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

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A Culinary Ode to Kashmir

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto hami asto hami ast” – If there is paradise on earth, its here, its here, its here.

A Persian couplet that describes the beauty of Kashmir valley. Its also been referred to as paradise on earth. But today through my blog I shall take you through an extraordinary culinary journey of this beautiful valley. Often underrated, Kashmir has some of the most delectable delicacies on offer. The most simplest of all cuisines, Kashmiri cuisine involves minimum use of spices and most of them are common in all dishes. The emphasis lies mainly on how every cut of meat is used and the techniques of cooking, the same would apply for the vegetarian fare.

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Let me start with a brief history of Kashmiri cuisine and the external influences that led to the evolvement of the cuisine as we see it today. Kashmir was originally known as Kashyap Mar or the holy land of the Great Rishi (Saint) Kashyap. Thats how Kashmir got its name. The valley was inhibited by Kashmiri Pundits also referred to as Saraswat Brahmins and were know to be the descendants of the saints. So the actual cuisine had been in existence over hundred years. However the change happened when the Uzbeks invaded Kashmir in the 15th century and bought the Muslim influence on the cuisine, giving it a more finesse touch by introducing meat and other ingredients. However there is a slight contradiction here as according to my research and speaking to a few culinary historians I learnt that the Kashmiri Pundits were heavy meat eaters themselves but its still not clear whether this change happened pre Uzbek invasion or post. Although the Kashmiri pundits avoid the use of onion and garlic in their food preparations even for the meat dishes. Saying that neither the Kashmiri Pundits nor the Muslims consume beef. Apart from the Uzbeks, Kashmiri Cuisine also had a notable influence from the Persians and the Afghans.

Kashmiri food until a few years ago was mainly confined to homes. One would rarely see a restaurant or an eatery of any other kind serving this cuisine in India or abroad. However there were a few places to savour these delicacies in Kashmir itself. But now there are quite a few good restaurants serving authentic Kashmiri cuisine in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. I wouldn’t be able to say the same for eateries outside of India.

Kashmiri cuisine can be divided into two categories broadly. The cuisine of the Kashmiri pundits and the cuisine of the Kashmiri Muslims. Though not much of a difference in names although there is a difference in the ingredients used. The Kashmiri Pundits typically avoid using onion, garlic and even tomatoes in their cooking. I believe that its quite subtle and light preparation with more emphasis on the actual flavours from the meat and vegetable and of course being complemented with freshly ground spices. The main spices used are Kashmiri chilli powder, ginger powder, saffron, hing (asafoetida), saunf (aniseed) and a unique garam masala called Var or Veri. This is a blend of spices and is compressed in a cake form. Its mixed with oil and then sun dried. Its supposed to be a great flavour enhancer. The medium of cooking is usually Desi ghee (clarified butter) or mustard oil and a lot of thick yoghurt is used to give body to the dishes.

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A few famous dishes are

Dum Oluv or Dum Aloo – these are potatoes that are simmered in spicy gravy flavoured with Hing.  The spice factor is due to addition of Kashmiri chillies and this dish is bright red in colour again due the chilli factor.

Gugji Rajma – This a red kidney bean stew cooked with turnips.

Monji Haak – Kohlrabi cooked in mustard oil and flavoured with veri (kashmiri spice cake) and hing.

Tschaman Kaliya – Its a paneer curry which is flavoured with saunf (aniseed), green cardamom, veri (spice cake) and surprisingly cooked with milk. a very subtle and light dish yet very delicious.

I shall cover the Non-Vegetarian fare in the Wazwan section of the blog but i need to mention a few unique chutneys that are made in Kashmir and often savoured during the Wazwan. “Muji Chatin” or Radish chutney with is made with radish and yoghurt and there is another version where its just grated and sauteed with mustard oil flavoured with red chilli powder, green chillies and walnuts. “Doon Chetin” or Walnut chutney is made with walnuts, yogurt, dried mint, green chillies, red chilli powder and fresh coriander. “Gand chetin” or Onion chutney is made with sliced onions which are soaked in vinegar and flavoured with dried mint leaves and red chilli powder.

Moving on to the epitome of the Kashmiri cuisine – Wazwan which is a spectacular banquet served and i can’t find any other cuisine I could compare it to. Lavish and ultimate is all could say . Wazwan was influenced mainly by the Kashmiri Muslims. As i said before the difference between the Pundits and Muslims cuisine was that the Pundits never used onions and garlic while the Muslims used garlic and only wild onions also known as “Pranth” in their cooking.

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Wazwan is a banquet that serves 36 courses. The dishes are cooked by “Vasta Waza” or the head chef and “wazas” or the assistant chefs. Wazwan has a very high significance culturally among the Kashmiri Muslims and is treated with a lot of respect. A typical Wazwan has people sitting in groups of 4 and the meals are served on a “Trami” which is a large engraved copper plate and the meals are shared. The meal traditionally starts with washing hands. This is done by passing jugs (tash-t-nari)  filled with water among the guests. The trami is then filled with a heap of rice and the rest of the courses follow. I wont be able to list all the 36 dishes but will try to cover most of them.

