‘Khazana’ is published by Hodder and Stoughton rrp £25

What Saliha Did Next

12th October 2018

It’s been a year and a half since Saliha Mahmood Ahmed won MasterChef 2017. Since then she’s written a cookery book, delivered a powerful speech at the House of Lords and continued to successfully combine her twin loves of medicine and food. Lisa Botwright chats with the Watford doctor to find out more about what’s she’s been up to during this time…

Back in May 2017 Saliha fought off competition from 63 other talented contestants, and triumphed through seven weeks of crazy MasterChef culinary challenges, before meeting fellow amateur cooks Steve Kielty and Giovanna Ryan at a tense and exhilarating tv final (watched by five million viewers), and being crowned champion. This popular foodie programme is famously life-changing and Saliha’s feet can hardly have touched the ground since that moment. “I can clearly define life before and after MasterChef,” she says. “I have had the most wonderful opportunities come my way, from cooking on This Morning and Sunday Brunch to introducing the Mayor of London in Trafalgar Square at a festival.” Can she pick a highlight out of all these incredible experiences? “One of the most inspirational things I was able to do was deliver a speech in the House of Lords on international Women Day. It was a complete privilege. I was buzzing, and felt totally proud to be British. I was lucky enough to talk to an audience about female empowerment and overcoming cultural obstacles to career success in Asian families.”

Saliha makes overcoming life’s obstacles look easy and doesn’t let a little thing like a demanding medical career (…a Junior Doctor at Watford General Hospital at the time of filming, she’s now a Registrar in Gastroenterology at Hillingdon Hospital…) stand in the way of her culinary calling. How on earth does she manage to fit it all in? “With great effort,” she admits. “I have to go above and beyond to make sure that I excel in both fields. I work late into the night and wake up early in the morning. It’s not uncommon for me to be testing recipes at 5.30 in the morning before going to work. The plus side,” she smiles, “is that at least dinner is ready for when I get back home.”

Her latest project is an Indo-Persian cookery book, Khazana, which means ‘treasure-trove’ in Urdu. The introduction proclaims it as a ‘modern, thoroughly contemporary, twenty-first-century cookbook inspired by ancient Mughal recipes’. “I have always been fascinated by the Mughal Empire, Saliha explains. “These were the Emperors who built the Taj Mahal, so you can imagine that they were hugely fond of grandiose gestures and this was also reflected in their food. It is such an exotic and rich history to delve into, I was completely absorbed by it.”

She travelled extensively through Central Asia, Pakistan, Kashmir and India in her childhood and many of the recipes are based on particular regions she has visited. “Writing the book was a joyous process,” she says, as all those foodie memories from her childhood came flooding back.

The recipes – with their tastebud-tempting titles – are “both modern interpretations of ancient recipes and modern recipes inspired by the tastes of the time… the food [is] particularly interesting for the reader with its huge variety.” Saliha even talks about the recipes for some of my favourite street food that is eaten outside the famous Mughal monuments.

She’s really enjoying the process of promoting her book. “I am delving myself wholeheartedly into book promotions, literature and food festivals and meeting fans up and down the country at book signing events.” But she remains circumspect about her next writing move. “I have a couple of ideas for my next cookbook, but sadly have to keep them under wraps for now.” 

She concludes with the customary élan that made her light up on Masterchef, “I am totally dedicated to fulfilling both my career ambitions of continuing as an NHS doctor and a cookery author simultaneously. It’s a tough balancing act, but one that I love trying to strike! 

Scroll down for extracts from her stunning new twenty-first-century Indo-Persian cookbook ‘Khazana’ that’s ‘…inspired by the past, but made for you to enjoy today…’

TURMERIC AUBERGINE & TADKA YOGHURT RAITA (Serves 4)

This gently spiced aubergine raita dish (pictured on our front cover) is wonderful alongside warm flatbreads…

Liberally brush each aubergine slice with olive oil until they are coated all over. Now sprinkle turmeric and a good pinch of salt over the aubergines so that all the aubergines have taken on the vibrant yellow of the turmeric. Place a large non-stick pan over a medium-high heat and fry the aubergine slices in batches for about 4–5 minutes on each side. They should be completely soft and caramelised on both sides. Arrange the aubergines in a single layer on a large flat platter.

Put the yoghurt and honey into a bowl and whisk with a fork until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Pour the 75ml olive oil into a frying pan and place over a high heat; when it is very hot, but not quite smoking, add the garlic, cumin seeds and diced chilli – the garlic and cumin should start colouring very quickly. When they are golden brown, remove from the heat and pour carefully over the yoghurt; stir well.

