Safed Maas (Royal Chicken Korma)

Inspired by my travel to India last year. I had the privilege of tasting a few old classics. Two interesting dishes that stood out were “cream chicken” and “safed maas” both being distant cousins of the Korma clan. IMG_5758-0 Cream Chicken is a particular dish that has been raved about throughout Northern India and I was keen to sample this delicacy. Brain child of the Late Attar Singh Chawla, he introduced this dish in the early 1960’s in a small town called Nainital. This unique chicken curry is cooked with onion, milk and cream, flavored with black peppercorns and green cardamon. A simple dish transformed to a whole different tangent. Absolutely scrumptious and mind blowing, best eaten with Garlic Naan.

Safed Maas on the other hand is an age old recipe from the Rajput cuisine of Rajasthan . Safed means white and Maas translates to meat. This particular dish was traditionally cooked with goat meat. The gravy which imparts the white element was cooked with onions, ginger paste, garlic paste, yoghurt, cashew nuts, almonds, poppy seeds, coconut, dried red chillies and whole spices. This dish was truly fit for royalty. IMG_3846 After tasting both these dishes I went back to my kitchen to produce a cross between the two using chicken as the principal meat. The results were exceptionally good. I have put down the recipe on this blog and would encourage everyone to try out this delectable dish.

Recipe Serves 4-6 people

Cooking time – 45 mins

Ingredients 2 whole chicken deskinned approx 800 gms each (cut into medium sized pieces)

2 tbsp desi ghee (clarified butter)

6 tbsp vegetable oil

4 bay leaves

6 green cardamom

4 cloves

2 black cardamom

1 inch cinnamon stick

2 mace

12 whole dried red chillies

1/2 tsp hing (asafoetida)

1 tsp white pepper powder

1 tsp crushed black pepper

1/2 tbsp roasted cumin powder

1/2 tsp green cardamom powder

1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves powder

Salt to taste 4 medium sized onions finely chopped

2 tbsp of garlic paste

2 tbsp of ginger paste

200 gms yoghurt

150 gms Cashew nuts

200 ml double cream

Method

1. Heat ghee and oil in a cooking pot. Once heated add all the whole spices except the dried red chillies and asafoetida, let the flavour of the spices release into the oil. This will take around a minute cooking on medium heat.

2. Add the chopped onions and cook until the onions are about to turn golden brown in colour. Do not let them completely change colour. Now add the ginger and garlic paste and sauté until the paste is cooked. This process will take around 5-7 minutes on high heat.

3. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and stir well. Add salt at this stage and sauté for 7-8 mins. Add all the powdered spices except dried fenugreek powder. Lower the heat to minimum and add the yoghurt followed by cashew nut paste. To make the cashew nut paste, boil the the cashew nuts for 10 mins, drain and let them cool. Process the nuts in a food blender with enough water. The paste should have a milkshake consistency.

4. Once the cashew nut paste is added mix well for for couple minutes on high heat. Add the dried whole chillies and one cup of warm water. Lower the heat and cover the pot with a lid and cook for 15 mins until the chicken is cooked.

5. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the lid and increase the heat and stir for further 5-7 mins until the liquid is evaporated and you are left with a thick gravy. The oil should have surfaced to the top of the cooking pot by now. Add the dried fenugreek powder and cream. Mix for a couple of minutes more on high heat. Check for seasoning. To make dried fenugreek leaves powder take dried fenugreek leaves and roast in a pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. Transfer to a clean plate and crush the leaves with your palm. You will be left with a fine powder. Strain this powder through a strainer or sieve.

6. Once the chicken is ready. Remove from heat and cover the pot with a lid and let it rest for 15 mins before serving. Serve the Safed Maas with luccha parantha or roomali roti accompanied with onion salad.

I hope you enjoy cooking this recipe. Looking forward to your feedback.

Happy cooking. IMG_6122

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Awadhi Gosht (Lamb) Biryani

The name Biryani is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان)

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This royal dish is believed to find its roots in the rustic kitchens of the Mughal Emperors in 1800.

