I went to a Catholic school in Karachi, and grew up surrounded by Christmas sprit, carols and trees at this time of year. A rather incongruous experience one would think in Pakistan, but many of the very good schools are ones that were set up Christmas missionaries, and are to this day run by the Catholic Church in Pakistan, and are open to all.

In Pakistan, Christmas is 'Bara Din', which translates to the 'big day'. This day is spent with family and meals aren't usually the traditional Western fare but mainly traditional Pakistani dishes like roast spiced lamb, biryani or mutton korma finished off with a saffron cardamom rice pudding or cake, no steamed puddings in sight! Many Pakistani cultural traditions are attached to Christmas here, making the festivities close to those of other religious communities in the country, so many Muslim traditions such as exchanging money instead of presents, like we do on Eid, or wearing glass bangles and traditional Pakistan outfits with shimmer are usually preferred, and sharing mithai (sweetmeats)/

A Pakistani Christmas menu would usually feature meat as the main dish – legs of lamb and mutton shanks are popular, from slow-cooked rich curries and fragrant rice dishes to spiced marinades. To me, the Pakistani Christmas feast is one which is exotic and aromatic – headily spiced kitchens mingled with the floral aromas of red rose and jasmine garlands, the sounds of clinking glasses, bangles and the scent of henna covered hands.

This week, I am sharing three recipes inspired by a Pakistani Christmas, incorporating flavours I grew up with, and celebrating British produce.

A Spiced Christmas Menu

Kashmiri-style roast lamb shanks with cranberries, pistachios and almonds

This recipe is based on a traditional Pakistani/Kashmiri-style leg of lamb, which is marinated overnight with a spicy, fruity mix combined with freshly ground garam masala. I think this works really well as an alternative to a typical turkey roast.

Dry spice blend

• 1/4 stick of cinnamon

• 1 black cardamom pod

• 1/2 tsp black cumin, or regular cumin

• 1/2 blade of mace

• 1/2 tsp cloves

• 1 tbsp of dried rose petals

Lamb and marinade

• 2 lamb shanks, about 820–840g in total

• 1 large red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

• 1 tsp finely grated ginger

• 1 tsp garlic, crushed or finely grated

• 2 tbsp of blanched almonds

• 2 tbsp of pistachio nuts

• 2 tbsp of dried cranberries

• 300g of Greek yoghurt

• salt

• juice of half a lemon

• 1 tbsp of ghee, or butter

• 6 tbsp of vegetable oil


1 In a spice grinder or food processor, grind together the dry spice mix until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl or sealed container and set aside

2 Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a pan over a high heat then add the red onion slices. Fry until browned all over then remove from the pan and drain any excess oil on kitchen paper

3 When cool enough to handle, add the fried onions, ginger, garlic, nuts, cranberries, yoghurt, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil to a large, deep-sided dish that will accommodate the lamb shanks

4 Add a pinch of salt to taste and 1 large tablespoon of the spice mix and mix everything thoroughly together to form a marinade – reserve the rest of the spice blend to garnish later

5 Add the lamb shanks to the marinade, making sure they are fully coated in the mixture. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge

6 Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3

7 Heat a large frying pan with the ghee or butter. remove the shanks from the marinade and seal the meat on all sides in the hot pan. Transfer to a large baking dish and pour over the marinade

8 Cover loosely with foil and cook for 2 hours, removing the foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking. Baste the meat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil during cooking. When cooked, the meat meat should be falling off the bone

9 To serve, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix and serve with rice or vegetables as liked

Saffron and pistachio butter Brussels sprouts

There is no real tradition of Brussels sprouts in Pakistan but these are my own inspired recipe!

• 200g of Brussels sprouts

• 2 tbsp of salted butter, softened?• 1 handful of pistachio nuts?• 1/2 tsp chilli flakes?• 1 pinch of saffron

• 1 tbsp of hot water?• salt?


1 Place the saffron threads into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of hot water. Allow to stand and infuse while you grind the pistachios

2 Add the pistachios to a food processor and pulse until finely ground

3 Place the Brussels sprouts in a steamer and cook for 3–5 minutes, depending on their size, until cooked through and tender

4 Meanwhile, add the butter, ground pistachios and a pinch of salt to the bowl with the saffron water and mix until combined

5 Place a pan on a moderate heat and add the cooked sprouts. Scrape in the pistachio butter mixture and toss together for a few minutes so that it melts and coats the sprouts

6 Finish with a sprinkling of chilli flakes and another pinch of salt to season, then serve while hot

Spiced roast potatoes with coriander, cumin and black pepper

Roast potatoes really do complete this menu, with the thyme-like flavour of ajwain seeds and the tartness of tamarind, these are divine!

• 3 large Maris piper potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm chunks?• 1 tbsp of black peppercorns?• 1 tbsp of coriander seeds?• 2 tsp cumin seeds

• 1 tsp ajwain seeds

• 1 tsp chilli flakes

• 1 tbsp of soft brown sugar, or crumbled jaggery

• 1 pinch of pink Himalayan salt

• 1 tbsp of tamarind paste

• 3 tbsp of vegetable oil

• 1 tbsp of chopped coriander, to serve?


1 Add the potato chunks to a pan of salted water and bring to the boil over a moderate heat. Par-boil for 6–8 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender

2 Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3

3 Meanwhile, place the peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds into a dry frying pan and lightly toast over a moderate heat until fragrant, being careful not to let them burn. Transfer to a bowl to cool slightly

4 Once the potatoes are par-boiled, drain in a colander and transfer to a deep baking tray. Shake the pan to roughen up the surface and edges of the potatoes

5 Combine the ajwain seeds, chilli flakes, pink salt and sugar with the toasted spices then sprinkle over the potatoes. Add the tamarind paste and vegetable oil, mixing with the potatoes and spices so that everything is evenly coated

6 Transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes, tossing everything around halfway through the cooking time, until the potatoes are crispy yet soft inside, with slightly caramelised edges

7 Sprinkle with the freshly chopped coriander leaves and serve immediately