Drizzle the yoghurt mix over the aubergines and scatter over the coriander, mint and pomegranate seeds.

1 large aubergine, cut into 5mm slices; 75ml olive oil, plus extra for brushing; 1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric; 200g natural yoghurt, at room temperature; 1 tablespoon honey; 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced; 1 teaspoon cumin seeds; 1 red chilli, finely diced; 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander; 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves; handful of pomegranate seeds; salt, to taste

SEA BASS, CHILLI & SAFFRON BUTTER (Serves 4)

Lavash is an incredibly versatile Persian flatbread usually used to make light wraps and rolls. I wrap fillets of sea bass in it and roast the bread parcels until they are golden on the outside and crunchy in texture – a really quick and easy supper for the family or guests…

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan), gas mark 6. Trim each piece of lavash bread to create four squares around 20 x 20cm. Use a fork to mix the saffron, garlic and red chilli into the softened butter.

Season the sea bass fillets with salt and place each one onto a square of lavash bread. Spread the saffron-chilli butter over the sea bass fillets and sprinkle with a few spring onions and some coriander. Carefully bring each side of the lavash over the sea bass so that the fish is completely enclosed inside the flatbread.

Place the prepared fish parcels onto a baking tray and rub olive oil all over them. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and the bread is golden. Open out the fish parcel to reveal the herb and saffron baked fish and crispy lavash bread. Serve immediately.

4 pieces of lavash bread; 50g softened butter; good pinch of saffron threads; 1 garlic clove, finely grated; 1 red chilli, finely chopped; 4 x 120g skinless sea bass fillets, about 1cm thick; 2 sliced spring onions, thinly sliced; 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh coriander; olive oil; salt, to taste

SUBHANI APRICOT LAMB CURRY (Serves 4)

The Mughal Emperor Babur loved fruit so much that when conquests and battles forced him to move from central Asia to India, he craved his beloved apricots, pomegranates and apples. Emperor Babur’s life was documented in his own journal, the ‘Baburnama’. He speaks evocatively of the subhani, a dried variety of apricot found in the town of Marghinan in east Uzbekistan, as well as of fresh apricots. My inspiration for this dish comes from the description of the glorious apricot in the Baburnama – I use a combination of dried and ripe apricots to create a luscious fruity curry…

Rub the garlic and ginger into the cubed lamb and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the ghee or butter in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onions and fry over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or until they are a deep golden brown. Add the cubed lamb to the onions together with the turmeric, garam masala and cumin. Stir well until the meat is brown, taking care not to let the spices catch.

Put the tomatoes into a food processor or blender with the chilli flakes and blitz to a purée. Add the puréed tomatoes to the lamb with the measured water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, over a low-medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until the lamb is meltingly soft. Most of the liquid will have evaporated from the pan and oil will start bubbling up to the surface but if you find that the lamb is not yet completely soft, add a little more warm water and continue to cook for another 15 minutes (the varying age of the lamb affects the cooking time, with spring lamb cooking much faster).

Meanwhile, prepare the sesame flatbread. Sift the flour into a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) and add the sugar, salt and chopped coriander. Mix the milk and oil in a jug and pour slowly into the flour. Knead by hand (or with a dough hook) for about 5 minutes until the dough is nice and elastic.

Form the dough into eight equal-sized balls. Dust the worktop with flour and roll out each dough ball out until it is the approximate thickness of a £1 coin. Put onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, moisten the surface of each flatbread with a wet hand and sprinkle over the black sesame seeds. Cover with cling film and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

When the time is nearly up on the curry, cut the potato into thin slices and then cut each slice into long thin strips to form potato matchsticks. Heat vegetable oil in a pan until sizzling hot and deep-fry the matchsticks for a minute or two until they are golden and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.

To cook the flatbreads, place a large non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the flatbreads, a few at a time. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side until the bread is golden and cooked through. Brush the flatbreads with the ghee or butter as soon as they come out of the pan.

To finish the curry, add the dried apricots and simmer for a final 4-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Add the fresh apricot slices and remove from the heat, allowing the raw fruit to soften in the residual heat of the pan. Serve the apricot curry in large spoonfuls on top of the sesame flatbread and topped with the fried potato matchsticks.

1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 teaspoon grated ginger
600g boneless spring lamb, cut into small cubes
3 onions, thinly sliced
75–100g ghee or butter
1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
350ml warm water
1 waxy potato, peeled
Vegetable oil, for frying
100g dried apricots, finely chopped
3 fresh apricots, stoned and thickly sliced
Salt, to taste

FOR THE SESAME FLATBREAD
275g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
120ml warm milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons melted ghee or butter, for brushing

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