Spuds, Stew and Sag Aloo

Naseem Booth's Indian cuisine goes further than chips and curry sauce, writes Jenny Cathcart

Makhani Murgi, buttery chicken, is now a popular dish on dinner tables in Fermanagh. Why? Because an Indian lady, one of the first Asian women to reside in the county, has created a world cuisine cookery book through her evening classes at Fermanagh College.

Naseem Booth’s class helped produce a cookery book containing over 40 recipes from Italy, China, Thailand, India, France, Austria, Ireland and England.

Salmon en croûte with noilly prat sauce or honey and soy glazed duck followed by tiramisu trifle might seem an ambitious proposition for amateur cooks, but these were but two of the dishes prepared by the group.

The proof of the pudding is in the photographs which appear alongside clear instructions in Cooking Around the World. Over eight weeks, photographer Erica Irvine came to the college each Thursday night to photograph eight dishes per night.

In keeping with Booth's 'no frills' approach in the kitchen, the photographs are simple, clear and attractive. 4000 copies of Cooking Around the World were printed at the Print Factory in Enniskillen.

When the book was launched at the Erne restaurant in Fermanagh College on October 17, award-winning Chef Neven Maguire, author of five cookbooks, congratulated Booth and her class for their initiative, their choice of recipes and the stylish presentation of the book.

Naseem Booth, nee Chawdhery, was born in Nairobi of Indian parents. During the 1940s, 50s and 60s her father worked on the east African railway network and the family moved between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Like her brother before her, Naseem was sent to study in England where she completed a City and Guilds catering course at Middlesex Technical College in Chelmsford.

Following her marriage to Ernest Booth, she worked as a cook for directors at the Upper Clyde shipyard in Glasgow, and when the couple moved south, she became catering manager at the British Telecom offices in Southend, a job she enjoyed for twenty five years.

The Booths came to Fermanagh in 1994 when Ernest was employed to design a new glass factory for the Quinn group in Derrylin. Naseem wanted to integrate into the community and make friends, so she signed up for an evening class in Patisserie at Fermanagh College.

Spotted by the head of the catering department, Booth was invited to devise an Indian cookery evening class, which the following year became a Chinese class, and the year after that, specialised in Italian dishes.

Booth proposed a course entitled Cooking Around the World, which has become so popular that the college now offers adult classes two nights per week, with a waiting list for next year. Surprisingly, in this year’s class men outnumber women by ten to eight.

Bert McDowell is a retired naval commander, who has sailed the world and enjoyed food in many countries. ‘This is recreation for me, with no pressure to take an exam at the end of term,' he says. 

'Naseem is a fine teacher. She can be a bit sharp at times, for she is a perfectionist! We have fun and we enjoy eating what we cook.'

It was during the winter term of 2005 that Booth's students first suggested a cookery book in support of charitable causes, and she needed little persuasion.

Perusing cook books and magazines, and trying out new recipes on her family before choosing the final list of dishes for the book, Booth's Wednesday class offered to raise printing funds while the Thursday team elected to cook the demonstration dishes.

In June 2005, Booth's friends Gary and Wilma Johnston hosted an open day at their Ashwoods garden centre. Gary demonstrated how to prepare hanging baskets and grow herbs. The guests enjoyed food prepared by the cookery class, and the event raised over a third of the total amount required to publish the book.

Neven Maguire gave a cookery demonstration at Enniskillen Golf Club. Gardens were opened for summer barbecues. Local businesspeople came forward as sponsors. As the project advanced, Booth and her students pledged all the sales revenue to two worthy causes, the Caudwell Charity for Changing special Children’s Lives and Marie Curie cancer care, with the understanding that the monies will be spent entirely in NI.

Booth is proud that she has been able to bring a taste of her own culture and new ideas to local dining tables. Fermanagh is a long way from the Punjab where her family have their roots, but Booth has vivid memories of the wholesome products that were harvested on the family farm near Lahore.

The gardens and orchards provided luscious fruits including pomegranates and mangos, and a variety of vegetables. Booth is a firm advocate of fresh ingredients and healthy eating.

In addition to her teaching work, she is employed by the NI Livestock and Meat Commission, and NI Seafood Ltd to promote fresh local produce through cookery demonstrations in schools and community halls in Fermanagh and Tyrone. Jamie Oliver eat your heart out.

Cooking Around the World is on sale at Fermanagh College and other outlets for £10