Bringing Art to the Table

Friday, February 5, 2016

Vegetable Pilau Rice 

In the colorful heart of Yorkshire's multi-cultural neighborhoods, Freda Shafi grew up in the shadow of her mother, a strong woman with a heart of courage who was renowned for her spice blends and traditional Indian cooking. From her, Freda acquired a passion for food and grew to love her time in the kitchen as she learned family recipes and listened to stories of her mother's life growing up in Pakistan. And later, when Freda chose to pursue a career in Fine Arts, a somewhat unconventional choice for a girl from her culture, this same strong woman encouraged  her to follow her dream.

Now, Freda lives in Australia with her husband and two young children where she combines her mother's love for cooking with her own passion for creativity as she brings art to the table, whether in the kitchen of her home or through her career as a consultant with under-privileged communities as she brings beauty to diversity. Her intimate knowledge of spices and flavor-rich recipes are beautifully curated on her Instagram and Facebook accounts as she invites us into a world where food and it's preparation carries the heritage of generations before her.

Freda Shafi recreates food from her childhood as a way of holding on to cultural roots
for her children to one day appreciate and know the things she learned as a child.

Read on for my interview with this accomplished home cook:

Tell me about your life currently, Freda.  I recently became a mummy for the second time to a beautiful baby girl and we also have a five-year-old boy. For the next few months at least,  I'm spending as much time as I can with the children and enjoying home life, which for me involves looking after my family and making sure the table is always full of traditional and nutritional food which I plan on a day-to-day basis. 

What was your life like growing up?   Life was a mixed bag growing up in an Indian/Pakistani family in Yorkshire. On the one hand we were very English and had no choice but to integrate and be part of the English community at school. Yet in our local neighborhood we played easily with all the other children from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds - Italians, Irish, Polish, Cantonese, German, Indian and Pakistani. I have many happy memories of playing with friends and eating all the delectable cuisines offered up by different families in the street. I always loved food, so much so, that my nickname was "the chubby cat" at home!  We lived a frugal life with very little in the way of luxuries; however, I don't recall a single day that I didn't have enough food on my plate. My mum was the most inventive and creative cook I know. She would stretch a small amount of food to feed a family of 7 and there was still enough to feed the odd guest. 

Seafood Marinara Pasta 

How did you come to love cooking and baking?  My mother taught me almost everything I know about South Asian food. It was a welcome chore to prepare dinner with my mum. I would carefully measure out each spice for every distinctive curry dish. I knew them by heart by age 8!  I was responsible for making the roti (bread), which was a staple of our diet. I would mix the dough and later roll out the roti as my sister cooked it on the griddle.  We chatted, laughed, fought and played every day as part of this ritualistic experience. 


Tell me about the career path you chose.  I have a master's degree in Fine Art sculpture and undertook many commissions for galleries to exhibit my work. In more recent years, however, I started my own consultancy specializing in working with under-privileged people and the arts.

What inspires you?  Many things and people inspire me. I am inspired by many modern chefs but especially love Madhur Jaffrey, having grown up to her cookery programs. She remains the top of her field even though she is now in her 80's! I love the fact that she introduced a whole nation to curry back in the 80's.

How did you meet your husband?  I met my husband, Raz, at the dentist! Ironically, we shared the same surname before we got married. The day I walked into his surgery, his nurse excitedly ran in to tell him, "Your wife's here!" (Because of our surnames)  She must have tempted fate because a year later we said our "I do's" in an old stately home in Yorkshire.

Teamwork: whether in business or in the kitchen, Raj and Freda work well together.

What prompted your move to Australia?  My husband and I were looking for a new challenge and Australia seemed to be offering us many new opportunities. We were invited to move as part of our skill set during a time when Australia was looking to encourage more professionals from the medical field to live there. We are now citizens. Leaving my home and family was not easy and every day I feel an ache in my heart for "home" and England.

Are you involved in your local community?  I have recently offered two workshops in the community teaching people about Indian food, spices and cooking curry. I have also led workshops for children as young as age 5, teaching them about the importance of a good diet. I would love to do more of this once my children are older.

Goat curry.


Minced Lamb Kebabs 

1 kilo of minced lamb ground finely 
2 large onions 
3-4 fresh Green Chillies
Generous bunch of fresh coriander including stalks
Egg to bind 

1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp ginger powder
 ½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander powder
 ½ tsp
 Carrom seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp of coriander seeds (ground down- use a pestle and mortar)
1 tbsp of dehydrated Mango powder - amchur -(widely available in Indian spice shops) 
Salt to taste
4 tbsps oil/ghee to pan-fry the kebabs
Mix the spices together in a separate bowl – you can use a pestle and mortar to grind down the coriander seeds

In a large bowl, mix the mince together with the dry spices until fully combined.  Take small handfuls of the mince and arrange into round patties .  Arrange the uncooked patties onto a large plate.  Place the uncooked patties into the microwave for approximately 3-5 minutes until par cooked. 

