30 March 2022

Spice talk with Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani is the pioneer voice for Pakistani cuisine in the UK and we're delighted to have blended her unique organic rose petal Garam Masala.

Spice talk with Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani is the pioneer voice for Pakistani cuisine in the UK. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Sumayya spent her early years on merchant ships, travelling the world. Her true sense of belonging lies in cooking with spices. From memories of spice markets around the  world to watching her mother cook on an electric frying pan on-board; she experienced the wonder of cooking with spices from childhood. 

Sumayya is the author of two award-winning cookbooks on Pakistani food, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree and Mountain Berries and Desert Spice and we are delighted to have helped her create her own bespoke rose petal garam masala which is based on her Pakistani heritage and her memories of the essence of petrichor after a warm monsoon and Pakistani red roses that her grandmother grew in her garden. 

This garam masala is very different from an Indian style garam masala as its ingredients are cardamom, cumin, star anise, clove, rose petals, cinnamon and chilli but it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Do follow Sumayya @SumayyaUsmani and visit her website for online courses on intuitive cooking and mindful writing www.sumayyausmani.com.

We caught up with Sumayya recently and asked her about her influences and inspirations... 

Can you tell us a bit more about Pakistani cuisine and what makes it unique

"What makes Pakistani cuisine unique is that it is a confluence of all of South Asia – though Pakistan is a young country its cuisine has been in the making for centuries – from Mughal flavours, to local Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashtun food, its flavours are influenced not just by regional food, but also migration, invasion and its fluid borders of Central Asia, China, Iran, Afghanistan and India. I describe the flavour of Pakistani food as rich, aromatic and layered with spiced flavour."

Are there any spices that are particularly important? Or particular blends? (Are these the ones in the Steenbergs spice bag?)

"Deep, dark spices are used in quintessential dark meat dishes such as black cardamom, star anise and cumin – these are included in the Sensory Spice Selection by Sumayya and Steenbergs. We love using family blends of garam masala – usually we use them whole at the base of many dishes and blends are usually made fresh and used up quickly. A key cooking technique in Pakistani food is to slow cook each layer the spices are infused in, for example if a spice is heated in oil first, you’d wait until its aromatics are imbedded deeply in the oil before moving on to browning onions." 

Do you have a favourite spice and why?

"I love cumin the most – after that, green cardamom. For me cumin is the most versatile of spice, it can transport you from a Moroccan spice bazaars to Karachi street food stalls but it can also take you to Mexico City ! Its because cumin is the most widely used spice in the world and it tastes different when dry roasted, used without heat or ground. I love green cardamom because again is such a versatile spice – used in desserts, baking and rich savoury dishes. The astringent comforting smell reminds me of my grandmother’s rice pudding." 

Could you tell us a bit about your cookbooks and the inspiration behind them

"I was always passionate about my cuisine, and wanted to give a voice to the flavour of my homeland. I also wanted to document the recipes and memories I grew up with around food and cooking. For me the kitchen was a place of belonging and comfort and this was the inspiration behind my book. It is also the inspiration behind my new forthcoming food memoir."

What would be your ‘Desert island’ meal? 

"My mother’s mutton pullao with mint, pomegranate and black salt raita, then barbequed saffron prawns from the Arabian Sea served with a spicy tamarind chutney. Pudding would be my Nani’s (maternal grandmother) cardamom kheer rice pudding. We’d also have dark chocolate – lots and lots and lots of it, from all over the world, in every possible flavour, and chai (not the Western version but doothpati, which is traditional cooked Pakistani chai)."

Do you have any top tips or tricks of the trade as far as spices are concerned? 

  1. Buy smaller bottles or jars, use up quickly.
  2. Use up ground spices within 3 months.
  3. Dry roast dry spices but cool before grinding this stops their essential oils from sticking to the grinder.
  4. Infuse spiced oils into your food by either heating in hot oil and fragrances the oil or slow cooking in a dish by adding them at the beginning of the cooking process, though with spices like saffron use during the end of cooking as the aromas disappears with too much cooking.
  5. Buy organic when you can – better for the environment and better for you!


Sumayya will be hosting CELEBRATORY PAKISTANI FEAST with Cookaway on Thursday 5th May at 6pm. To book, simply follow the link above and as a special gift all sign ups will receive a free jar of Sumayya's special organic Pakistani Garam Masala from Steenbergs. 

Menu:  Chicken Handi with Saffron Nutty Pulao
Date:  Thursday 5th May 2022, 6:00 PM
Order by:  Monday 2nd May 2022, 4:00 PM