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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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A meaty spread

One reason why I like to travel to Himachal Pradesh — apart from the obvious lures such as the hills and the weather — is that one has to go through Punjab. There was a time when I used to plan out my journey in such a way that I could synchronise my halts with meal timings. Lunch was always at Puran Singh’s dhaba in Ambala. He made the most delicious rahra meat — an inspired dish where succulent meat pieces float in a thick sauce of minced meat.

It’s a sad fact of life that such delightful dishes are going out of our lives. In most parts of the country, what we call Punjabi food is actually just a distortion. Cooking every dish — from mutton and chicken to paneer and potatoes — with tomatoes and cream is a trend that was started by a few so-called Punjabi restaurants in the country — and has now taken root in various cities. But that’s not authentic Punjabi food.

Chef Suprabhat Roy agrees with me. He should know — he is the executive chef of Delhi’s Eros Hilton Hotel, which runs a restaurant called Singh Sahib, specialising in Punjabi food. I met him some days ago, and got talking about the cuisine of the land of the five rivers, where folks live to eat. And though people generally tend to connect Punjabis with chicken, they love their meat dishes too, especially something like nalli meat, cooked with juicy shanks.

I knew two such Punjabi bon vivants who ran one of the best dhabas in Delhi that I have ever been to. The friends, both called Ashok, were engaged in some nefarious deals in the daytime, and in the evening, when they gathered with their booty, they would pool in their money, buy some meat and make the most delicious mutton dish of all time. It was such a hit with their friends and neighbours that they gave up their old ways and became professional cooks. And people from far and wide — actually from Punjab too — used to go there for their meat dish. The two friends are no more but their sons and nephews are carrying on with the lip-smacking legacy of ‘desi ghee ka meat’.

I find that chef Roy likes to temper his meat dishes with ghee too. For instance, his Meat Beliram — named after a legendary dhaba chef known the state over for his meat — has the flavour of coriander but is also redolent with the smell of ghee. Of course, mustard oil is used extensively in Punjab too, which is why his black cardamom-infused Mongey Wala Meat (apparently the original recipe comes from Moga in Punjab) is cooked with mustard oil.

What’s interesting about Punjabi meat dishes is the fact that they are not always rich with tomato and cream. Recipes come from all over the state, and many have the subtle flavours of spices such as cloves and cardamoms. Tomatoes tend to smother light flavours, which is why a great many Punjabi meat dishes don’t use tomatoes at all. A dish is often cooked in yoghurt, which gives a light yet tangy taste to the gravy.

I am happy that chef Roy’s recipes are continuing with a tradition that is as rich as it is varied. The Punjabis , contrary to popular belief, have an understated side that complements their gregarious nature. If they have their lusty Bhangra, they have their Heer too — soulful love songs that speak of separation. Likewise, their food has many sides. Tandoori chicken rules in many quarters, no doubt, but dishes such as Beliram’s meat are never forgotten. And to that, what else can I say but balle balle?       

Mongey Wala Meat (serves 4)

Ingredients:

• 1kg mutton leg, cut into two-inch chunks • 200g poppy seeds • 250g yoghurt • 500g sliced onion • 5 green chillies • 200ml mustard oil • 5 green cardamoms l3 black cardamoms • 5 cloves • 30g peeled and chopped garlic • 30g degi mirch powder • 20g coriander powder • 250g tomato puree •1tsp garam masala powder • 1tsp cardamom powder • salt to taste • 1tbs chopped fresh coriander

Method:

Put the poppy seeds in a bowl. Add water till they are just covered and keep for at least half an hour. Blend to a fine paste with the yoghurt and keep aside. Boil the onion and green chillies with just enough water. Cool and blend to a paste. Roast the black cardamom seeds lightly and then grind to a powder. Heat oil in a heavy bottom pot. Add the whole spices. When they crackle, add the chopped garlic. When it turns golden add the onion paste. Cook over a slow fire till the oil starts to resurface. Add the mutton and salt. Cook the mutton, stirring continuously for about half an hour. Add the degi mirch powder, coriander powder and the tomato puree. Sprinkle a little water and cook till the mutton is almost done. Add the poppy seed paste and slowly bring to a boil. Finish off with the garam masala powder and black cardamom powder. Serve hot garnished with fresh coriander

Meat Beliram (serves 4)

Ingredients

• 1kg baby lamb cut into two-inch pieces • 300g fresh yoghurt •400g sliced onions • 40g ginger juliennes • 50g sliced garlic • 10g turmeric powder • 30g coriander powder • 30g yellow chilli powder •100g ghee • 20g coriander seeds • salt to taste • 50g fresh coriander • ljuice of 1 lemon

Method:

In a mixing bowl whisk the yoghurt. Mix with the powdered spices and salt. Add sliced onion, ginger and garlic. Mix the lamb in the marinade. Keep aside for at least two hours. In a heavy bottom pot heat the ghee. Add the coriander seeds. When they crackle add the lamb with the marinade. Reduce heat and cook covered, stirring at regular intervals until the meat is almost cooked. Remove the lid and cook on a high flame to reduce the sauces to a coating consistency. Remove from fire and add fresh coriander and lime juice. Serve hot with chapattis.