Place a few tablespoons of oil In a frying pan and heat, then place the par cooked kebabs into the pan and cook for 4 minutes each side until they are golden brown 

Serve with mint raita (mint yogurt) and naan bread.

Lamb Kebabs

Mum's Pea and Potato Curry - Aloo Mattar 
(Ultimate comfort food)

Ingredients : 
3 -4 potatoes peeled and chopped 
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 1/2 large onions chopped finely 
6 tomatoes diced 
1 heaped tbsp tomato purée 
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika 
1/2 tsp chilli powder 
1 1/2 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp cumin seeds 
1 tsp coriander powder 
1/2 tsp mustard seeds 
3-4 cloves fresh garlic crushed 
1 tsp fresh ginger finely grated 
3-4 curry leaves (optional)
2-3 fresh green chillies 
Small handful fresh coriander to garnish 
1 cup Olive oil / ghee 

Heat the olive oil in pan and throw in the mustard seeds. Fry until they pop then add the onions and curry leaves and sauté until golden brown. Add the tomatoes and other spices and simmer until a rich sauce is formed - this usually takes 10 minutes. 
Add the vegetables and let the curry simmer for 10-15 minutes until they are al dente. Serve with rice or buttered roti.

Mum's Pea and Potato Curry

Achar is often served as an accompaniment to most Indian dishes adding an acidic and tangy lift on the palette. It can be made using limes or lemons or both. You can buy it ready made in many Indian grocery stores these days, but there's nothing like making your own; especially if you have a lemon tree growing in your back garden like me! 

Curing ingredients 
10-12 limes 
5 lemons  (I used both lemon and lime) 
Black salt to cure the limes (use rock salt or Himalayan pink salt as an alternative) 

Pickle ingredients 
10-12 garlic cloves chopped roughly 
50g finely chopped 
2 tsp roasted mustard seeds 
1 1/2 tsp roasted fenugreek seeds 
2 tbsp chilli powder 
2 tsp tumeric 
1/2 tsp cumin seeds 
5-6 sprigs fresh curry leaves 
5-6 fresh green chillies 
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder (onion powder as a substitute) 
1 cup olive oil, mustard or sesame oil (mustard oil is traditionally used) 
1/2 cup vinegar 
1 tsp Palm sugar or normal sugar 

1. Wash and dry your limes thoroughly and begin to cut them into halves then each half into 3 pieces. 

2. Put them into a large bowl and sprinkle with the black salt or the salt of your choice. Black salt has a very pungent sulfurous odor which disappears after a few days. I used a good few tablespoons of black salt to ensure all the lemons were coated. Try not to touch the lemons at this stage as it will cause it to mold. 

3. Take 3 large glass jars / containers and ensure they are thoroughly cleaned and dried. Using a spoon start to fill your glass jars with the limes / lemons ensuring they are tightly packed 

4. Place the jars in direct sunlight (a window sill) and leave for 3-4 weeks, shaking the jars  every so often to make sure the liquids released from the limes coat the entire contents. You will notice an obvious colour change over the weeks which means they are ready for the pickling process to begin. 

5. After 3-4 weeks when you feel the limes are ready, start to make the pickle sauce. Roast the fenugreek seeds lightly then crush them down to a powder in a pestle and mortar to release their flavour. 

6. In a separate pan, heat some oil and throw in the mustard seeds until they pop then the cumin seeds and garlic so that it softens and browns slightly. Add the chillies curry leaves and other spices and stir through on a low heat. 

7. Add the cured lemon and lime into the pickle sauce and stir for a few minutes making sure they are well coated with the spices. 

8. Turn off the heat and leave the pickle to one side to cool before returning it to the clean glass jars. 

Achar - Lemon and Lime Pickles

As already stated, you can store this pickle in the fridge for up to a year and it gets better as it matures. Serve it as an accompaniment to any Indian dish, it also works in sandwiches in small amounts to add a little spicy piquancy. This beautiful condiment takes weeks of preparation, dedication and careful attention to make sure the tastes are well-coordinated. I tried to recreate it, without taking any shortcuts so I hope my recipe stands up to that of the generations from which it's been handed down. 

For more delightful photographs and recipes, follow Freda on Facebook here or on Instagram:  fredashafi_spiceitup.  

All photos by Freda Shafi and used with permission.

A touch of Yorkshire - an English trifle. 


  1. Such a lovely interview, Naomi. I love that Freda admires Madhur Jaffrey, she's an incredible lady! And what a funny story about her and her husband sharing the same last name before they even married! It's always interesting to read about people who have moved to Australia too, I'm constantly amazing by people who immigrate - it seems so far away! Strange for me to think that, I know, when I came from Oz to the UK - but that seems different, somehow! Essie xx

  2. Beautiful writing! Great recipes, thank you!

  3. Thanks so much for the beautiful write up and feature dear Naomi xxx

  4. Naomi, I love this piece. Instagram has given me the opportunity to forge a friendship with Freda, even though we are a continent apart. She is an amazing friend, mother and sister and it's been my good fortune to call her my friend. I love all that I learned about her in what you shared and it adds even more dimension to her. Thanks for sharing this!

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