The unbelievable lightness of biryani — from Awadh
- Published 27.11.15
For a “chubby” kid, hanging around the kitchens was no big deal. Particularly, when the said kitchen was a spacious one, as befitting the descendants of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh.
What started off as indulgence soon turned into remonstration. “Kya ladkiyon ki tarah rasoi me rehta hai… I’d be scolded by elders. But by then khana aur khilana dono ka nasha charh gaya tha,” remembers Dr Izzat Hussain, looking back on his Lucknow childhood. “Fish can’t tell you when they started to swim and I can’t tell exactly when I started to cook,” he laughs. “I love the appreciation. Even at home, every day I make the main dish. Roti, dal, sabzi jo bhi bane na bane,” he adds.
Chef by passion and Unani doctor by training, this well-kept secret of Awadhi food was in Calcutta recently to get under way a food festival at Park Plaza, on till December 6 at K-19. His specialty? Awadhi food yes, but in a healthy avatar, as per Unani principles. It is the same biryani, but unbelievably light and fragrant. The Paya nestles in a nourishing broth, instead of a fat-laden gravy and as for the vegetarian fare, no paean is enough.
Is Unani any different from Ayurveda, we ask. “Bas kesar aur zafran ka jo farq,” laughs the 56-year-old. “It was as a medical research associate that I learnt about the effect of spices and decided to look further into it, both as a medico and as a chef. It’s not for nothing we add them to food and at such exorbitant prices,” he laughs. “And ever since, I’ve never put anything in my food that is not medically beneficial.”
As for his chef persona, there are a few rules there as well.
“I never cook with water — it differs from place to place. I cook with milk instead. I don’t use curd. Cooking kills the good bacteria in yogurt. It is much better to marinate meats in lemon juice or vinegar and use yogurt in the form of raita. I do not use any artificial colours and I take care that the natural colour of ingredients is preserved. And finally, I use as little spices as possible, preferring slow-cooking over low heat. We no longer live in those days when people would go hunting or wrestling and expend a lot of energy outdoors. They needed richer fare, we don’t,” he states firmly.
However, personal preferences are another thing. On top of his list of favourite food is rosogolla. And after that the list is taken over by Awadhi food. “Biryani, korma, kebab, stew,” he rattles off. Ask about Calcutta biryani with potato in it, he smiles politely and turns the conversation towards Lucknow street fare in general and khasta (kachori) in particular.
“Don’t go on diet control. It adds to stress. Follow the urges of your body. You can always burn the calories through exercise,” he says. Does he? It’s another polite smile and there the story rests.
Wellness in your kitchen
Ginger: Boosts flavours, boosts immunity, aids digestion.
Garlic: Contains allicin, which lowers bad cholesterol. Acts as blood thinner and reduces risk of heart block. This is why it is eaten with red meats.
Fenugreek seeds: Cleanses the system. It’s great for the hair too.
Dry fruits: In small quantities, they’re the greatest supplements. Go by the shape. Walnuts help brain, cashews kidney, almonds eyes.
Milk: One must drink a glass before bedtime. It is alkaline, controls acidic reactions from food and provides vitamins and minerals. It is great for the skin.
Fruit: Eat any one kind of seasonal fruit each day. Don’t make a fruit salad of a few pieces here and there. That way there is too little nutrient from any one kind of fruit for the body to absorb properly. Stick to one kind.
Pictures: Rashbehari Das