When you think of Lucknowi food, you almost inevitably think of kebab, qorma and biryani. However, the city is home to several cuisines, which are cooked in their own kitchens every day. Lucknowi Bawarchi Khanea new book, shows some of these traditional recipes.
It is the result of a decade-long journey. When the curators of the annual four-day Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival (MSLF) started the 2011 Awadhi Home Cooked Food Festival – a lunchtime event on the final day of the festival – little did they know that it would one day turn into a book. The event, says Madhavi Kuckreja, a founder and curator of MSLF, was an effort “to bring Lucknow’s real food to its people.”
Thus, each cook brings a specific dish from home in a predetermined amount to create a full meal/buffet. In the beginning, Kuckreja recalls, only three to four families agreed to participate; at this year’s event in March, there were 40. Initially, most were hesitant to serve their food at home in a so-called melancholy— but it sold out in minutes.
“Over the years, this lunch became so popular that people came from Hyderabad and Mumbai that afternoon where they could taste the flavors of home cooked Lucknowi food. The number of participating chefs (determined by a core committee) grew steadily and it is now a matter of pride to be part of the festival.”
An added benefit: It created such a bond between families that sharing their recipes for a collective venture seemed almost a natural extension. Noor Khan and Sufia Kidwai, founders of the food festival, compiled and released the cookbook during the festival. “The book features age-old recipes that our contributors have honed over the years and added their personal touch. They have shared their family heirlooms with great love and without hesitation,” Khan said on the phone.
Khan, who retired as principal of the prestigious Karamat Husain Muslim Girls PG College in Lucknow, added: “Food is part of our collective heritage that must be preserved no matter what. Even after we’re gone, our heritage must live in people’s pressure cookers, kadahis† degrees and hearts, and this book is a step in that direction.”
The recipes reflect the countless communities that have lived in Lucknow for centuries – families who migrated from Bengal and Kashmir to make the city their home. Twenty-five people from different walks of life, from educators to lawyers, social entrepreneurs, artists and housewives contributed. There is a fair mix of meat and vegetarian dishes, some combining the two, a trait typical of Lucknowi cuisine.
The recipes go beyond biryanis and qormas to include an extensive vegetarian section, with valleys† sabzis even tehric (the typical dish of rice, potatoes and peas) and nimona (a winter stew of ground green peas, potatoes, wadis and spices), two Lucknow classics. There are sections on Gosht or Mutton recipes; Murgh Aur Machli, or Chicken and Fish, Recipes; and meetha, or dessert recipes. Within these sections you will find Parsi, Kashmiri and Bengali recipes. Kuckreja and Khan claim these are as Lucknowi as khichda or methi machli“because they too have been cooked and eaten here for generations”.
Some recipes are unique, can only be found at home. So there it is sagpaita (black split urad dal cooked with spinach), laal mirch ka keema (a preparation of fiery red winter pepper and minced lamb), namak mirch ki nukhti (a meat dish made only with salt and red peppers) and chane ki dal ka halwa (a rich dessert made from cooked Bengal gram lentils, gheesugar and cardamom).
Appropriately enough, maybe, Lucknowi Bawarchi Khane opens with a foreword by filmmaker Muzaffar Ali. Ali, a well-known Lucknowi and foodie, talks about his days in the city and the joy of home-cooked meals, the skill of cooks, the mehmaanawazior generosity of hosts, and the unique dishes he has eaten at friends’ homes.
What’s missing, though, are the stories behind each recipe: where did they come from, how did they evolve, who introduced them to the family? While the detailed introduction of the book is about cooking styles, unique ingredients such as kachnar ki kali (the flower buds of a local tree), cooking methods such as stupid and dhungarand even unwritten cooking rules, such as never adding pumpkin or eggplant to meat, are silent on the aspect of history.
It’s a start. Lucknow Bawarchi Khane, Khan says, is a work in progress. “We hope to reach a much wider audience with this book of home recipes,” she adds. “We’re sure more home cooks will come forward with their family recipes so we can have newer editions in the future.” We hope so too.
By Sheena Iqbal
1 kg foreleg sheep (thats ka gosht), curry cut
3 medium onions
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
3 teaspoons dhania (coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
6 laung (clove)
4 hari elaichic (green cardamom)
2 tez patta (bay leaf)
6 sabut kali mirch (whole black pepper)
100 g cottage cheese
1 tbsp coconut powder
3 teaspoons khus khus (poppy seed)
8 badaam (almonds)
150 g frying oil
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pressure cooker, add the sliced onions, fry until golden brown. Remove from oil, store on absorbent paper. Add in the same oil tez patta† laung† hari elaichic† sabut kali mirch and fry for half a minute. Add meat and salt, continue frying until the meat no longer sticks to the sides of the pressure cooker. Add ginger and garlic paste, dhania powder, chili powder and sauté well with the meat.
Add about half a cup of water and close the lid of the pressure cooker.
Once the pressure has built up, reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is tender. Wait for the pressure to decrease.
Dry roast the coconut powder, poppy seeds and almonds. Grind them together with the curd and the fried onions to a fine paste.
Open the lid of the pan, add the curd paste and continue to fry the meat until the oil separates.
Add the necessary water for the gravy, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, cover with a lid. The qorma is ready.
Anubhuti Krishna writes about food, travel, culture and design.
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