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May 21, 2008

LUVely Cookbook – a fusion of culinary cultures

What we eat undoubtedly offers insights into our distinct and different cultures – but it is can also be a remarkably uniting force. The LUV project in Govan has just published a new recipe book featuring the favourite dishes of cooks from atleast 18 different backgrounds.


Hasfa’s Sri Lankan rolls, made with chicken, chilli, coriander and potatoes, are a dish you are traditionally not allowed to eat until you are married. Meriem’s moskoutcho is a sweet Algerian cake incorporating lemon rind, whipped up when visitors catch you by surprise. Atefeh’s rice bread is made for Iranian new year celebrations in March. And haggis – well, you probably know about haggis. It’s made by Scots in the stomach of a sheep. All these recipes and many more are included as part of the latest community venture to be launcehed by Linthouse Urban Village (LUV) in Govan.

All the contributors to the book live in and around the Govan area of Glasgow, and the project was devised in a collaboration between Linthouse Urban Village (LUV) and the Govan and Linthouse Housing Associations. The wider LUV regeneration project was started in 2003 and aims to build confidence and strengthen the small community at the southern end of Glasgow’s Clyde Tunnel. Affected by the loss of shipbuilding, it is historically a pocket of social disadvantage and exclusion, with nearly a quarter of the adult population on income support and 38% of children living in workless households.

The LUV scheme has already had artists employed to work with locals to brighten up and redesign shopfronts in a bid to restore pride in the area, while a community learning zone and other initiatives such as the LUV cafe provide a focus for a fragmented neighbourhood.

The new LUVely Food cookbook holds true to the production values embodied in the rest of the scheme. The recipes are presented in a smartly ringbound paperback with a wipe-clean cover, and decorated with cheerful foodie artwork created by community participants under the supervisions of Glasgow artist Emma Bibby. It wouldn’t look out of place in a mainstream gift shop.

“We wanted it to be really high quality. We are not known for skimping,” explains Ingrid Campbell, LUV coordinator. “Why shouldn’t it be high quality just because it’s a community project?”

The book has the expected selection of starters, main courses and desserts, but these range from cullen skink to spicy vegetable paratha; from Lebanese lamb to chakchouka (a sort of Algerian ratatouille).

It is already on sale for the bargain price of a fiver in select delis and independent bookshops in the city, as well as being enthusiastically punted around Govan by members of the group. “I sold 36 to the police at Helen Street,” says volunteer Tam. “I took it to the Ubiquitous Chip the high-end west-end eaterie and sold 10, like that!”

But the real success is evident at a lively gathering of Greater Govan residents of widely varying vintage. They include Jean Arthur, who has lived here for 43 years; Pakistani Scots such as Sajida, who has stayed in the area for 14 years and has a daughter, three-year-old Aminah, who is Govan born and bred; and refugees such as 23-year-old Algerian Meriem Zourdani, who has recently been granted leave to remain in the country.

Their pride in their collaboration on the book is obvious. Some knew each other already, through other community events. But for the most part, the obvious camaraderie is a result of the cookbook itself.

Angela Gardiner, community inclusion coordinator for Govan Housing Association, recalls one participant admitting at the outset that she had never met an asylum seeker. “Now the same woman says things like: They’re not bad, these ethnics’,” jokes Gardiner.

The group came together over weekly sessions to which everyone would bring a recipe. They then took turns to prepare their food, with a central fund paying for the ingredients, and gradually the contributions were whittled down as the group decided what to include in the book.

While it was an obvious chance for white residents of Linthouse to get to know their unfamiliar neighbours, it was a good opportunity for those from other backgrounds too, Gardiner says. “They were saying, We want to get together and not be separate, but we want to enjoy our culture.’ It shows that it is possible to both integrate and still celebrate your own culture.”

For Meriem, who arrived in Glasgow from London eight years ago, the project was well timed – she was pregnant with her third child. “I was the one who eats a lot,” she says. She was keen to get involved after she heard about the cookbook while doing a computer passport course at Govan’s Pearce Institute. “I make all my food from scratch, so I said yes.”

Meriem is evidence that the cultural transfer isn’t only one-way. “Before I only used to cook Algerian food, which is very healthy, but now I like to make curry and fish and chips.”

There is already talk of the need for another book. Joyce, from Kenya, didn’t get to contribute her recipe for African porridge in time, and she reels it off to me. It involves butter and millet, water and sugar – and, like Scots porridge, you can leave it in a cupboard and return to it during the week.

If there were a sequel, Sam would certainly be keen. He volunteered to help translate for French speakers. “It’s like the UN in there, and it is all from Govan,” he says. “If you go past Govan Cross on a Saturday you see people in every national dress except kilts.”

It’s a tribute to the tremendous aura of positivity surrounding the project that the Scots in the group plainly see that as no kind of threat at all.

Akinola Abifema’s Nigerian coconut rice and curried chicken

1kg basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tin coconut milk
4 large chicken legs
1 red chilli
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5cm ginger, peeled and finely sliced
1 and a half onions
1 large red pepper
100ml vegetable oil
4 pickled onions
1 chicken stock cube
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp Madras curry powder

1. Rinse the rice thoroughly in water and place in a pot with just enough water to cover.
2. Simmer for 10 minutes and drain.
3. Add coconut milk and olive oil and enough water to cover the rice. Cook for a further 10-15 mins.
4. Wash the chicken and place in a pan with enough water to cover it. Add stock, a pinch of salt, half a chopped onion and curry powder.
5. Boil for 20-25 minutes.
6. Mix the chopped chilli, pepper, the other onion, pickled onions, tomato puree, garlic and ginger and grind to a paste in a food processor.
7. Warm the oil in a pot and add the paste. Simmer for 15 minutes.
8. Add chicken and any remaining juices. Stir until heated through.
9. Serve with green peas, sweetcorn, and the coconut rice.

• Anyone interested in purchasing the cookbook should visit or call 0141 445 5100