I was about seven or eight when I was first taken to a "restaurant" that my parents were told served the best mutton curry and kababs. It required parking far away and then walking through the most crowded part of Delhi, past a meat market. We were told to look out for green curtains and three light bulbs and discovered only later that the place had a name - or at least the proprietor-cum-head cook did - Maseeta Meerut Wala.
The proximity to the meat market augured well. Maseeta made only two things: seekh kababs and "ishtu". The seekh kababs were the best, of the Delhi tradition - neither too-soft-to-handle, like Kakoris, nor rubbery hose-pipes, like the rest of the North. Firm, soft, fragrant, they arrived first, with soft white rumali rotis, thin onion rings and smooth green chutney of fresh dhania (coriander) and green chillies. And then the ishtu, in white enamel soup plates with blue edging, was slopped onto the laminated tabletop.
The ishtu was a beige-gold curry, with a few gol botis and some chops. The bulk of the dish was thick gravy, not smooth, with discernible shreds of onion that was soft and cooked but not browned, the occasional garlic clove and bits of dried red chillies and green cardamoms. The first impact of the dish was the heat - it must have clocked one million on the Scoville Heat Units' scale, which as a child I hadn't learnt to tolerate.
Yet there must have been something about it that made me clamour to return. The gentle sweet-sourness of onions and yoghurt, the oil gleaming on top, the jewel-like whole spices, red and green, and the fragrance of whole peppercorns and elaichi, were strong and seductive enough to overcome the heat. The meat was tender - I've always been partial to chops - and the masala just the right thickness to wrap up in Maseeta's rumalis.
Years later, when I attempted to find Maseeta, he had gone - "cleaned up" by the City. What used to be the next stop, dessert, the halwai who sold rabri and malai fresh off the edges of his karahi, sprinkled with sugar - was gone too. To me this was no hardship, but the ishtu had to be found. Jawahar and all of Karim's branches serve an ishtu, but none is a patch on the original.
I then looked up Priti Narain (The Essential Delhi Cookbook, Penguin Books) and found Istoo and cooked it. Good but not what I remembered. Then I tried her Khare Masale ka Gosht and it was so close that it's become a staple in this home.
While researching ishtu I found that all regions have their own version of stew. The celebrated Irish stew can contain many ingredients, but mutton, potatoes, onions and water are defining. Carrots and turnips are options - and sometimes I put whole peas in the pod in towards the end, or tender green beans cut into two.
On account of the economic importance of sheep - their wool and milk - the Irish made sure that only old or otherwise economically unviable animals made it to the pot. So the necessity of slow simmering became a tradition and offered practical advantages: the dish can be left unattended and, combining meat and vegetables in one dish also saves up on washing.
Kerala's most well-known dishes are appams and their accompaniment, stew. This stew can be made of mutton or chicken, but the other major difference is not surprising. In the Land of Coconut Trees, the liquid in the stew is coconut milk, not water.
Chicken Stew, Kerala
n 4 tbsp oil n 3 tbsp ghee n 1 tbsp black peppercorns n 8 green cardamoms n 8 cloves n 2 bay leaves n 3 cinnamon sticks, 2 cm each n 1 star anise n 2 cups onions finely sliced n 2 tbsp ginger, chopped fine n 8 garlic cloves chopped n 2 green chillies slit and seeded n 11/2 tbsp flour n 1 kg chicken cut into medium sized pieces n Salt n 1 cup thin coconut milk or water n 3 tbsp vinegar n 1 tsp mustard seeds n 2 tbsp shallots chopped fine n 10 curry leaves n 1 cup thick coconut milk
Heat the oil and two tablespoons of ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the peppercorns, cardamoms, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and anise to the oil and stir for a few seconds. Add the onions to the spices, stirring occasionally. When the onions turn translucent, add ginger, garlic and green chillies. Add the flour to the onions and stir. Put in the chicken pieces and salt, and stir well. Add the thin coconut milk and vinegar. Once the stew comes to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid and simmer till the chicken is cooked.
Heat the remaining ghee in a small saucepan, add mustard seeds, and, when they splutter stir in the shallots. As the shallots turn brown, add curry leaves. Pour the contents of the saucepan onto the cooked chicken. Now add the thick coconut milk to the chicken stew. Cover the pan with a lid and let it rest for at least half an hour for all the flavours to meld. Heat gently before serving but do not let it boil.
• Peeled and quartered potatoes can be added along with the chicken pieces. This stew goes well with appams, steamed rice or crusty bread
• Mutton can be used instead of chicken, increasing cooking time by about 15 minutes
KHARE MASALE KA GOSHT
Mutton Cooked with Whole Spices, Delhi
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee n 2 medium onions, sliced n 15-20 cloves garlic n 2 tsp ginger, cut into thin one-inch strips n 1 bay leaf n 2 black cardamoms n 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns n 6 dry red chillies, seeded and cut into small bits n 1 tsp cumin seeds n 1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a rolling pin n 4 cloves n 4 green cardamoms n 1 one-inch stick cinnamon n Salt n 3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped (optional) n 1 cup yoghurt, beaten smooth n 500g mutton (from the dasti or shoulder), washed and dried
Heat oil or ghee and fry onions till golden. Add garlic and ginger; sauté for a couple of minutes. Add all the whole spices. After a minute, add water and salt. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, then add tomatoes, if using, and simmer, covered, on low heat till soft and mushy. Add meat and yoghurt, stir well, cover and cook till tender. This will take about an hour and a half - stir occasionally and add a spoonful or two of hot water if necessary. There should be a thick curry when it's done.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Page 201 of 175
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw