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The Sailana spice trail

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Spices have played a major role in Sailana recipes. How were they prepared?

Dishes were planned a few days in advance. We have almost 5,000 recipes. One did not have the privilege of remembering the proportion of ingredients, something that happens if you cook a particular dish regularly. So our recipes had the exact weight of each ingredient mentioned. We even had the weight of salt noted.

Any special memory of cooking with your grandfather Raja Sir Dilip Singh?

I was a child when my grandfather was alive. It was with my father that I have cooked a lot. It is a great education watching a master perform. At large parties, I used to watch them cook. I have learnt a lot just by watching.

How did your grandfather go about collecting the recipes?

My grandfather used to travel far and wide to collect recipes from the master chefs of royal families in different princely states of India. After returning to Sailana, he used to try those recipes. He took great pains over each recipe, refining and experimenting again and again till he brought it to perfection. It was part of an extensive research and we have the research papers preserved.

It is heard your grandfather was very secretive about his recipes…

Yes, he didn’t even share his recipes with his daughters, as he feared the recipes would go outside the family once they marry! But my father thought we should share the recipes and that’s why he published the book Cooking Delights of The Maharajas.

What are you working on now?

I am researching chutneys and achars (pickles). I have recipes of tomato chutney that can be kept for six months without preservatives.

People have become calorie-conscious, whereas Mughal cuisine is rich. Are there recipes that are light on the tummy?

Yes, generally the food is rich but they are healthy. You should not feel guilty after eating. Walk a mile more in the morning if you want to get rid of extra calories. Instead of eating less, improve your exercise regimen.

For a novice, is it too difficult to prepare dishes taken from your father’s recipe book?

It is not always true that a good and tasty dish takes lot of time to cook. Follow the recipes (from the book) to the T and you will never go wrong.

Tips from the raja

• For biryani, salt should be added to the water while the rice gets boiled.
• If you need to add water during cooking, always use warm water.
• The right proportion of spices and the order in which they are used make all the difference in cooking. So it is necessary to follow the recipes to the T.
• Khana hamesha fursat aur mohabbat se banni chahiye (food should always be cooked with love and at leisure).
• Unlike Chinese cuisine, most Indian recipes should be cooked on low heat.

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