Gourmet Secrets by Karen Anand: Kebabs galore in Gujarat
I was in Ahmedabad for the weekend recently and was keen to find out what excites the Gujarati palate. At a family function, we tasted exceedingly good chaats – more North Indian than Gujarati I would say, vegetarian versions of the Caesar salad, Gujarati versions of Napoli pizza, a host of the most delicious main courses: vegetables, khichris, pulaos, raitas and chutneys. However, the underbelly of Gujarati gastronomy, i.e the younger members of the family proclaimed their love of all things meaty. Gujarat seems to be full to the brim with nashto, farsan and mitthoo, but what happens to the eager meat eater in this state?
Going by history
I have never seen a butcher and I know for a fact that some fabulously fresh fish comes from the Gujarat coastal village of Viraval. Then you have all that meaty history. Gujarat came under the control of the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century and in the 15th century, the local Rajput Muslim governor Zafar Khan Muzaffar crowned himself Sultan of Gujarat, Muzaffar Shah I. His grandson, Ahmed Shah, laid the foundation of a new walled city and named it Ahmedabad. In the 16th century, Humayun also briefly occupied the city after capturing Champaner. Gujarat was then conquered by Akbar in the late 16th century. Ahmedabad became one of the Mughal empires’ greatest centres of trade, mainly textiles, and the city remained the provincial headquarters of the Mughals until 1758 when they surrendered the city to the Marathas. Almost 350 years of Mughal rule preceded by the Delhi Sultanate and followed by the Marathas and the British would have resulted in a fair amount of non-vegetarian dishes in the culinary spectrum, I would have thought?
A trip to the old city of Ahmedabad especially, around the area of Bhatyir Galli, proves my point. Kebabs and bara handi galore!
I dug deeper to discover that during the times of Ghengis Khan, horseback riders would kill an animal, clean it, cut it into pieces, thread the pieces over the daggers or swords and cook over open fire. That was the first kebab, a piece of meat threaded on a dagger and cooked over open fire. In Turkey, shish kebab means ‘skewer with grilled meat’. With time, the kebab has evolved from whole muscle meats to minced meats, and even non-meats. The word ‘kebab’, that comes from the Arabic or Persian, originally meant fried not grilled meat. The Arabic word possibly derives from Aramaic kabbābā, which probably has its origins in Akkadian kabābu meaning “to burn, char”. The origin of the shish kebab may lie in the short supply of cooking fuel, which made the cooking of large bits difficult, while urban economies made it easy to obtain small cuts of meat at a butcher’s shop. Ibn Battuta, a 14th century Moroccan scholar and traveler, records that shish kebab was served in the royal houses of India since at least the Sultanate period, and even commoners would enjoy it for breakfast with naan.
Today in India we have many many kebabs, those with their history dating back to the Sultanate and Moghuls and more contemporary ones, which appeared with the advent of the tandoor. It was Babur who hired Hindu cooks to grind goat meat with spices and wrap it around iron rods, slowly cooking it over open fire, what is today the modern seekh kebab. Maas Ka Sula is a lamb kebab that originated in Rajasthan. ‘Maas’ means meat and Sula is a poke. It was originally made with wild boar that was marinated and cooked over a bed of hot coals or smoked in a pit. With the passage of time, the boar was replaced by goat meat and chicken. Patthar ka gosht comes from Hyderabad. It is made with lamb, marinated and cooked on a hot black granite stone over charcoal. Kakori is a small village near Lucknow and the kabab named after it is a softer version of the seekh made with mangoes. Tabak Maaz is a kebab from Kashmir where baby ribs are first cooked in milk and spices till soft and then deep fried. Shami and the Hyderabadi Shikampur are made with ground meat and lentils and cooked on a griddle. There are cooks who claim to make 300 kebabs! So the Indian kebab—massaged, perfumed, pompous and romantic—a pampered aristocrat is a different creature from the Greek or the Turkish, from the Middle Eastern kebab that seems, not to have progressed since medieval times, when soldiers skewered meat with their swords and roasted their dinner in the fire.
We were staying at the new and contemporary Doubletree by Hilton in Ahmedabad and after several delicious vegetarian meals were, I must admit, ready for something meaty for our last supper in the city. I spoke to Executive Chef Yash Thakore about what he could do for us in this department. An ex-ITC and Taj chef, he was over the moon to showcase his repertoire of kebabs. We started with the most divine makhmali gosht ki seekh, coarsely chopped lamb mince (something you find rarely nowadays even in good Mughlai restaurants). He then regaled us with a tandoori pomfret, banjara murgh ke sule (a kebab of chicken thighs), nimbu pudina ke jheenge... it went on and on and finished with a tangdi biryani with all the aromas and delicate spices of a true Mughal table.
Here is the recipe for his makhmali gosht ki seekh…one of the best seekhs I have tasted and yes, made in Ahmedabad!
Makhmali Gosht Ki Seekh
Ingredients (two portions)
250 g lamb mince (from kid leg) with some of its fat
25 g ginger
25 g garlic
1 bunch mint leaves
50 g processed cheese
Salt to taste
20 g kashmiri chili powder
20 g cumin powder
15 g garam masala powder
20 g coriander powder
25 g fried onions
15g rose petal powder
20 g butter
10 ml fresh cream
15 g chaat masala
½ bunch coriander
•Mix all the ingredients together except for butter, cream & chaat masala & mince coarsely.
•Take half of the mixture and mince again.
•Add to the remaining coarsely ground mince and rest for 30 mins in a refrigerator. While the mixture is very cold, form kababs on skewers and cook in tandoor or on a barbecue grill for around five to six minutes, turning frequently.
•Wrap kebabs in foil and further cook for approximately five minutes to make sure they are cooked through and to retain the softness of the meat.
•Remove foil and cut the seekh into even barrels. Toss in a mixture of melted butter, cream & chaat masala.
•Serve hot along with dahi pudina chutney.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on September 15.
From HT Brunch, September 1, 2019
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