The traditional method to cook biryani was by a method called “Dum” it simply means to breathe in. A very heavy bottomed pot is used for cooking in which the food is tightly sealed with a “Purdah” also known as veil which is a simple dough made of water and flour used to seal the pot with the lid and the food is cooked on slow fire. This process of slow cooking releases maximum flavour and aroma.

The legend has it that the Biryani was brought to India from Persia through Afghanistan by the Arab traders, another source indicates that the biryani was brought by Emperor Taimur Lang from Persia to India as early as 1394.

Although there are many legends regarding discovery of biryani in India, the Islamic Persians have made the biryani popular in India. In 1856, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah introduced Biryani to Calcutta which became Calcutta Biryani. This Biryani was cooked with meat and whole boiled potatoes.

The Biryani from Lucknow is also know as the “pulao” and is supposed to be a more refined version. Its prepared in a different way as compared to the Biryanis prepared in the other states of India. A major difference is using “Yakhni” which is a rich mutton stock. Its also supposed to be quite delicate to the palate.

Below is the detailed recipe and a brief video to guide you through. I have slightly tweaked the recipe however the authenticity of the dish is maintained.

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Recipe

Serves 8-10 people

Cooking Time – 3 Hrs

 

Ingredients

2 kg Leg of Lamb diced on the bone

1kg Basmati Rice

8 medium size Onions

3 Large Potatoes (Optional)

1 cup Ginger and garlic paste

14 Cloves

4 Star Anise

12 Green Cardamom

4 Mace

2 stick of Cinnamon about one inch each

6 Bay Leaves

12 Whole Black Peppercorn

6 Whole Kashmiri Red Chillies

11/2 tbsp Cumin Powder

11/2 tbsp Red chilli Powder

11/2 tbsp Garam masala powder

1/2 tbsp Nutmeg Powder

1tsp of Saffron Strands

100 ml of Rose water

100 ml of Kewra(Screw pine) Water

1 Cup of Milk

1 cup of Ghee

1/2 cup of Vegetable Oil

1 Tbsp of Lemon Juice

Salt to taste

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Method

Preparing the Yahni (Stock):

1. Take a cooking pot and add about 5 Ltr of water. Add 21/2 tbsp of salt, 1 cup of Ghee, 1 cup of ginger-garlic paste and half a cup of oil. Add all the whole spices, leaving 6 cloves, 4 green cardamom and saffron aside. Add the powdered spices keeping aside half tbsp each of cumin powder, red chilli powder and the garam masala powder. Add 50 ml of rose water and 50 ml of kewra water. Bring it to a boil.

2. Ask your butcher to dice slightly large pieces of the leg of lamb on the bone. This is also termed as “biryani boti” as the biryani uses a larger cut of the leg, compared to curry pieces. Once the broth comes to a boil add the lamb pieces. Cover with a lig and cook for approximately 1.5 hrs on medium heat until the meat is tender.

3. While the yahni is cooking, finely slice the onions and deep fry until golden brown. Remove from the fryer and drain on kitchen towel. Peel the potatoes and dice into 4 large pieces each. Boil the potatoes with 1 tbsp of salt and 1 tsp of turmeric. Keep aside once cooked. Wash and soak 1 kg of good quality basmati rice for at least an hour. Take half a cup of cold milk add saffron, rose water and kewra water, mix well and refrigerate.

4. Once the lamb is cooked remove the pieces with a pair of tongs or slotted spoon. Strain the stock through a muslin cloth or fine sieve. Your stock should have been reduced by half now. Discard the spices.

Assembling the biryani:

5. In a heavy bottom cooking pot add 1 tbsp of ghee, once heated add the lamb pieces, sauté for a couple of minutes and add the fried onions, 3/4th of the yakhni or the strained stock, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 tbsp of cumin powder, 1/2 tbsp of chilli powder and half tbsp of the garam masala powder. Cook for further 10-15 mins stirring continuously on high heat until the liquid comes to a slight syrup consistency. check for seasoning. At this stage the salt should be on a slightly higher side Remove from heat, add the boiled potatoes and keep aside.

