This week, food writer and author Urvashi Roe takes us through 10 things you need to know about eating and snacking Gujarati-style as she shares stories and recipes from her new book Biting Biting.


Afterwards, check out Urvashi's recipe for potato shaak.

Food writer Urvashi Roe shares stories of her heritage and food culture


In Gujarat, shaak (or saak) is just any kind of dish that you make with vegetables – it’s really the word that we use to describe vegetable curries. The basic recipe for a dry shaak, for example potatoes, would be spiced chunks of potatoes and you wouldn’t have any sauce or gravy. But then you can also make raso varu shaak. Raso means sauce and you can make a tomatoey raso or you can make a coconut raso (not Gujarati but still really good!). Then you’ve also got some shaaks that we only have when we’re fasting. So we fast but on specific days. They could be festivals or they could be days that you have to fast for the health of your children, or you might fast for your ancestors to remember them. And those shaaks, we tend to only use very simple spicing. So green chilli, salt and black pepper, and sometimes cumin.


Some people say misthan, some people say mithai, but it’s basically an umbrella term for sweet treats. You often have them at temples when you go to pray and then the priest will give you sweet offerings to take home. My favourite are penda, which are like little dumplings made with milk powder. When you get married, it’s customary to fast for the safe arrival of your husband and then he’s supposed to bring you a selection of misthan. Misthan can also incorporate shrikhand, which is strained thickened yogurt. We would sweeten that with icing sugar, honey, saffron, maybe some cardamom. And then you’ve got sev which is a kind of sweet vermicelli. You toast it in ghee to bring out the nuttiness and brown it, and then you add some water, cardamom and sugar, and it’s really nice freshly made warm with some vanilla ice cream.

Making ghee

I like to use a heavy-bottomed pan and good-quality unsalted butter. Then just leave it to gently simmer and bubble away. I usually leave it for about 45 minutes to an hour, so it’s quite a long process, but you don’t have to keep going back as it’s on a really low heat so won’t burn. What happens during cooking is that all of the milk solids fall to the bottom and the clear butter rises to the top. It will start foaming a little bit and you can spoon away that foam. But, if it’s good-quality butter, you don’t normally get much. Once it’s done, leave it to sit for a few minutes and then drain it into a container. I use a steel tin but you could use a sealable glass jar or similar and just keep it somewhere cool. The best bit about making ghee is all of the bits left at the bottom, which are lovely spread on toast!

Urvashi’s top 3 effortless cooking hacks

STOCK TAKE To remember what’s in your kitchen cupboards use a white board marker to write on the kitchen door what’s on each shelf. This way you don’t double up on shopping or overbuy.

LEAVE IT! Don’t be a ‘dapan’ like my husband – a meddler. Most of our Gujarati dishes really don’t need stirring. So, after an initial mix, leave it be. My husband cannot resist a good old mix, which breaks up the shape of the veggies and makes them mushy. It drives me nuts.


FREEZER Use your freezer for really hard to find herbs and leaves. I always have a bag of chopped coriander and curry leaves in the freezer and use them straight from frozen.


Janine Ratcliffe Portrait
Janine RatcliffeFood director

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