Meet the Author – Sumayya Usmani

We have a very exciting release this April as Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan hits the shelves. We caught up with author Sumayya Usmani about the inspiration behind the book, her childhood memories from Pakistan and what makes Pakistani cuisine so unique.

Sumayya Usmani (c) Joanna Yee

Huge congratulations on the release of your first cookbook Sumayya. What inspired you to write the book?

Thank you! The inspirations behind the book were the memories, flavours and passion I have for my homeland’s cuisine. I grew up only knowing my food as Pakistani; when I moved to the U.K. about ten years ago, I realised that not many understood how distinct and unique the cuisine is.  I missed home, the food memories of Pakistan ignited this passion to write about it.

What was your favourite part of putting the book together?

So many people are involved in create a book and I think the favourite part was working with a great team, from beginning to end. Zena Alkayat, my commissioning editor (Frances Lincoln), Joanna Yee (food photographer) and Melody Odusanya (publicity manager, Quarto), together with my mother who helped me with many of the her recipes, were the best parts of writing this book.

Can you tell us a bit about what makes Pakistani food unique?

From a varied ethnic community, disparate borders, migration, invasion and deep historical differences of it’s neighbouring countries, all influence the cuisine of Pakistan. It is although a young country geographically, in essence it’s cuisine has been developing for centuries. This country’s territory has seen the invasion of the Arabs, Mongols, Alexander the Great and absorbed the Muslim Indian migrants during partition in 1947 and also has fluid borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. All this has left a strong imprint of a confluence of flavour on it’s cuisine. The result is a definitive and distinct flavour.

With its own cooking techniques, many unknown recipes (to the west), a host of unusual ingredients (such as thyme, capers and Hunza apricots used in abundance in the Northern regions of Pakistan), to more familiar recipes such as rich Nihari, Haleem and barbecued chicken tikka in the South and East of the country – Pakistani cuisine is a treasure, one to savour and explore.

Family recipes feature heavily in the book – can you tell us about some of your favourite childhood memories of food in Pakistan.

My most favourite food memory is deeply embedded in my heart and on the pages of the book. My Nani’s (maternal grandmother) firni – a ground rice pudding infused with cardamom, saffron and adorned with silver leaf. A humble milky comfort dessert that reaches such regal heights by usual Pakistani flavourings – ones that have been influenced by Persians, Arabs and Mughals cuisines. I loved going to my Nani’s home when I was a child and I remember her tiny kitchen intensely enveloped with the fragrance of cardamom scented milky rice. Nostalgia of her love and passion for cooking fills my kitchen each time I make this.

What are your favourite recipes from the book?

Kunna gosht, a festive slow cooked lamb or goat (traditionally) shank stew cooked in the Chinot region of Paksitani Punjab – an exercise of patience for special guests; Attock Chapli kebabs with dried pomegranate chutney, shared by my childhood friend Moneeza, this is a Northern Pakistan street food of massive beef pan fried kebabs and of course, my Nani’s firni pudding.

What food / ingredients couldn’t you live without?

Tamarind, naturally!


Read more about Sumayya’s stunning debut cookery book on the blog here.

Summers Under the Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani

Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani is out now. Photography by Joanna Yee. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20).

More information on the book can be found on the QuartoKnows website here.


Visit Sumayya’s website at | Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.