AIL talks to: Zumbura

Zumbura showcases home cooking from the Purab region of northern India. Co-owner Aamir Ahmad is this month’s AIL guest blogger

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Zumbura
36a Old Town SW4 0LB
Clapham’s newest Indian restaurant, Zumbura, showcases home cooking from the Purab region of northern India. Co-owner Aamir Ahmad is this month’s AIL guest blogger.

“Food has always been a passion of mine. I am a real foodie and have grown up in a family where food plays a huge part. I remember growing up listening to my aunts and uncles debating where was the best place in India to eat a certain dish, or arguing about how it should be made.

With Zumbura I have also brought in my passion for interior design, and wanted to create a cool environment as well as having great food. Plus I have always been a bit of a party animal so we had to have great cocktails too.

I started Zumbura with my partner Dave and my best friend Sean. We also founded furniture retailers Dwell together, which we still run now. Dave and Sean have listened to me going on about having my own restaurant and I managed to rope them in, but thankfully they are loving it too. They love my mum's food and have always moaned that no Indian restaurants really do home cooking, so when I said all our recipes would come from her they were sold on the idea.

I have known head chef Raju Rawat for many years and he is just the perfect chef for us. He has tonnes of experience and a real appreciation for what I am trying to achieve. Plus my mum approves of him and she of course is the most important judge!

Purabi food is a simple rural cuisine focusing on everyday wholesome ingredients. This is not the fancy Mughal food of banquets or weddings. It is all about seasonal produce, freshness and lightness of spicing. We eat a lot of vegetables, whole grains and pulses, balanced with meat and fish. There is also a real fussiness in Purab about exactly how food is prepared, with strong ties to tradition. People have been known to resort to fisticuffs arguing over the correct way to dress a daal. Every sauce and every dish is prepared differently so you don’t get the monotonous food you see in most restaurants where everything looks and tastes the same.

Zumbura has three signature dishes. Kullia is a real favourite. It is a lamb and turnip stew; the lamb is cooked on the bone so the sauce has a beautifully deep broth base. The spicing adds a smoky flavour to the light aromatic sauce and one that I think will delight people bored of the conventional high street curry.

Gugghni is made from black chickpeas and is a simple vegetable dish that we love at home. Black chickpeas are a lesser known relative of the normal white chickpea and closer to their wild ancestor. They are packed full of fibre and protein and have more of a nutty bite than the white chickpea. We braise them in onions with a little mango powder keeping them full of flavour but with a tangy tone.

Namuna is so simple, just peas stir-fried with garlic and ginger. If you think Indian food is about heavy, greasy sauces you have to try this, it has delighted our customers. It’s a typical harvest dish; farmers would take the first of the crop, light a small fire in the field and cook for the pickers to celebrate the harvest and keep them going. I could eat it anytime as a healthy snack.

In terms of restaurants that do Indian food well, it’s a tricky one really as I am very fussy. You can go to Tooting or Southall and get a good curry but you need to know what to ask for. So many things are Anglicised so that they are unrecognisable to us.

I love regional food with an emphasis on home cooking and simplicity of style. I have loved Bocca di Lupo since it opened. I also love Cah Chi, a wonderful Korean restaurant run by two lovely sisters with one branch in Raynes Park and another in Earlsfield, it’s great home cooked Korean food. At the other end of the spectrum for a real splurge in plush surroundings I have to go to Bob Bob Ricard, it’s just decadent.

We prepare vegetables really simply, braising them to keep the flavour in and complementing them with a couple of spices, but not too many so they don't clash. Here is a simple potato curry: aloo ki tarkari.

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan.
2. Add cumin seeds and toss until they pop, but don't burn them.
3. Add onion seeds (kalonji) and a red chilli, toss briefly.
4. Add quartered and sliced potatoes.
5. Toss in the oil and seeds. Make sure the potatoes are evenly dusted with the seeds. Add water to cover.
6. Add mango powder (amchoor), a chopped tomato, chopped coriander, a green chilli and salt
7. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft and thoroughly cooked through, breaking up gently so they thicken the water to make a nice sauce. The end consistency should be somewhat like a runny mashed potato, but the slices of potato still visible.

Only a little oil is used to bring out the flavour of the seeds. You can be quite heavy with the seeds as they will dilute in the sauce. The mango powder gives a lovely sharp flavour and then the potatoes simmer in all the juices of the herbs and tomatoes, so none of the taste is lost. You should be able to get mango powder and onion seeds from any Indian supermarket.”
Added on December 6, 2013

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