastes and smells of her home. She and her mother cooked their traditional food in a new environment, creating a new cuisine through necessity.
While Boghal resisted the restrictions of the domestic sphere for women in a patriarchal society, she turned to role models like Madhur Jaffrey and Nigella Lawson who made a career out of cooking. After graduating and working in journalism, she began to write about food, cook at pop-ups and catered privately. Eventually, in 2016, Jikoni was opened. The cookbook showcases many of the recipes of the dishes served in the restaurant. For those who have enjoyed a meal at Jikoni, this book will make it possible to try some favourite dishes in your own kitchen.
Jikoni is divided into sections beginning with Breakfast and Brunch, through snacks and nibbles, vegetables and salads, fish and shellfish, poultry and meat to sweets and desserts. It is a dense book, packed with recipes and lovely photographs by Kristin Perers.
Some recipes are ones I will definitely make – banana and cardamom lassi might just be my go-to brunch drink from now on – while others make me laugh though I’m unlikely to actually cook, such as Pina Colada Pancakes. Bhogal is big on humour – not something often found in a cookbook. The agony and the egg-stacy is her section on the humble egg, the intro to the section on snacks and nibbles has a photograph of a tortoise amidst the drinking glasses and empty oyster shells.
The recipes are drawn from a range of sources – in the breakfast section there are tamarind and maple bacon with fenugreek waffles and fennel and apple slaw all the way to green tea rice bowls with salmon and ginger and soy dressing. Turkish pide influence a recipe for Turkish spinach, cheese and egg in a hole. Curried cauliflower cheese toasted sandwiches or spinach, pancetta and cheese bread and butter pudding are not recipes I have come across before. Bhogal likes to have fun in her kitchen, and while many of the recipes are beyond what I would probably try myself – I am sadly unlikely to start to learn to make parathas, dosas and rotis – I would be tempted to visit her restaurant to try these there.
The snack section is equally riotous with recipes for prawn toast scotch eggs with banana ketchup to beetroot and shankleesh croquetas via beetroot and walnut kibbeh with tahini sauce. From the UK to the Levant via Japan and the Mediterranean, the recipes here follow no particular logic or genre. It is a book that is fun to dip into and there certainly are many unusual combinations to impress your guests. This is not a cookbook for beginners and even an experienced home cook would need to set aside some time for sourcing some of the ingredients and cooking many of these recipes.
In the meat and poultry section, there are recipes for goose legs, a mince and cabbage leaf biryani, pulled goat shoulder with burnt aubergines, pine nuts and barberries. Food that is tempting and complex. A melange of styles, flavours and influences, the recipes know no borders as exemplified in the recipe for duck and pistachio pierogi with hot yoghurt sauce and pul biber butter. This was developed in the restaurant mixing French, Polish and Turkish traditions. Bhogal describes it as ‘the kind of border-blending dish for which the restaurant has become renowned.
While reading my way through Jikoni I was repeatedly struck by how complex many of the recipes are as befits the standard of dishes one might expect to eat in the restaurant itself. Yet there are also simpler recipes that make for delicious eating.
I tried out a few of the more straight forward dishes and was rather pleased with myself for making my own masala mix as per instruction. Although I would usually reach for a ready-made masala, it was very easy to make especially as I already had all the spice ingredients to hand. I enjoyed grinding the roasted spices in my mortar and pestle (although you can use a spice grinder) and from then on the kuku paka was very easy to prepare. I always cook a curry or casserole the day before so that the flavours can develop and when I served this chicken curry the following day to friends in my garden, I could hear the sighs of pleasure even from a social distance. It is not a hot curry, rather gently aromatic.
I served the kuku paka with saffron rice as suggested and a side of Ghogal’s roast sweet potato with lime pickle and coriander yoghurt. This was very quick to prepare, a matter of slicing and roasting the sweet potatoes and whizzing up coriander, lime pickle and yoghurt in my food processor.
My favourite of all was the roast chicken salad with chicken-fat croutons and green tahini dressing. I cheated a bit in that I used the breast meat from a chicken I had roasted for dinner the previous evening which saved a bit of cooking time. I’m sharing the recipe so you can try for yourself at home too.
A summer salad with oodles of flavour, texture and colour
- 800 gram chicken breasts or thighs bone in, skin on
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp harissa
- 3 flatbreads roughly torn into 2cm pieces
- 1 handful parsley leaves
- 1 handful coriander leaves
- 2 small preserved lemons rind only, finely chopped
- 100 grams feta cheese
- 100 grams black olives pitted
- 2 heads cos lettuce
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 small handful parsley roughly chopped
- 1 handful coriander roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove finely grated
- 1 lemon juiced
- 40 grams tahini
- 40 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
Heat the oven to 190 C/Fan 170 C/ Gas Mark 5
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving for 8 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Turn the chicken and cook for another 8 minutes until it is browned on the other side. Remove the chicken and put aside.
Add the harissa to the chicken fat and juices in the pan, along with another two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix the harissa in with the oil.
Put the torn flatbreads into the pan and coat with the harissa and olive oil and juices.
Return the chicken to the pan and roast in the oven for 15 minutes until it is cooked through and the croutons are golden brown and crisp.
While the chicken is cooking make the dressing. Put the herbs in a blender along with the garlic, lemon juice and tahini and whizz to a smooth paste. Keep the blender running while drizzling in the extra virgin olive oil. Scrape it out into a bowl and fold in the yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Placed the lettuce, herbs and preserved lemon on a serving platter and dress with some of the dressing. Crumble over the feta and add the olives. Drizzle over the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. Slice it off the bone and place it on the top of the salad. Scatter over the croutons.
Serve the extra dressing on the side
The flatbread croutons were a revelation and I will certainly be making these again. They are as addictive as any crispy, spicy snack of your wildest dreams. Mine at least. I will never look at a flatbread in quite the same way again. Fabulous. The croutons not only added great flavour and colour to the dish but also texture. The herbs sang, the croutons crunched while the tahini dressing mingled in with the crumbled feta in a luscious interchange. I probably wouldn’t use olives next time but will substitute with pomegranate seeds for a pop of sweetness. This is a really useful salad for summer and will be repeated in my kitchen.
Jikoni may be filled with some complex recipes – if you enjoy a challenge this may be just the book for you – but there are dishes that are quick and easy. It is a lot of fun to read through and has some great party dish ideas. It is one I’ll reach for when I want to impress and have the time to do so. It has certainly whet my appetite to try out more of these intriguing dishes in the restaurant itself.
You can buy Jikoni online from Amazon and from leading bookshops