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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Dhabe Ka Gosht (Highway Lamb Curry)

Inspired by the “Dhabas” of India, this dish features not only on their menu but is now cooked around the globe. A simple rustic curry is slow cooked over charcoal heat traditionally. I was keen to share this recipe. It’s simple to cook and full of flavour.

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Preparation time – 15 mins
Cooking time – 20 mins
Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients

750 gms leg of lamb diced (on the bone)
3 medium size onions
2 medium size tomatoes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste (2 parts of garlic and 1 part of ginger)
5 fresh green chillies
1/2 bunch coriander
Ginger Julienne for garnish
1tsp turmeric
2tsp red chilli powder mild
1tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Garam masala
1/2 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek)
Salt to taste
3 pods green cardamom
1 pod black cardamom
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
6 tbsp mustard oil or vegetable oil
1 tbsp desi ghee
Juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Wash the lamb in cold water and drain the water. Finely slice onions. Finely chop tomatoes and slit green chillies.

2. In a cooking pot heat mustard oil. Once heated add all the whole spices. Cook the spices for about a minute till all the flavour is released in the oil. Now add the sliced onions and cook until slightly golden in colour.

3. Add the lamb and sauté for further 10 mins. Add the salt. Now add ginger and garlic paste. Cook for further 10 mins.

4. Add the powdered spice except for Garam masala and kasoori methi. Cook for further 5 mins until the spices and incorporated evenly. Add 2 cups of hot water. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on low heat for 20 mins.

5. Remove the lid after 20 mins and add the chopped tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5-7 mins. Lower the heat add another cup of hot water and simmer for further 20 mins or until the meat is tender. I always add potatoes to my curry so if you prefer you can add two potatoes cut in quarters at this stage.

6. Remove the lid and mix well. Add Garam masala, kasoori methi, finely chopped coriander, lemon juice and desi ghee. Increase the heat and cook for 2-3 mins. Once done transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with ginger Julienne and chopped coriander . Serve with hot chapatis or steam rice and onion salad.

You have to cook this dish to believe how simple and easy it is to make a curry. I have attached a brief video about the recipe below. Do leave your feedback.
Happy cooking.

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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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.

 

 

 

The Great Indian Breakfast – “Nashta is served”

“Nashta” simply translates to Breakfast in India. However quite surprisingly the concept of breakfast has never been existing in India since ancient times. Simply considered as the first meal of the day, the dishes have varied from region to region from super lavish spreads to simple and light meals. In recent times the nashta has been commercialised, losing its authenticity, simply because people are now more health conscious  and Indian breakfast at large was considered to be  notoriously a very heavy meal. Saying that, the real Indian breakfast still has hasn’t lost it identity thanks to the corner shops at the “chowks” still serving lip smacking dishes all over the Indian subcontinent  and surprisingly the meals are served throughout the day and not just in the mornings. For the love of good hearty desi nashta I have put together some famous dishes from different states of the subcontinent which I am sure will make your mouth water.

 

Kashmir

This beautiful valley is known for its “Chai” , the Kashmiris are considered to be heavy tea drinker and the most famous breakfast tea is the noon chai or sheer chai which is a salted pink tea made with green tea leaves, milk and  flavoured with cardamom, cinnamon, pistachios. This tea derives its pink colour due to the addition of  bicarbonate of soda. The noon chai is usually consumed with traditional Kashmiri bread known as the “Kulcha” and ” baqerkhani” without them the Kashmiri breakfast is incomplete. The baqerkhani is more like a puff pastry, which is round, crispy and layered made with flour, semolina, butter, milk, sugar, ghee and cardamom. Once baked its topped with sesame seeds. Some other varieties of breads are tsot and tsochvoru which are small and round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds.

 

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Another most famous Kashmiri breakfast which very few have heard of is the Kashmiri Hareesa also known as the mutton halwa. It’s a century old winter dish made early in the morning. This dish is prepared with boneless meat of goat or lamb which is mixed with wheat and spices and is stirred for hours on slow heat. Once cooked the texture resembles haleem and is topped with fried onions ideally served with traditional baqerkhani.

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Punjab

Punjabis are well-known all over the world for their great cuisine. The “Parantha” which is considered the king of all Indian breakfast and is still consumed all over the world with delight was born in Punjab. Parantha is derived from the words “parat” which means a large tray and “atta” which means dough. Parantha is unleavened flat bread which is stuffed with different vegetables, spices or meat and fried in desi ghee or oil, served with dollops of homemade white butter, yoghurt or home-made pickles. The paratha is usually washed down with a glass of lassi which is made of yoghurt and water either sweet or salty. The paranthe waali galli in old delhi is an institution in itself, serving over 100 varieties of paranpthas. A few examples of the famous paranthas are aloo(potato) parantha, gobi(cauliflower)  parantha, mooli(radish)  parantha , methi(fenugreek)  parantha, paneer(cottage cheese)  parantha, ajjwain (carom seeds)  parantha and the Keema (mince lamb)  parantha.

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Another famous  Punjabi breakfast fare is the Chole Bhature. Consumed again all over the globe this epic dish cannot be left out of the breakfast selection. Bhaturas are crispy fried puffed bread served with spiced chickpeas which are soaked overnight, cooked with spices on a slow heat and served with onion salad and green chillies.

Bihar and West Bengal

The “Sattu” or the powdered gram is consumed heavily in this state in various forms. Sattu is prepared by roasting bengal gram and grinding it into a fine powder like texture. Sattu is considered to be high in fibres and is a great source of energy. Usually consumed for breakfast – the sattu parantha which is a regular parantha made wheat flour  stuffed with sattu flour, onions, chillies, ginger,garlic, nigella seeds, lemon juice, mustard oil and coriander leaves, this is usually pan-fried in Ghee and served with yoghurt and pickle.

The famous radha ballavi from West Bengal is another breakfast classic. Its my personal favourite. Deep fried Bengali flat bread stuffed with urad daal is served with “niramish aloor dum ” aka simple potato curry or “aloo torkari” which is a spicy potato curry and bengali cholaar daal .  My suggestion – if you haven’t tried this dish you haven’t lived.

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Gujrat

The most famous Gujarati breakfast is the match made in culinary heaven also known as the Gathia and Jalebi, typically consumed every Sunday. the salty gathia and sweet jalebi form a perfect combination. The gathia often called Pata Gathia or fafda ganthia is made of a gram flour dough, flavored with salt, pepper and carom seeds and is deep-fried in thin strips until crispy. The Jalebi is made by frying all-purpose flour batter in circular shapes and then soaked in sugar syrup usually flavored with saffron.

Theplas are another classic Gujarati dish consumed widely for breakfast. The theplas are spiced parathas with the addition of yoghurt, fresh methi (fenugreek) leaves and spices. Theplas are usually served with “chunda” which is a sweet and sour mango chutney.

Andhra Pradesh

One of the most popular non vegetarian breakfast fare is the Nihari. Legend has it that this meat stew originated in Old Delhi some 100 years ago by a local doctor to cure cold and fever somewhere next to Jama Masjid where after offering morning prayers people use to consume this stew for breakfast. The stew is cooked overnight to release maximum flavours from the bone marrow and creating really tender meat. This dish was mastered on a different level by the Hyderabadi Chefs. The Chefs added goat tongue to enhance the flavour along with goat shanks, spices and vegetables, slow cooked for 4-6 hrs. Its best eaten during winters accompanied with naan or layered kulcha.

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Another popular Andhra breakfast is the Pesara Attu Upma – a crepe made with moong daal (green gram lentil) flavoured with chillies and ginger, stuffed with upma (savory semolina porridge) served with karam podi (a spicy powder made with lentils and whole spices) and coconut chutney

Maharashtra

Now this next dish is  arguably one of the most popular breakfast dishes eaten all over India with different variations and recipes. Yes I am talking about “kandha batata poha” made with flattened rice flakes, potatoes and onions. This dish originated in Maharashtra and is a staple dish of the state. It’s a very healthy breakfast. Rice flakes are passed through running cold water to moisten them. The rice flakes are  then tempered with oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, green chillies, turmeric, sugar, salt and mixed together. Potatoes are diced and cooked separately and added to the poha. Poha is garnished with crushed peanuts, coriander, freshly dessicated coconut and a dash of fresh lime juice.

Goa

This famous tourist spot is well known for its fresh seafood and an amazing selection of meaty dishes with a rich portuguese influence. However it also offers a hearty breakfast dish on the menu. Known as the “Pao Tonak”  which is technically a stew made with dried assorted peas or legumes, potatoes, onions, tamarind, grated coconut and a special masala consisting of  coriander seeds, red chillies, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. The stew is served traditionally with local crusty bread also known as “pao”.

Tamil Nadu

The “Idli” is the most famous breakfast consumed not only in India but has made its presence felt around the globe and by far enjoys a cult status in the Indian culinary stage.  Tamil Nadu is said to be the birth place of “Idli”. Considered to be the  most humble breakfast dish – rice and fermented black lentils that are husked are formed into cakes by steaming. These cakes are then served with fresh coconut chutney and sambhar (spicy lentil soup) or milagai podi (coarse powder mixture of ground dry spices) adding sesame or coconut oil to it to form a paste. The recipe of Idli is supposed to be 1100 years old and in the 21st century this humble breakfast dish has had many variations to its name.