The meal usually start with kabab which is made from lamb or goat mince and and skewered over charcoal. I believe this the only form of starter that served through the entire meal apart from kaanti kebab.

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Kaanti Kabab – made with the fillet of goat or sheep marinated with yogurt, spices and garlic and is fried rather than being grilled.

Lahabi Kabab – these flattened kababs which are made from a blended mince of the kabab that are served as the first course and the mince of the rista and goshtaba- cooked in a yoghurt gravy.

Rista – these are meatballs cooked in a red gravy. The red colour in kashmiri cuisine is usually derived from either the Kashmiri chillies or “cockscomb flower” also known as “ratanjot”. The meat is derived from either sheep or goat and then pounded very carefully on a wooden block. The perfect meatballs are achieved through maintaining the right temperature throughout the pounding process and laced with kidney fat.

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Palak Rista or Waza Palak – This dish is same as the above with the addition of Spinach.

Goshtaba – the same meatballs as rista are used in this recipe however the gravy has a yoghurt base and its very mildly spiced as compared to rista. Even the dumplings are slightly flattened while making the rista as compared to goshtaba.

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Yahni – this dish is made with sheep or goat shanks and cooked in a yogurt based gravy.

Methi Maaz – this dish is cooked with the off cuts and trimmings of the animal and flavoured with methi or fenugreek leaves.

Tabak Maaz – this dish is prepared using sheep or goat ribs which is cooked in milk along with spices and aromatics and then covered in a yogurt based batter and cooked again on dum by sealing the pot with dough and placed on charcoal for about an hour. Another similar dish is called “Kabargah” wherein the entire process is the same but instead of cooking it on dum its flash fried before serving.

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Dhaniwal Korma – Goat or sheep curry thats cooked with loads of fresh coriander and yoghurt.

Marchwangan Korma – Goat or sheep korma cooked with fiery hot Kashmiri chillies and spices.

Aab Gosht – Sheep or Goat ribs cooked in a milk based gravy. This dish clearly brings out the Persian influence onthe cuisine.

Doudha ras – this is meat cooked in a sweet milk gravy.

Rogan Josh – A so called signature dish of the Kashmiri Cuisine, this dish has introduced people to Kashmir. Persian in influence this dish was introduced by the Mughals. Prepared in clarified butter, without the addition of onions, garlic or tomatoes by the Kashmiri Pundits while the Kashmiri Muslims add wild onions. One of the most popular dishes on every Indian restaurant menu all over the world. How authentic? is the question to ask .

Waza Kokur – Twice cooked whole chicken marinated and deep fried then cooked again in a spicy gravy that evenly coats the chicken.

Nadir Yahni – The vegetarian fare of the Wazwan. Lotus stem roots cooked in yoghurt gravy with spices. Another version of this is served in the Wazwan with the addition of spinach called Nadir palak.

Haak – Kashmiri greens simply cooked in mustard oil and kashmiri chillies.

I have not mentioned individual spices in the above dishes as Kashmiri cuisine uses very few spices and they are used across the board for all the above dishes with the addition and subtraction of a few.

Not to mention Kashmiris do consume seafood in their diet as well. Trout I believe is the only form of seafood consumed. Trout is farmed in Pahalgam and interestingly was introduced by Frank J Mitchel from Scotland in the early 1900.

Phirni – Kashmiris don’t boast of desserts in their cuisine however this humble dessert forms a part of the Wazwan, ground rice cooked in milk until thick custard consistency and garnished with edible silver leaf and assorted chopped nuts.

Tea is a very important beverage in the Kashmiri culture. Served during all important occasions and festivals.  Kawah is served during marriages, its a green tea made with saffron, spices and almonds. Noon chai is also another quite popular salted kashmiri tea. You can read more about Kashmiri teas on my previous blog on “Nashta” the great Indian Breakfast.

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I have always felt that Kashmiri cuisine is quite unique in its approach as compared to it counterpart cuisines. Subtle yet leaves a punch on your tongue. With the minimum use of ingredients I feel the emphasis is more on how every part of the animal is used to give different textures to the Wazwan.

I leave you with this “authentic” recipe of Rogan Josh. Do give it a try and you could compare it to restaurant version for yourselves.

Recipe Rogan Josh

1 kg Lamb or Goat (Use the leg meat, ask your butcher to cut it in dices with the bone.)

200 gms thick yoghurt.

150 ml Ghee or clarified butter

12-15 whole kashmiri red chillies

5 green cardamom

4 cloves

3 black cardamom

1 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp ginger powder

couple of pinch of hing (asafoetida)

salt to taste

Method

1. Boil the red chillies for 10-15 mins. Drain and make a smooth paste. Add a little water if required.

2. Wash the meat and drain the excess water.

3. Heat ghee in a pot, add the hing, and the whole spices. Stir for a few minutes and add the meat. Stir on a high heat till the meat pieces are brown. Add the powdered spices, along with salt, yoghurt and the chilli paste. Stir fry for another 15 mins and add 2 cups of hot water. cover with lid and cook on low heat for 45 mins -1hr or until the meat is completely tender.

4 . Serve hot with parathas or rice.

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Photo credits – maverickbird http://wp.me/p3hiyv-19G

 

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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