Darina Allen: Samosas and curry that allow us to travel in our kitchens

"Here are some favourite dishes that my happy memories are made of, to cheer us all up until we can travel once more."
Darina Allen: Samosas and curry that allow us to travel in our kitchens

Moroccan Harira Soup: a North African journey in a bowl

Doesn’t this Lockdown seems like an eternity – even the most resilient of us are really struggling to keep our spirits up and remain positive and optimistic for the sake of those around us.

Like many of you, I so miss travelling.

I have had to content myself with skimming through photos and little videos on my iPhone, reliving and experiencing heady trips down memory lane.

I miss so many things - the blast of heavy spicy air that greets me as I disembark after a long haul flight to India. Walking out of the airport a riot of colour everywhere, the crazy traffic, honking of horns and the frenzy of cars, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bikes, scooters and cows ambling nonchalantly through the mix.

I miss my trips to London, and silly little things like sitting in the Quiet Zone in the Paddington Express on my way into the city, drawing up my list of restaurants, cafés, Farmers Markets, theatre and exhibitions that I’m hoping to squash into two or three days.

I‘m longing to sit sipping a glass of wine at a café table on a sidewalk in Paris, Rome or Barcelona watching the glamorous world go by. I’m aching to wander around Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan and feeling the irresistible buzz of New York under my feet. Or once again experience the craziness of Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh after sunset.

Most of all, I MISS THE FOOD!

New flavours, new ingredients, the flutter of excitement generated by a new discovery, the comforting feeling of revisiting old haunts…


Hainanese chicken and rice or a steaming bowl of Laksa from a hawker stand in Singapore. A fatty pork stew from an open-air eatery in Myanmar, a glass of frothy turmeric latte, a flaky samosa or pakora from my favourite ‘hole in the wall’ in Maheswar… 

A handmade, masa harina quesadilla from an indigenous Mayan woman in an exquisitely embroidered blouse on a street stall in the zocala (zocala really stands for central square) in Oaxaca.

I can but dream, travel is still out for virtually all of us at present, and there is no end in sight. There is a relentless sameness to most of our days. So many, are either Zoomed out working from home, out of work altogether or demented by home schooling.

Some of us are crazy busy, others are creeping up and down the walls from boredom – not much in the way of a happy medium.

So difficult to make an effort to keep motivated, to resist the lure of the sofa but we can't have that…!

I found a clump of snowdrops and crocuses under the mulberry tree in the garden, and then joy of joys a few spindly stalks of rhubarb to cheer me up. Apart from getting super-excited, my personal solution is to ‘travel’ in my own kitchen. I’ve been doing just that through favourite recipes from my reconnaissance trips around the world. It prompts me to forget the misery and give thanks for how fortunate I’ve been to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I did.

So, here are some favourite dishes that my happy memories are made of, to cheer us all up until we can travel once more.

Keep safe and well and meanwhile Happy Cooking!

Singapore Chicken and Coconut Laksa

Serves 6-8 as a starter


  • 150g (5oz) fine rice noodles (eight of an inch/3mm)
  • 2 red chillies, chopped with seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 150g (5oz) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks coarsely chopped
  • juice of 1-2 limes
  • 50ml (2fl ozs) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 chicken breast, free-range (cut into very thin shreds) (250g/8oz)
  • 2 x 400ml (2 x 14ozs) tins coconut milk
  • generous 700ml (1.25 pints) homemade chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp Nam Pla, fish sauce
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle
  • Fresh coriander leaves


Pour boiling water over the bowl of rice noodles and allow to soak until soft – 10 minutes approximately. Drain and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths. Put the chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and juice of one lime into a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste.

Cut the chicken breast in half lengthwise and then thinly slice at an angle (1/8 inch wide) and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan and fry the chilli paste for 3 minutes. Add the whisked coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the thinly shredded chicken, bring back to the boil and barely simmer for a further 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the fish sauce (Nam Pla) and taste and add more lime juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls, ladle in the hot soup and garnish with spring onion and coriander leaves.


Do not allow the soup to boil once the chicken is added, otherwise, the meat may toughen.

David Tanis’ Pakistani Potato Samosas

If you don’t have the inclination or you can’t spare the time to make the dough, filo pastry could be used though it’s not traditional!

Samosas are popular snacks in Pakistan, India and elsewhere. The delicious fried parcels are often sold on the street, but the best ones are made at home. You can make the flavourful potato filling in advance if you wish. The highly seasoned potatoes can be served on their own as a side dish. Ajwain seed, a spice with a thyme-like flavour, is available from south Asian groceries or online spice merchants.

Makes 20 small samosas approximately


For the dough:

  • 300g (10oz) plain white flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon ajwain or cumin seeds
  • 50ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 110ml (4fl oz) cold water

For the filling:

  • 700g (1 ½lbs) russet potatoes, peeled, in 1-inch cubes
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped, optional
  • 2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil, plus about 3 cups more for frying
  • 1 chopped onion, about 1 cup
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp grated garlic
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 Serrano chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 2 ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 handful chopped coriander, tender stems and leaves


First, make the dough. Put flour, salt and ajwain seeds in a medium bowl. Drizzle in oil and work into flour with fingers until mixture looks mealy. Add water gradually, stirring until a soft dough has formed. If the dough seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water; if it seems wet, add a tablespoon of flour. Knead for 1 minute and form into a ball. Wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Then, make the filling. Simmer the potatoes and carrots in well-salted water until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Put 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Put ¾ tablespoon of oil in a very small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add cumin and mustard seeds. When the seeds are fragrant and beginning to pop, stir in garlic, ginger, chillies, turmeric and garam masala. Allow to sizzle for a minute, then add the contents to the onions.