6. In another cooking pot bring water to boil and add 3 tablespoon of salt, 6 cloves, 4 green cardamom, 1 tbsp of lemon juice and add 1/4 of the yakhni or the strained stock. Once the water comes to a boil, drain the rice and add to the pot, cook until 3/4 done.

7. Drain the rice in a collander and layer it on the mutton broth. Once you have transferred all the rice to the pot, level it with a flat spoon. Sprinkle milk and saffron mixture on the rice and seal the pot with aluminium foil making sure the steam doesn’t escape the pot. Add a lid on top and cook on Dum (simply means to breathe in. A very heavy bottomed pot is used for cooking in which the food is tightly sealed with a “Purdah” also known as veil which is a simple dough made of water and flour used to seal the pot with the lid and the food is cooked on slow fire. This process of slow cooking releases maximum flavour and aroma.) for 45 mins. I have used aluminium foil to seal the pot as its an hassle free substitute compared to sealing it with a dough.

There are two ways to give “dum” you could place a flat heavy bottomed tawa on your gas burner on low heat and place the pot on it or place the pot in a convection oven at around 100 degree Celsius for 45 mins.

8. After the “dum” remove the lid and the foil. Once you remove the foil using a flat spoon very delicately mix the rice bringing the meat to the surface. Spoon onto a serving dish accompanied with a mint or a cucumber raita.

Tips:

Biryani or Pulao has always been a complicated dish to pull off. However a few tips will surely make it more easier.

1. While cooking the lamb and potatoes make sure not to over cook them as later when we layer the rice and the lamb broth it will cook further 45 mins on Dum. I always cook my lamb and potatoes 90 % and let them finish cooking on dum resulting in fork tender meat and soft and fluffy potatoes.

2. Make sure you check your seasoning at every stage of cooking.

3. As soon as the rice is cooked, drain and immediately layer it on the broth. If you leave the rice in the colander for long the steam in the rice will overcook the rice as a result your end product will be a lumpy overcooked Biryani. Timing and precision are very crucial while cooking the rice.

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Dahi aur Khade Masale ka Murgh (Chicken cooked with yoghurt and whole spices)

The Mughals and Persians from western Asia brought their rich artistic and gastronomic culture of eating meat to India. This influence lasted for more than 400 years and is now part of the fabric of Indian culinary culture.The splendor of the Mughal rule is reflected in the Mughlai Cuisine of India which is the richest and the most lavish in the country.

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Punjab has bequeathed the institution of Dhaba to the world. The Dhaba moves wherever a Punjabi goes would be the correct thing to state about its origin. Dhabas were food stalls which were often run by single families and mushroomed all along the trunk road serving fresh regional cuisine. The dhabas mainly gained popularity in the Northwestern part of the country from Peshawar to Punjab. The dhabas were characterised by open kitchens, clay ovens also know as tandoor and used brass and copper utensils. Dhabas today have become very popular all over the country and many modern versions have evolved.

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I have selected one of the most popular dishes from their menu a simple chicken curry cooked with yoghurt and whole spices.

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Serves 6-8 people

Cooking time 40 mins

 

Ingredients

2 Baby chicken whole (approx 900 gms each)

Whole Spices 

3 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon 5 cm

6 green cardamom

4 cloves

1/2 tbsp Cumin seeds

7-8 whole kashmiri red chillies

 

4 tbsp vegetable oil

4 tbsp desi ghee

4 medium onions

250 gms ginger and garlic paste (100 gms ginger & 150 gms garlic)

500 gms yoghurt

125 ml double cream

25gms or around 1 heaped tbsp kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

Salt to taste

3 tbsp chopped coriander

 

Method

1.Clean chicken and trim any excess fat. Cut each chicken into approximately 18 pieces or you can ask your local butcher to do that for you.

2. In a pan heat oil and ghee. Once heated add all the whole spices. The idea here is to make sure that the spices release their flavour into the oil. Make sure not to burn the spices.

3. Add 4 finely chopped onion and saute until slightly brown, we don’t want the onions to be golden brown. Just a slight colour on them will do.

