Oudh/ Avadh Cuisine
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Whether it's homemade shami or the galauti in the bazaar, Lucknow's most famous dishes cut across religious and class divides
Parties always meant kebab in our [Kayasth Hindu] home in Lucknow-shami kebab.
The cuisine of Avadh, with Lucknow as its capital, reached the zenith of its refinement under the nawabs (and in the kitchens of the subsequent talukdars -the landed gentry , who the British rewarded for their loyalty post the Revolt of 1857, and who made their way from the provinces into the city, after Wajid Ali Shah was exiled). However, Avadhi food was and has always been the food of not just one community . From the Mughal court to the Safavid court in Iran (from where the first Nawab emigrated) to a host of European and provincial influences all came togeth er to create Avadhi food. French merchants were quite a presence in Lucknow and it is to the French pate tradition that we should perhaps ascribe the silken-textured galauti kebab to. Bade ka meat (buff) was used in bazaars to make for cheaper snacks; goat meat in upper class homes.
Nihari, the spiced-up bazaar stew, usu ally done with buffalo meat was a common man's breakfast. However, the straining to refine the broth points to a French influ ence. The inclusive traditions also cut across classes. Rakabdars, or highly paid cooks of the aristocracy, invented recipes but some of these foods of upper-class homes passed into the bazaars because of the idea of tabaruk or blessed food L distributed to the poor on religious occasionsmuch like prasad.
With rich landown ers, both Hindu and Muslim, setting up homes in Lucknow, pro vincial food traditions also seeped into the fabric. The kakori ke bab is an example; sup posedly distributed as a blessed food at a sufi shrine near kakori, it was refined by cooks in rich homes, and is now the post er child of “Avadhi dining“ in restaurants.
Nimish may have had a similar ori gin. The ethereal frothy dessert made from whisked milk may have been a pro vincial concept refined in Lucknow.
Balai ki gilori is a disappearing Luckno wi delicacy , made of just balai or a thick layer of cream, filled with mishri (the sugar crystals incidentally get their name from “Misr“ or Egypt where they were first used) and nuts and coated with silver varq. Many have tried to replicate the art of making it, invariably using stodgy khoya and so on. The elegance and delicacy of a creation like this, how ever, had a context: The old Avadhi cul ture had no place for the boorish.
Referencing the food of the Colonial masters, some inventive cook or rakabdar in a nawabi kitchen may have created the potato version. Aloo itself at any rate had been a “foreigner“. The first batches of the crop had been farmed on the terraced slopes of Dehra Dun only in 1830 by the English. Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Lucknow, under whose reign so much of the cultural and culinary inventiveness took place in Avadh, came to the throne a mere decade and a half later--in 1847. Potato was most certainly an elite crop at that time. As the redoubtable food historian KT Achaya writes, it was first adopted by the English, then by the Muslims, only later did it reluctantly make its way into Hindu households of Avadh and the Subcontinent. In Lucknow, when you eat that new pretender, the now famous “basket chaat“, crisp tokris of potatoes filled with spicy , tangy bites, or a meal of traditional kachori-aloo, or indeed kebab at Tunday mian's (no, not the chicken ones that it is now forced to serve), you don't necessarily think of religion, politics or the antecedents of the dishes. Of course, that is exactly how it should be -and continue to be. Yet, a look at how some of Lucknow's most famous dishes came about, cutting across religious and class divides, is instructive. It tells us of an inclusive, composite culture expressed through food.
They were my grandmother's spe ciality. Mrs Lakshmi Chandra Mathur, Barima to us, was known to be quite religious, read the Sundarkand, the shortest and the most beautiful chapter from the Ramayan every sin gle day , was a strict veg etarian but equally un compromising about the quality of shami kebab that came to her table.
On special occasions like festivals or evening soirees, she would go into the kitchen herself, cook the mince with dal and spices in a strict proportion, stuff the patties with mint leaves and onions, and fry the kabab till crisp and brown on the outside, soft and moist inside. All this, without tasting.
This was a recipe taught to her by her mother and perhaps passed down quite a few generations in the family . Meat didn't have a religion then. It did have cultural sophistication though. Chicken kebab would have horrified Barima. The fowl, a scavenging bird was often regarded as “unclean“, but more than that its relative tastelessness put it at the bottom of the pecking order when it came to connoisseurs of fine foods. Despite being a vegetarian, my grandmother was a connoisseur alright and knew her meats as well as she did her veggies -like tender turai (ridge gourd) and other varieties of gourds, favoured in Lucknow, across communities, whether in salans or in no-onion-no garlic vrat ka khana.
In our syncretic, ganga-jamuni world, however, meat symbolised prosperity and plenty . That is why when festivals were “celebrated“, it was with a meal of kaliya (goat meat curry) and poori -the auspicious “pucca“ khana sanctified by cooking it in ghee.
In the soirees with kebab, vegetarians were often served a snack of potato “chops“, a more refined version of the aloo ki tikiya that Lucknow chaatwallahs sold in the bazaars. The chopstikiyas had obviously come about from the kot letcutlet tradition of Europe, where the cutlet (or the chop, the cut from the ribs) always refers to a piece of veal or mutton.
Vishal is author of Mrs LC's Table: Stories about Kayasth food and culture
Three recipes from noble households
3 Dum Pukht nawabi recipes
The effervescent flavours and aroma of dum pukthfood can leave even the most stiff-nosed, drooling. If elaborate affairs are your thing, dine like royaltywith this traditional nawabi fare. Known as the food of the nawabs, dum pukth or cooking with steam, has been a favourite of the royals since it made its way into India from theMiddle East with the Mughals. While it made home in Awadh, it spread to the courts of Hyderabad, Kashmir and central India, with each region giving it a twist.
Using less spices than traditional Indian food, it's generous with ghee and is known for its typical purdah (veil) style of cooking. Meat, rice or vegetables are covered in a copper or earthen pot with a flavoured dough of flour, ghee and sugar (a sort of puff pastry). It's then sealed and cooked on a very slow flame. The essence of dum pukth lies in its aroma.
1 kg Mutton
500 gm Basmati rice
50 gm Brown onions
200 gm Desi ghee
10 gm Cloves
10 gm Cinnamon sticks
10 gm Bayleaf
10 gm Green cardamom
100 ml Cream
250 gm Beaten curd to taste
10 gm Yellow chilli powder
15 gm Mace cardamom pwd
50 gm Ginger garlic paste
5 ml Rose water
5 ml Kevda water ( screwpine)
2 drops Sweet ittar
25 gm Slit green chillies
50 gm Mint leaves
50 gm Ginger julienne
5 gm Royal cumin seeds
25 ml Lemon juice ½ ltr Water 100 gm Whole wheat flour dough (for lining the lid)
Cooking its mutton
- Heat ghee in a copper vessel and add the whole spices. When they crackle add mutton pieces which have been salted and saute.
- Add ginger garlic paste and brown onions and saute again for a while.
- Add beaten curd and bhunao (saute) till the oil separates. Now put yellow chilli powder, mace and cardamom powder.
- Add water and cook the mutton.