The Authentic One

“Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast”

Amir Khusrao on Kashmir

Kashmir, the heaven on earth according to Amir Khusrau, and forwarded by Jahangir on seeing Kashmir. Kashmiri cuisine has always been associated with meat because its a well known fact that, the people of Kashmir love their meat delicacies. Now, when we talk about Kashmir and its food, we credit it with the communities that live here, Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. There is a contrast in dishes and the process of cooking them in both the communities.

In meat loving Kashmir, where even Kashmiri Pandits eat meat except beef, the Pandits who don’t even eat tomatoes & onions are referred as Dal Battas. There are plenty of recipes which we aren’t aware of & which are cooked in households and later passed on to generations as traditional recipes.

Here is Kashmiri Dum Aloo, the most famous and the most wrongly cooked dish in India. Yes, you read that right! When I say wrongly cooked, I mean the Dum Aloo that we get in most of the restaurants around us isn’t authentic. However, I am not a believer of authenticity because whatever we cook is nothing but a variation to the authentic dish that was cooked for the very first time.

Talking about variations & authenticity, the recipe for this one has no onion, no garlic, no tomatoes, its made Dal Battas style. Imagining how it tastes without our most loved & most used ingredients ? Let me answer that, The dish has a pungent aroma of mustard oil, creaminess of potatoes, sharpness of ginger powder, and freshness of fennel powder, this is Kashmiri Dum Aloo.

Fun Fact: Our beloved Aloo, isn’t ours. The Portuguese brought it to India, and since then we have made it ours. They called it ‘Batata’ and in some parts of India it’s still called that. This again brings me to the authenticity part, now tell me what is Authentic?

The Poetic One

I always had interest in poetry, Faiz Ahmed Faiz is one of my favourite poet. However, one cannot forget Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, fondly known as Mirza Ghalib. When one talks of Delhi, its culture and its food I am always curious about knowing the city when it had some soul: Purani Dilli.

Talking about Ghalib Saab today, not many know that he loved food, kebabs & mangoes were is absolute favourite among everything. There is a famous story of him & Bahadur Shah Zafar, it goes as, once they were roaming around in male section of royal gardens. Just then Ghalib Saab took a pause to stare at mango tree, on seeing him do so, Zafar asked what is he thinking. “My Lord and Guide, some poet once said that every fruit has the name of the person and his ancestors destined to eat it written on it. I am looking for the name of my grandfather, father and my name!” answered Ghalib Saab. And same day by evening, a basket of fresh choicest mangoes were delivered to him.

Why am I talking about this? It’s because of the dish here, Qaliamba. Its kebab cooked with spices and later infused with raw mango syrup.
It was Ghalib Saab’s favourite dish. So was his love for meat that, when he was old & couldn’t chew, his cooks used to soak roti in meat gravy.

His love for Dilli is reflected in:

“Ik roz apni rooh se poocha, ki dilli kya hai,
to yun jawab main keh gaye, yeh duniya mano jism hai aur dilli uski jaan.”

Unfortunately, Ghalib Saab’s Dilli is long lost and he too will agree to this, However, Ghalib Saab never left Dilli, he lives in this dish forever.

The Displaced One

Image: Het Shah Studio

As I said in my first post on this page, food is something that binds us together, knowingly or unknowingly. This is one such dish that crossed the border during India-Pakistan partition and maybe just like many other refugees, it too got displaced.

For me the dish is representation of how two different foods can be combined and how perfectly they balance, without taking away anything from each other. Infact, both the ingredients give each other a lot, no matter how divided or different they are. Now, this is what “WE” were and should have been.

The dish is Murgh Cholya, a recipe that’s lost in time, a forgotten dish. The dish is said to be originated in historical city of Lahore, before the partition & it still remains there. Its undoubtedly a Punjabi dish but for some reasons it isnt popular in India.

Ever wondered how a dish might taste when you first hear about it? This is one of the dish for me that instantly made me think the taste and flavors it has to offer. At first I was a bit skeptical about making and trying it. Just imagine all the spices that are into the recipe and the juices of both ingredients are infused into each other while cooking. Murgh with Chole is magic.

Fun Fact: The sarso da saag that we love so much, is actually a Pakistani dish which is adopted by India and now it’s ours.

The Forbidden One

Image by: Het Shah Studio

I haven’t traveled to North East India, the culture, the people, the food, I am yet to experience in person. One state that has my interest is Manipur, it’s one of the eight northeastern states in India, shares its domestic borders with other northeastern states like Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam and international border with Myanmar. This makes the state play host to different cultures and traditions and cuisine.

Its earthy and nutty in flavour, and has an Umami to it! Best served with sour and tangy fruits to balance the rich, sweet, savoury creaminess of the dish. Wondering what is the dish?

Let me break the suspense, its Chak Hao Kheer. It’s a famous dessert in Manipuri cuisine, Chak Hao means black rice. Due to its propinquity to the far east, Manipur has acquired a unique taste in its cuisine.