4. Now add the ginger and garlic paste and saute for 7-10 mins until the ginger and garlic paste is cooked.

5. At this stage add all the dry spices except the garam masala powder. Before you add the spices I would recommend to add 2 tbsp of hot water to the cooking pan, give a quick stir and then add the spices. This will prevent the dry spices from burning and help impart the best flavour possible,.

6. Saute for further 2 mins and add the chicken pieces, at this stage add the salt. Saute the chicken for 7-10 mins until evenly coated with the masala.

7. Lower the heat to minimum and add the yoghurt . Mix well and increase the heat. Saute for further 5 mins. Lower the heat back to minimum and cover the pan with a lid and cook for further 15 mins.

8. Remove lid and increase the heat. Saute on high heat for further 5-7 mins or until the gravy has slightly thickened. At this stage add the cream, chopped coriander and garam masala powder. Cook for further 5 mins.

9. The Chicken curry is now ready. Serve hot with chapatis or rice and finely sliced onions with a dash of  lemon on the side.

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I can say this with full assurance and confidence that is will be the best form of Chicken curry you have ever tasted. Simple yet gratifying and scrumptious.

Looking forward for your feedback once you have made it.

 

I have put together a short video below which demonstrates the various stages of cooking the above recipe.

Raan e Sikandari (Slow roasted leg of lamb served with a masaledaar gravy)

 

With Easter weekend round the corner I was keen to share this recipe. I would be wrong in saying that this a quick in and out recipe, however the end result is worth the effort. A succulent melt in the mouth Indian lamb roast that bursts with flavours accompanied by a creamy masaledar gravy.

 

1 whole leg of  lamb approx 2.5 kg serves 4-5 people

200 ml mustard oil

50 gms kashmiri chilli powder

Juice of 1 lemon

200 gms garlic paste

100 gms ginger paste

1 tbsp chopped green chilli

*1 raw papaya peeled and deseeded

*250 gms cashew nut and almond paste

8 onions sliced and fried until golden brown.

250 gms yoghurt

1 tbsp turmeric powder

2 tbsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp kasoori methi powder (dried fenugreek)

2 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp elaichi powder (green cardamom)

1 tsp white pepper powder

1 tsp saunf powder (fennel seeds)

1 tsp nutmeg powder

1 gm saffron

1 tbsp rosewater

1 tbsp kewra (screwpine) water

 

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100ml double cream (for gravy)

2 tbsp flaked almond (garnish)

Few sprigs of coriander leaves (for garnish)

4 boiled eggs (for garnish)

 

Marinade 1

Make deep incisions on the leg. Add mustard oil, lemon juice, 1 tbsp salt, kashmiri chilli powder and ginger garlic paste. Rub into the leg and leave in the fridge covered for 4 hrs.

Marinade 2

Mix all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, add 1/2 tbsp of salt and rub the mix on the lamb.

Leave to marinate overnight.

Reserve some fried onions for garnish.

 

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The Process

Preheat the oven to 250 C. Add the lamb with the marinate in a roasting pan, add three cups of water to the pan, do not pour water over the lamb. This would assist in making the gravy and prevent the spices from burning.

Once the lamb is out of the fridge let it come to room temperature before roasting.

Seal the roasting pan with double aluminium foil and cook in the oven at 175 C for 4 hrs.

Keep checking after every one hour, if the water evaporates in the roasting pan add another cup of warm water as this is important for the gravy.

Transfer the lamb on a serving platter, spoon the gravy evenly and garnish with flaked almonds, fried onions, chopped coriander leaves and boiled eggs.

The roast lamb is best eaten with naan or paratha.

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Gravy

Transfer the lamb from the roasting pan. Remove excess fat or oil from the roasting pan. Add the remaining juices from the roasting pan to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and add the double cream, stir until the gravy coats the back of your spoon. Once ready spoon the gravy evenly over the roast.

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*To make papaya paste peel the skin and deseed papaya, cut into dices and blend in a food processor along with oil and water.

*To make almond and cashew nut paste, boil both of them separately for 15 mins, de skin the almonds and blend both of them together in a food processor with water to make a smooth paste. The consistency of the paste should be more or less like a thick milkshake.