Add reserved potatoes and carrots and stir well to coat. Check the seasoning and adjust salt. Remove mixture to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. When cool, add lemon juice and chopped coriander. Mix well, smashing the potatoes a bit in the process.

Make the samosas. Portion the dough into 20 pieces, each weighing 40g. Form each piece into a ball and place on a large plate. Cover with a damp napkin.

Roll each dough ball into a thin disc about 15cm (6 inches) in diameter, as if rolling out pie dough. Cut each disc exactly in half, leaving two pieces with a straight side and a round side.

Form each half-disc into a cone by folding it over and pinching the straight sides together. Put 2 ½ tablespoons filling in the opening on the round side, then pinch closed to make a stuffed triangle. Form the rest of dough balls into samosas.

Heat about 5cm (2 inches) of oil in the bottom of wok over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain the oil at 350°C.
Slip the samosas four at a time into the hot oil and let fry on one side until golden, a minute or so, then flip and cook other side. Lift from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve samosas hot or at room temperature, accompanied by your favourite chutney.

Burmese Pork and Potato Curry

We found a version of this dish in virtually every local eatery in Burma, the pork was always fat and succulent. I found this version at a cooking class at the Thiripyitsaya Bagan Sanctuary Resort, in Myanmar. The chef used water and included a teaspoon of ‘chicken seasoning’ but I have substituted some homemade chicken stock instead. I have also reduced the chilli powder from 1½ teaspoon to ¾ of a teaspoon over all, but you can use the maximum amount if you like it super hot.

The sauce is packed with flavour, it reheats brilliantly and even a little will electrify a bowl of rice.

Serves 4-6


  • 450g (1lb) fat streaky Heritage pork with rind on.

Marinade for pork

  • ½ - 1 tsp chilli powder

  • 2 tsp fish sauce, Nam Pla
  • ½ tsp Indian masala (see recipe below)
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp white sugar
  • 350g (12oz) potato, peeled and diced (1 large potato)
  • Marinade for potato:
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 110g (4oz) onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2.5cm (1in) piece of ginger peeled and grated – (1 dessertspoon)
  • 1 large ripe tomato, or 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½-1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ tsp Indian masala (see recipe below)
  • 125ml (4fl.oz) homemade chicken stock
  • 1.2 l (2 pints) homemade chicken stock

Indian Masala

  • Makes 1 dessertspoon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2.5cm (1 inch) piece cinnamon
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 3 cloves, crushed


To make the Indian Masala – whizz the ingredients together in a spice grinder or crush in a pestle and mortar and mix together.

Next, prepare the pork. Cut the fat streaky pork into 2cm (¾in) strips. Mix the marinade ingredients and rub all over the pork with your fingers. Leave to marinade for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Next cut the potato into 2cm (¾inch) cubes.

Put into a bowl and add turmeric, chilli powder and fish sauce. Toss to mix. The turmeric stops the potato from blackening.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or sauté pan. Add the chopped onion, cook for 3-4 minutes, add the crushed garlic, grated ginger, chopped tomatoes, turmeric, chilli powder, fish sauce and Indian masala.

Stir well, add 125ml chicken stock. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated – 2 -3 minutes. Add the pork pieces and enough of the remaining chicken stock to almost cover. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours until the pork is almost tender.

Remove the lid and add the cubed potatoes, cook uncovered, for a further 20-30 minutes. Taste and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with sticky rice or Basmati rice.

Note: The cooking time will depend on the type of pork and may be much less for the heritage pork we use.

Moroccan Harira Soup

In Marrakesh steaming bowls of Haria are ladled into large bowls every evening in Djemaa el-Fna. It is also an important part of the festivities of Ramadan. It’s the traditional soup to break the fast. My brother Rory O’Connell shared this particularly delicious version with us and everyone loves it.

Serves 6-8


  • 110g (4oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 110g (4oz) Puy lentils
  • 450g (1lb) leg or shoulder of lamb, diced into 7mm (⅓ inch) cubes
  • 175g (6oz) onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp each ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 110g (4oz) long grain rice
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • lemon quarters, to serve


Tip the chickpeas and lentils into a large saucepan. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron strands and paprika, then pour in 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) water. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bring to the boil, skimming all the froth from the surface as the water begins to bubble, then stir in half the butter. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the chickpeas are tender, adding a little more water from time to time as necessary – it can take up to 900ml (1 1/2 pints) more water or stock, it should be soupy in texture.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) water to the boil in a saucepan, sprinkle in the rice, the rest of the butter and salt to taste. Cook until the rice is tender. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the liquid.

To finish, cook the chopped tomato in the reserved rice cooking water, seasoning it with salt, pepper and sugar. It should take about 5 minutes or until the tomato is “melted”. Add this and the drained rice to the pot and simmer for a further 5 minutes to allow the flavours to mix. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper and perhaps a pinch of salt. Add the chopped herbs, stir once or twice and serve accompanied by lemon quarters.

Tumeric Latte

One serving


  • 350mls (12floz) whole milk or almond milk
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • sugar or honey to taste
  • a grind of black pepper


Put all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and whisk constantly over a gentle heat until it comes to the boil. When hot, pour the frothy latte into a heavy glass and enjoy.

Hot tips

Do you love real tea?

Made not just with a tea bag but with tea leaves… Would you like to learn more about the whole world of tea? Check out The Rare Tea Company and maybe join Henrietta Lovell and living legend Ryan Chetiyawardana for a Tea Cocktails Masterclass, today, Saturday 20th February at 5.30pm. 

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd