From Malawi to Britain to Auckland: Cookbook author Ashia Ismail-Singer’s journey to My Indian Kitchen

It was a bout of homesickness that prompted Malawi-born New Zealander Ashia Ismail-Singer to start her blog. It became so popular she has produced a cookbook, My Indian Kitchen.  She joins thisNZlife as a guest blogger to share some delicious recipes, including Kebab Pastry Twists.

Photography by Manja Wachsmuth

I love entertaining, I grew up in Malawi, Africa, in a family of six – myself, my parents and my three sisters. My mum and dad loved entertaining, and Mum would often cook a chicken biryani for a 100 without being fazed. Produce was fresh and plentiful, and we had chickens and a goat or two in our back garden, so we were never short of fresh eggs, chicken and meat.

Fast forward to my life in New Zealand. After moving to Britain from Malawi, where my parents are now settled, I decided to travel. I arrived in New Zealand in 1997, intending to work and take a look around, but six months into my trip I met my now-husband and decided to make New Zealand my home.


*Spicy Peppers in Tomato Sauce

*Mango Lassi, Salt Lassi and Rose Lassi

I missed my family and my home-cooked meals, so I started recreating them to share with friends. I guess people always expect a “curry” when they come for dinner, but there is more to Indian food than just curry. Married to a Kiwi, I decided to blend our two cultures and make food we can all enjoy.

For example, instead of a roast dinner, I would cook Chilli-Basted Roast Chicken and a Roast Vegetable Salad with paneer/halloumi and a lovely coriander and chilli dressing. I’ve always loved the flavours of a roast dinner but my parents found it too bland, so mum would add a chilli baste to the roast and a beautiful dish was created that bought two cultures – British and Indian – together.

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I am a working mum. I work as a nurse four days a week, which leaves very little time to do much else, especially when you have kids to ferry from swimming and basketball training, to run the house, and to act as PTA chair of a large boys’ high school.

I also wanted to write a cookbook to bring my fusion recipes together and share them. And so I started my quest to get my cookbook published. I launched a food blog, and my first recipe was called The Perfect Rice.

The blog and the articles I wrote in food magazines helps create a platform. My journey was long (six years), and often with obstacles, but I don’t give up easily. I kept picking myself up and dusting myself off and trying again. Then last year, I presented my proposal to publisher Potton & Burton. My Indian Kitchen is the result.

Nothing feels better than to sit down to dinner with my family and share the day’s stories. But people are busy, and most don’t have the time to cook. I want my recipes to inspire people to create quick and delicious meals. Interesting flavours and fresh ingredients with a hint of spice are the keys.
Here is an easy recipe for a dinner party. It’s also perfect in lunch boxes or for picnics.


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Recipe: My Kebab Pastry Twists
These tasty twists are great as finger food or as part of a sharing platter accompanied by tamarind chutney to give them extra bite.

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300g minced lamb or beef
1 small onion, grated
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons Green Chilli & Coriander Paste (see below)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil for frying
2–3 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry partially defrosted
1 egg, beaten

Put the mince, onion, garlic, ginger, Green Chilli & Coriander Paste, cumin and salt in a large bowl, then mix with a wooden spoon or by hand until thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture into small sausage-like kebab shapes about 8cm long and 3cm in diameter.

Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan until hot and then add kebabs and cook for approximately 6 to 8 minutes until browned. Keep turning the kebabs to ensure an even colour. Remove from heat and drain the kebabs on a paper towel to remove any excess oil. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the pastry by cutting the individual sheets lengthways into 1cm-wide strips. Take one strip and wind it around a cooled kebab and place on a foil-lined baking tray.

Repeat until all the kebabs have a pastry twist and then place the tray in the freezer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes to set (or keep frozen and stored for up to 3 months).

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Remove the tray from the freezer and brush the pastry with a beaten egg and then bake for about 10 minutes or until pastry is golden. Serve warm.

Makes: 12 to 14
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

Green Chilli & Coriander Paste
Wash a large bunch of fresh coriander. Remove excess water with paper towels or a clean tea towel. Remove the coriander stalks, as these can cause a bitter aftertaste.

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Roughly chop 6 to 8 green chillies. Blend the ingredients with a hand blender or in a pestle and mortar. Freeze paste in an ice-cube tray. (Because green chillies can vary in strength, half fill each cube until you establish the intensity of the heat preferred.) The paste keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator or for 3 months in the freezer.

My Indian Kitchen is available at and good book stores.

Follow Ashia on Instagram and Facebook


Recipe: Spicy Peppers in Tomato Sauce

Recipe: Mango Lassi, Salt Lassi and Rose Lassi

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