 I have added a brief video demonstrating the marination process with shoulders instead of legs. It does not cover the entire recipe but works as a guide.

If you have any questions on the recipe please free to leave a comment I will respond to you as soon I can.

Hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

 

 

Culinary Chronicles of the Great Mughals

“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.”

“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.”

Mughal Emperor Jehangir said this when he visited Kashmir in the 17th century.

It was during the Mughal rule in India that a culinary revolution started. Mughals are credited with introducing spices, exotic fruits and nuts to the Indians. At this point of time various new techniques were introduced and meat became a feature in this new culinary era. The Persian cuisine was introduced in India during the early 1200 AD when the Mughals invaded the Indian soil. The royal kitchens had become a centre of development  where a unique fusion of Persian and Indian cuisine came into being. It was during this time that the Tandoor was invented and was called “Tanur”and the bread was called “Naan e Tanuri” . The famous Kebabs were also invented during this time, the royals chefs introduced the techniques of marinating meat with yoghurt, ghee(clarified butter) and spices. This was believed to be the golden period in the history of Indian cuisine.

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It was in the mid 1500 AD that “Game” was introduced to Indian Cuisine. When Humayun ascended the throne he abolished the consumption of beef as he wanted to respect the religious sentiments and as Muslims didn’t consume pork hence Goat, fowl, venison, rabbit and birds like quail and partridge  became a staple source of meat.

It was during the rule of Akbar the great that the Mughlai Cuisine reached its epitome. Akbar had 400 cooks in his royal kitchen, most of them being Hindus. Akbar married a Rajput princess and this is when the Hindu cooks started experimenting with Persian ingredients, giving birth to a cuisine that is relished even till today.Prime example of this fusion were dishes like Murgh Mussulam (whole chicken marinated and stuffed with mince meat and cooked on Dum), the dopiaza a spicy preparation was named in honour of a great philosopher in Akbar’s Court and the Navratan Korma was invented keeping in mind the nine jewels of Akbars court and not to forget the most famous “biryani” was evolved during this great culinary era.

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The wings of the Mughlai cuisine were spreading fast and they were reaching the royal kitchens of Lucknow, Rajasthan and Hyderabad. However the Rajputs took a different approach towards the cuisine as they were primarily a vegetarian population. Meat didn’t feature on their dinner table but Rajput royalty were keen hunters and this is where the Mughal techniques were used. Their chefs always carried sets of herbs and spices and after the Shikaar (hunting) the meat would be either marinated and roasted or cooked as a stew in  a pot with vegetables and spices. They introduced a technique of roasting meat wherein the ground was dug and burning embers were thrown in it, meat was usually marinated, sealed with banana leaves and rugs or river clay. This was then buried in the ground and covered with sand and cooked for hours. This technique is also know as spit roasting. The other method was roasting the meat over an open grill fired up by wood or charcoal. This method was used to roast birds like guinea fowl, partridge, quail, sand grouse and pheasant, these had a common term called “sooley” which means smoked kebab and apparently had 11 different methods of cooking. As the wild meat was quiet tough and took a lot of time to cook, another method of cooking called stewing was introduced. Meats like venison, rabbit and wild boar were cut up in dices and than cooked in a pot along with onions, ginger, garlic, spices and stewed for hours over wood fire to produce succulent and flavoursome curries. A few examples were the Junglee Maas (the meat bought from the hunt was simply cooked in pure ghee with only salt and red chillies), Laal Maas, Safed Maas, Maas ki kadhi, Handi Bootha and Murgh ka Shweta.

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Another interesting method of using game for consumption was pickling them, strangely this was quiet common during that time as there was no other way of preserving the meats. So meats like wild boar, venison and even game birds were being pickled. The meat was cooked a bit before being pickled which would either be frying or steaming and was then pickled along with mustard oil, vinegar and spices.

Indian culinary history is quiet vast in itself and a single piece of blog is not enough to cover the history of such a vast and varied country. However i promise to cover the whole subject and keep writing about the gastronomically wonderful country. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as i enjoy writing it.

