Rajasthani Laal Maas

Rajasthani Cuisine has always had a special place on my menus. Dishes from this region of India have always been a regular feature when I design menus. Keeping in mind that Rajasthan is a desert region of India, and the cuisine was constantly challenged by very limited water supply, fresh fruits and vegetables. The region serves predominantly vegetarian fare which is flavoured with red chillies and cooked in Ghee (clarified butter).

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Rajput royalty were keen hunters and this is where meat became an integral part of the cuisine. 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. As the wild meat was quiet tough and took a lot of time to cook, 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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One of my favorite dishes out of them all is the rustic Laal Maas. “Laal” means red and “maas” refers to meat. The dish was introduced in the early 10th century. Laal maas was a cherished dish among the Rajput royalty. Post Hunting sessions the meat was cooked in a haandi (large cooking pot) with dried red chillies, whole spices and onions. Laal maas was traditionally made with venison or wild boar. Chillies were used to mask gamey odour.  The dish is smoked with desi ghee and cloves. Made with first pressed mustard oil. The dish was refined further when it was introduced in the royal kitchens of the Rajputs. A key characteristic of this dish is imparted by the chillies used in this dish. Grown in the Mathaniya region close to Jodhpur. Mathaniya Red chillies are  famous for its reddish color. Because it is identified with this district only, this variety of chilli whole has come to known simply as the Mathaniya lal Mirch.  It is used only as dry spice. It lends pungency to a dish and also color and body.

I have penned down the recipe for Laal Maas with a bit of variation, keeping the essence of the dish intact.

Recipe

Serves 4-6 

Cooking time – 2 hrs 30 mins 

Ingredients

Lamb Shanks – 4 (I asked my butcher to cut them in half)

Marinade

Yoghurt – 225 gms

Salt to taste

Deghi Mirch Powder – 2 tbsp

Coriander Powder – 1 tbsp

Roasted Cumin Powder – 1/2 tbsp

Garlic Paste – 3 tbsp

Gravy 

15 dried mathaniya red chillies or kashmiri dried chillies.

6 green cardamom (crushed)

2 black cardamom (crushed)

4 bay leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cloves

5 medium sized onions (finely sliced)

6 tbsp mustard oil (you can use any other cooking oil if mustard oil cannot be sourced)

1 tbsp desi ghee (clarified butter)

For Smoking 

1 piece of Charcoal

1 tbsp desi ghee

10 cloves

Method

1. Marinate the lamb shanks with all ingredients for the marinade for atleast 2 hrs.

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2. Add mustard oil and desi ghee to a cooking pot. Heat the oil, once heated add the whole spices except the red chillies. Cook for a minute so the flavour of the spices is released in the oil.

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3. Add the sliced onions and fry until golden brown. Add the marinated lamb and stir for 10-12 mins on high heat. Lower the heat add the dried red chillies and  2 cups of warm water.  Cover with lid and cook for an hour on low heat.

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4. After an hour remove the lid and stir the lamb. If required add another cup of warm water and cook for further 30-45 mins on low heat. Post 30-45 mins the shanks should be absolutely tender. Check for seasoning.

5. Remove the cooking pot from the stove. Place a piece of charcoal directly on the cooking hob on direct flame and with the help of a pair of tongs keep turning until the charcoal turns white, this would take 5-7 mins. Place a small stainless steel bowl directly in the centre of the curry pot. Place the charcoal carefully inside the stainless steel bowl. Add cloves on the charcoal and desi ghee. As the smoke starts to appear, immediately cover the pot with aluminium foil or kitchen foil making sure the pot is completely sealed. Let it smoke for at least 20 mins.

6. Remove the foil after 20 mins, remove the stainless steel cup and discard the charcoal. Transfer the laal maas in a serving bowl and serve with fresh chapatis or rice.

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Hope you enjoy cooking this dish.

Happy Cooking

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

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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