BANGALORE: Four years after helping her grandmother publish her book Recipes of Life, For Life, Bangalore-based architect Husna Rahaman has released her new book, Spice Sorcery (Harper Collins) which offers a glimpse into heirloom recipes of the Kutchi Memon community. But the book, though similar to her grandmother’s, employs a much more personalised narrative, a new-age take on the vintage cookbook. According to Husna, “the book is a humorous look at an idiosyncratic community that is ridiculously food absorbed.”
Through the protagonist Razia, the quintessential Memon girl, who ‘enchants and beguiles,’ and whose recipes are like ‘spells’ and her ladle, her ‘magic wand,’ she portrays how food helps open doors to her life. Through each segment in the book, which is an event in Razia’s life, Husna enumerates recipes that have for long been a Memon family secret, interspersed with caricatures. “This makes the book as flavourful as the food,” Husna points out.
Kutchi Memon food, we learn, is food that is heavy on meat, light on grease, robust with flavour, delicate on the aromas and seductive enough to have you begging for more. Husna emphasises this point when she says, “We don’t care to know if the rain in Spain is mainly on the plain, or if Asia is in Andalusia, but we know how to greet our meat with profound reverence.”
While she rues that the cooking style is a touch more mechanical nowadays, the community at large still values the trusted cooking methods of yore. She observes, “Friendly gadgets save us time but we will not buy coconut milk that is out of a packet. We prefer to mill our spices and grain, adore our age old mortar and pestles, seldom part with our recipes or leave out a key ingredient, never buy garlic that’s packed and choose our meat and vegetables with an arched eyebrow. The extra work really works!”
Gosht ki biryani (fragrant rice infused with spiced lamb)
- 1 kg mutton cut in two-inch pieces
- 5 onions, sliced fine
- 3 one-inch pieces of cinnamon
- 5 cardamom pods
- 5 cloves
- 4 tsp garlic paste
- 4 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- ¼ tsp whole spice powder
- 1 cup finely-chopped coriander
- ¼ cup mint leaves
- 20 small green chillies
- 1 cup yoghurt
- 2 tbsp almond powder
- ¼ cup oil
- 10 strands of saffron soaked in 2 tbsp of milk
- For the rice
- 1kg long-grain basmati rice
- 1 two-inch pieces of cinnamon
- 3 cloves
- 8 mint leaves
- Salt to taste
- Heat the oil and infuse it with the whole cinnamon, cardamom and clove. To the scented oil, add the sliced onions and fry until they crinkle and bronze. Add a dash of water to prevent further browning and add the garlic and ginger paste. Stir with a wooden spoon for at least five minutes. To mature the pungent paste, using small sprinkles of water.
- Now add the red chilli powder, whole spice powder and salt and fry for a few minutes. In a blender, coarsely grind the coriander, green chillies and mint leaves, and pour this intoxicating blend into the pot. Stir for a while and add the meat. The meat much be coaxed to befriend the companions in the pot by stirring tirelessly.
- After 10 minutes, add a few cups of water and parboil the potatoes. Pressure cook the meat in the cooker. After four whistles, open the pot. The meat should have cooked by now.
- The meat and potatoes should have become tender by this time. Keep the cooker aside for seven minutes so that the steam continues to cook the meat. Open the pot and start to reduce the curry. Halfway through the reduction, add the yoghurt and five minutes later, add the almond powder. What you should be left with is a thick reduced gravy from which the oil has separated. Tilt the cooker and remove four tablespoons of oil and keep aside.
For the rice
- Wash and soak the rice in water for half and hour before you cook it.
- Take a large deep-bottomed pot so the boiling riche has plenty of room to evolve. Fill it with approximately eight litres of water and set it on high heat. To the water, add salt, two pieces of cinnamon and three cloves. Also throw in eight mint leaves to make the rice fragrant.
- When the water reaches a boil, add the rice gently. Stir often to check on the consistency of the rice. A good test is to split a grain. If you see a white dot in the centre, the rice needs a little longer. This is a critical stage. The second that you see that there is no longer a white central spot, life the pot of rice and drain it into a colander over the kitchen sink.
- When you are convinced the water has been fully drained, scoop half the rice from the pot and set it aside. Instantly scoop the gosht ha khurma into the steaming rice that remains in the pot. Using a spoon, ensure the khurma evenly covers the rice below it.
- Quickly, so the steam does not escape, add the rice you had set aside over the khurma so it is entirely covered. The khurma is now sandwiched between the two layers of rice.
- Sprinkle the saffron milk on the top layer of rice and add the juice of lime to the oil you had previously removed from the gravy.
- Now drizzle the oil in concentric circles on the rice. Place a wet cloth inside of the lid and flap it onto the top.
- Place a heavy utensil on the top to ensure that the steam does not escape. Place it on low fire. For 20 minutes the steam will work magic by concentrating the flavours and interlocking the juices within the pot.