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Turban Street Cafe – Redefining Indian Street Food

I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

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This blog is about  our journey that began with a small restaurant called The Red Turban, located in the suburbs of London. I still remember very distinctly,  I had just come out of  an interview with a top Michelin star restaurant and was overwhelmed to join such a prestigious organisation. That very afternoon when i reached home I received a call from Nishel asking me to see him at his restaurant. I wasn’t too sure but i knew he was planning to reopen his old restaurant and I was pretty much guessing that this meeting would revolve around this.  So here we are at the restaurant which was completely stripped down, apart from a sofa which was left behind where our conversation started building momentum. Nishel started explaining the whole concept to me, and he wanted me to be a part of it and build on it. The concept was simple, an Indian restaurant that would break all barriers, Nishel was clear about the fact that it had to be way beyond the chicken tikka masala and the kormas, It made sense to me and i thought that this would be once in a life time opportunity to create something unique and different. We both were on the same page and it instantly gave birth to The Red Turban. We were about to challenge the status quo, we were going to break all the rules and the risk factor was quiet high but i think somewhere down the line there was a belief that we would come out with flying colours.

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I started doing an extensive research on the dishes I wanted to put on the menu, the idea was to create a balanced menu which would show case unique recipes from every region of India. After a meticulous two month research the menus were finally devised . The menu featured exemplar chaats from the streets of Old Delhi, Chowpatty, Agra and Mathura. The Chowk ki tikki which is potato cakes stuffed with green peas served on a bed of spiced chickpeas, drizzled with tamarind chutney made with dates and elderflower and a fresh mint and watercress chutney became an instant favourite. Kebabs were the highlight of the menu – the Galawati kebab from Awadh, seekh kebab nizami, lazeez pasliyaan (lamb chops) , murgh pahadi tikka ( chicken tikka marinated with a fresh coriander, mint, basil and green chilli paste.) , paneer saunfiya tikka, tandoori bharwan mushrooms to name a few. For the main course we again had a challenge as we wanted to move away from the regular fare. Ambade ka gosht ( lamb cooked with sorrel leaves), Rajasthani Laal Maas , Patiala shahi murgh had become cult dishes on the menu. The vegetarian fare which included Dum aloo Benarasi, hare pyaaz aur soye ka paneer, malai kofta makhmali and daal Kandhari ( whole urad simmered over night on charcoal and finished off with fresh pomegranate juice. ) also made their presence felt. We were already on the map. I very strongly believed that the menu had to represent dishes that were authentic and served in a modern way. So the emphasis was more on the crockery and cutlery, rather than over done garnishes. I wanted my guests to feel India in every morsel they taste, it involved a lot of hard work. To achieve these standards, we were grinding spices in house on a regular basis. Practically nothing was outsourced, even the samosas and aloo tikki were made in house to specifications.

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Our final challenge was the desserts. Most of the Indian Restaurants in the UK have a box standard menu and it was boring. I wanted to create a balanced combination of flavours and technique that would create a wow factor. So after a month of research in my kitchen I decided to use the best ideas from the east and blend them with the techniques of the west. We had redefined Indian desserts – mango mousse and rasmalai trifle, Chocolate and gulab jamun terrine, masala chai tiramisu and the gaajar halwa panna cotta to name a few were creating ripples with our guests.
The Red Turban in the last 3 years had achieved immense success and accolades thanks to our loyal guests and staff who contributed a great deal towards it success and not to forget Nishel the driving force behind the Red Turban had an immeasurable contribution.

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It was time to move on to our next venture by creating the next Turban franchisee. After three months of research and brainstorming the Turban Street Cafe was devised. Bringing the the real Indian street food to the streets of London. Kati Rolls from the streets of Calcutta, Daulat ki chaat from Old Delhi, Tunday Kebab from Lucknow are just a few sneak peeks . We are going to give our guests the same taste and feel as they would get on the streets of India.