Kerala 

This beautiful state situated off the Malabar coast is also referred to as Gods own country, is not only rich in heritage and culture but also commands a great culinary history. Since I talk about Kerala I need to mention the ever glorious Idiyappam. A simple dish originating in Kerala and is a staple breakfast of the locals. Idiyappam also know as nool puttu is made with roasted rice flour which is formed into a dough by mixing warm water and then this dough is pressed through a Idiyappam press which releases this dough into noodle shape onto banana leaves  placed in a steamer. The recipes vary and some call for the addition of fresh grated coconut. The Iddiyappams are served with a number of side dishes. A few examples are – egg curry, vegetable stew, peas and egg kurma,  chicken mappas and chicken stew.

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Its been really difficult to choose a few selected dishes out of hundreds of dishes eaten every morning across the lengths and breadths of the Indian sub continent. However I shall continue this journey of spreading the love for Indian food in my upcoming blogs.

Happy Reading

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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Biryani – From Persia with Love

The name Biryani is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted”

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This royal dish is believed to find its roots in the rustic kitchens of the Mughal Emperors in 1800. Through the ages Biryani travelled from the northern part in India to the southern tip. The kitchens of the Nizams in present day Hyderabad  boast of 49 different varieties of  Biryani cooked with different meats, fish and vegetables. A few common versions are Hyderabadi Biryani, Awadhi Biryani, Thalassery Biryani, Vaniyambadi Biriyani, Bhatkali biryani, Memoni biryani, Dindigul biryani, Kacchi biryani, Sindhi biryani, Calcutta biryani. All of them use different techniques to cook and use of spices are varied as well. Not to mention i love all of them.

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However 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.

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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. There is also a mention about a rice dish known as “Oon Soru” in Tamil as early as the year 2 A.D. Oon Soru was composed of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, and was used to feed military warriors.

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Another story about Biryani is, once Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1641) visited the army barracks and found that men were under nourished. So she asked her chef to make a dish with meat, rice and spices that can become a complete meal with balanced nutrients. This is how the biryani was originated.

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Still some people say that the biryani originated in West Asia. The wanderers used to bury an earthen pot filled with rice, meat and spices into a pit and after some time the pot was dug up giving rise to the delicious biryani. 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. When Aurangzeb installed Nizam-ul-Mulk as Asfa Jahi, the ruler of the Hyderabad, the Hyderabadi Biryani came into picture. The Tipu Sultan of Curnatic brought the Biryani to Mysore. Tahiri Biryani was introduced by Hindu Vegetarian bookkeepers-hired by the Nizams and Nawabs. The tahiri biryani is made with vegetables rather than meat. Hence, you see that there are so many stories abut the history and origin of Biryani.

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Biryani has evolved with time and chefs in every age have improvised  this dish. The main ingredients for making Biryani are good quality rice usually basmati, leg of goat which is used traditionally (however different meats are used today like beef, venison, hare, chicken, quail, fish and prawns) yoghurt, ginger, garlic, fried onions and potatoes. Now as i mentioned every region has a different version some also use tomatoes and herbs like coriander and mint and dry fruits. Spices play a very important role in dishing out a good biryani, some recipes call for a very limited use of spices while some use around 15-20 different spices including saffron. An extensive use of rose water and srewpine water (kewra) is also prevalent along with Sweet Ittar which is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources.

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In most of the versions the meat and rice are both cooked separately and then layered together, sealed in a pot and cooked.The meat is marinated with yoghurt, spices, ginger, garlic and fried onions along with ghee and other aromatics and cooked over slow heat. The rice is par boiled and then layered with the cooked meat in a heavy bottomed pot, sealed with dough and cooked very slowly, heat is applied from beneath and top both to make sure its cooked evenly throughout. Biryani is traditionally served with either Raita a condiment which is made with yoghurt and seasoned with coriander, cumin, mint, and other herbs and spices or saalan usually gravy which is reserved after cooking the meat.

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So i hope who ever reads this will definitely give this historical and royal dish a try at home. Please Email me for recipes if you need them.

The pictures above are those of biryani cooked in my kitchen and we usually cook for 10 to 1000 people for various occasions.

Whenever i design a menu for my clients, biryani always plays a focal point on the menu as i believe special occasions have to be complimented with  special dishes.

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I leave you with this famous Persian quote which was said about India

Agar Firdaus bar ru-e-zamin ast, Hami ast o- hami ast o- hami ast.
If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here it is here.

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