Now the history part of the dish, this sweet dessert cooked from the famed black rice from the far east specially China is a treasured delicacy and no feast is complete unless you have served it to your guests. However, in China, during older times this rice was also called as forbidden rice because it was only available to the royal kitchens.

Black rice is cultivated in small proportion in these states and not so widely found in India. Black rice is an excellent source of fibre, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Its colour changes to dramatic purple when cooked.

So, when you wonder “why visit Manipur?”. I just gave you a very good reason!

Fun Fact: After blueberries if there is something rich in antioxidants, it is Chak Hao.

Diamond in the rough

This here is a beautiful example of how we are attached to our food, and how it travels to tell the tale, no matter where we go in life.

You might not have heard of the thing here but I am lucky enough to have this since my childhood. It’s something I never felt like eating, but thanks to my Nani, who is preparing various dishes using Cassava since her earlier days in Uganda. My Nani and the dishes, both moved to India just when anti-Indian racism was on rise in early 1960.

This brings me the root of the root here. It’s a root vegetable just like potatoes and yams. Cassava appears to have originated in Brazil and Paraguay, but has spread throughout tropical areas of South and Central America long before the arrival of Columbus. Today, it is one of the most important food crops of tropical countries throughout the world and ranks as the 6th most important food crop worldwide, even though in western countries it is little known or used. It can protect itself, it requires little maintenance, and it can grow in poor soil conditions.

Though Brazil is the origin country, Nigeria in 2014 produced around 270 million tons of Cassava, followed by Thailand & Brazil.

Coming back to Uganda, because that’s where the variation of it starts for me & my family. Cassava, was introduced in Uganda between 1862 and 1875, and is currently one of the most important staple food crops in the country.

My Nani makes some amazing gravy using Cassava and this fries here are the ultimate fries one can have! I bet, all of you reading, try this once & you will forget the typical French fries.(Btw, the French in french fries has nothing to do with french)

Also, the sabudana (Tapioca) that we love is nothing but the starch that’s extracted from roots of cassava plants.

PS: Dont eat cassava raw, might be toxic.

Go Goa Gone

Goa, a place that is soaked in history and heritage. Sun, Sand, Sea food, what else one wants when in Goa. The Portuguese ruled Goa for about 450 years, and heavily influenced Goan culture, cuisine, and architecture. Be it sea food or meat, Goan taste cannot be found anywhere else. And the people who have kept these recipes alive and authentic, with some variations ofcourse.

Indians have plethora of curries. Every state and every household has their own version of them as well. Many-a-times, we have just taken someone else’s concept, and made it ours. Vindaloo is one such dish, and it now stands tall amongst all the Indian curries because of it spiciness. If you love spicy food which makes your brows sweat than this is for you!

Here I have tried my cooking instincts in creating a dish that’s traditionally made using pork & toddy vinegar. This is my version of the classic Vindaloo with chicken. The word vindaloo is a jumbled pronunciation of the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos (meat marinated in wine-vinegar and garlic), which was introduced to Indians in 15th century by Portuguese explorers who used this marination to keep the meat fresh. The dish was tweaked to meet the local conditions.

The Vindaloo that we get in restaurants is not true to origin, its just basic spices with vinegar. So, the next time you get a craving for some super spicy curry, do make the original vindaloo. It will, quite literally, blow your mind.

From the Peacock Throne

Meethi boliyaan sun lo
Aasmaani rangon ki
Meethi boliyaan sun lo
Bezubaani lamhon ki

As it’s commonly said in India, shuruwat tou meethe se hi hoti hai!
Here is ‘Sevaiyaan,’ a dish that I am fond of. The most beautiful thing about it is the creaminess & the nutty flavour.

I often think how things might have been decades & centuries ago.
This particular dish dates back to Mughal reign in India. The cooks in royal kitchens decided to make a ghee (clarified butter) and sugar dessert keeping vermicelli as its base. Milk was used but only moderately & finished with lots of nuts.

Sevaiyan that we get today in market is rolled out using machines, wondering how they handcrafted it, makes me love it more. However, not everything is lost in this instant world, handmade vermicelli can still be found in Old Hyderabad. If you get a chance do take a look at the art of making it because the machine made ones can never replace the taste that comes from the ones that are heartcrafted.

The word ‘Sevaiyaan’ however may have derived from Sanskrit word “Sevika”

Have a seat

Food completes the circle of creativity, passion, happiness & joy.

– Chef Ranveer Brar – –

What is The H Table ?
Well, to start off its a food journal that will have recipes, stories, & pictures of food that I cook. The H here stands for History, because I believe everything has a past, a start; history of & about food has always amazed me. H here also conveys the emotions of food being Handcrafted and stories around it being Heartcrafted. Finally, the H says that it’s by me, Het.

There are recipes that have been lost or are uncommon. For someone like me who is fascinated with stories and history about such dishes and food in general, the major part of this blog will be to revive and present those dishes on The H Table.