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In this day and age where Indian food has been reformed to the most sophisticated level, it has somehow lost its essence and authenticity. I am bringing a very simple and honest plate of food to my guests, inspired by age old traditions and simplicity, food that will touch your heart and soul and that I believe is limitless. At Turban street we are not just cooking, we are cooking with passion and emotions to create dishes that will bring smile on peoples faces. We are redefining Indian Street Food
Chef Ashish Bhatia

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Chandni Chowk to Chowpatty – Indian street food at its best.

I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.
Andy Rooney

A quote that sounds just right when we think of the rustic Indian street food served on the roadside stalls, in open markets, beaches, melas, railway stations, bus stops, offices and various other colourful locations all over India

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With a huge increase in fine dining restaurants, cafes and bars the Indian street food was somehow loosing its identity along the way, however a modified version of them was being served on fancy plates with overdone garnishes, served by sophisticated waiting staff in a cozy and posh environment, accompanied by a glass of a good vintage wine served by the best sommeliers in town and to add the cherry to the cake the dishes being ridiculously over priced.

Well these places never did justice to the great Indian street food dishes. It didn’t even come anywhere close to their original roots which had the taste, the smell, the rustic serving plates which were made of either dried leaves, newspaper or clay, imparting a distinctive flavour to the the dish, the hustle and bustle of the market place and more-over digging your fingers into the dish rather than using cutlery was an experience in itself, it had its own magic and in every way contributed to the dish as a whole. This experience is irreplaceable, and no matter how much one tries getting close to creating that whole experience in a restaurant there will always be that one element missing.

With a sudden increase in Indian street food restaurants popping up all over London I thought it would be a good idea to write about this great concept and how it evolved. From its birth to finding its way to the streets and now on your dinner plates at a restaurant near you.

Some of these restaurants have painstakingly created a replica of this great institution and have tried to bring an honest plate of food to you combined with age old traditions and culture.

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The History

The birth of Indian street food was mothered by The Grand Trunk Road which is the longest and the oldest road built to connect western and eastern regions of the vast Indian subcontinent by the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC, however it was Sher Shah Suri who renovated and extended this road in the 16th century and was later upgraded in the British period between 1833 and 1860.  It runs from Kabul in present day Afghanistan to Calcutta in the eastern part of India.

The Grand Trunk Road is where the present day Street food found its first stepping stone. The route was used by traders, travellers, armies and being such a long route people couldn’t store food with them while travelling  hence the locals starting setting up food stalls to feed the travellers.

These food stalls were typically called “Dhabas” which were often run by single families and mushroomed all along the trunk road serving fresh regional cuisine. The dhabas mainly gained popularity in the Northwestern part of the country from Peshawar to Punjab. The dhabas were characterised by open kitchens, clay ovens also know as tandoor and used brass and copper utensils. Dhabas today have become very popular all over the country and many modern versions have evolved.

Food was always the landmark of these Dhabas some offering the best teas often referred to as the ‘sau meel waali chai’. This concoction is a heavenly  mix of fresh milk,   sugar and tea leaves all brewed with a hint of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger to provide flavors impossible to reproduce anywhere else.

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While some dhabas boasted of a vegetarian menu; lip smacking chanaa bhaturas for breakfast, the all time favourite  tadka daal with liberal dosage of ghee; the crisp tandoori rotis and succulent paneer dishes.  Some excel in the kadi (made with yoghurt and gram flour) while others sweetened  the palates with a great array of desserts.

The non vegetarian fare was the one to watch out for, tender juicy kebabs made with chicken, quail, lamb, beef and delicate seafood preparations along with large pot or handis of curries being cooked in an open kitchen on slow charcoal heat. A few examples are  Dahi Bhalla, Chaapli Kebab, Sofiyani Machhli, Paneer ke Soole  Dhaba Murg, Kosha Mansho, Chingri Lau Ghanto, Gobi Mussalam, Pindi Chana, Yakhni Pulao, Daal Makhni and the ever famous Tandoori Chicken.

As cities started developing, the street food got Urbanised and found its way into the main streets, now street food outlet became a destination where the whole family came to enjoy the delicacies, a cuisine in itself, it became very popular among the middle class in the early 20th century. Food stalls started mushrooming on busy and important locations in the cities and the stalls became a landmark in itself.

The famous chandi chowk in old Delhi known for chaats .

(Chaat is a term describing savoury snacks, typically served at roadside tracks from stalls or carts in India. With its origins in east India, chaat has become immensely popular in the rest of India and the rest of South Asia.In cities where chaat is popular, there are popular chaathouses or dhabas, such as Mumbai’s Chowpatty Beach. Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi. The chaat specialities vary from city to city. Chaat from Agra and Mathura are famous throughout India.)

The famous Shirmal Wali Gali, Chowk, Lucknow know for Tunde ke Kebab a dish made with Lamb mince and is said to use around 160 spices along with other ingredients.

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(India is proud of its Kebabs.The kebabs of Awadhi cuisine are distinct from the kebabs of Punjab insofar as Awadhi kebabs are grilled on a Chula and sometimes in a skillet as opposed to grilled in a tandoor in Punjab. Awadhi kebabs are also called “Chula” kebabs whereas the kebabs of Punjab are called “tandoori” kebabs.)

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Calcutta the capital of West Bengal is another famous street food destination. The Puchka refers to the crisp sphere that is placed in the mouth and eaten one at a time and because of the bursting sound in the mouth it was named puchka. This dish is a very famous street food all over India served in different ways and the recipe changes from region to region, its also referred to as “pani puri” and “gol gappa” It consists of a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavored water (“pani”), tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas.

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Jhal Muri is another classic which consists of puffed rice, boiled potatoes, chickpeas and coriander all tossed together with tamarind, chilli sauce and spices, served traditionally in newspaper cones.

The Kati rolls were yet another popular delicacy. Spicy chicken, lamb or beef kebabs char grilled and wrapped in parathas (soft flat bread cooked on a griddle or tawa) with onions and peppers with a spicy chutney. It was to die for.

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Moving towards the western part of India, Bombay the financial capital of India boasts of a wide array of dishes.

Vada Pav a popular spicy vegetarian fast food dish native to the Indian state of Maharashtra. It consists of a batata vada sandwiched between 2 slices of a pav. The word batata vada refers in Marathi to a vada (fritter) made out of batata, the latter referring to a potato. Pav refers to unsweetened bread or bun. It is also known as Indian Burger. Finely chopped green chillies and ginger are added to mashed potatoes and is further tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and dipped in a gram flour batter and deep fried.

Pav bhaji is a Maharashtrian  dish that originated in Bombay. It is native to Bombay and has now become popular all over India, especially in those of central and western Indian states such as Gujarat. Pav means bread. Bhaji in Marathi means vegetable dish. Pav bhaji consists of bhaji (a thick potato-based curry with vegetables) garnished with coriander, chopped onion, and a dash of lemon and lightly toasted pav. The pav is usually buttered on all sides.

Dosa, a common breakfast dish and street food, is rich in carbohydrates, and contains no sugar or saturated fats. As its constituent ingredients are rice and lentils, it is gluten-free and contains protein. This dish originated in Tamil Nadu a state in the southern part of India.

A mixture of rice and urad dal that has been soaked in water is ground finely to form a batter. The proportion of rice to lentils is basically 2:1 or 3:1. The batter is allowed to sit overnight and ferment. Sometimes a few fenugreek seeds are added to the rice-dal mixture. The rice can be uncooked or parboiled.

A thin layer of the batter is then ladled onto a hot tava (griddle) greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter). It is spread out evenly with the base of a ladle or bowl to form a pancake. A dosa is served hot, either folded in half or rolled like a wrap either stuffed with potatoes or on its own with lentils and coconut chutney.

And the list continues. There are hundreds of other dishes and as i said in my previous blog its difficult to narrate a story that starts from the Bay of Bengal to the Coasts of Konkan, from the rugged peaks of the Great Himalayas through the land of Five rivers ‘Punjab’ right into the Gangetic plains and the southern coast.

India’s language, religion, customs and food differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. India is the only country in the world to have so many religions and beliefs. The food culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse subcultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old.

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