Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dear Theyie, of Meat cooked with lentils, Parsi and Irani food

Dear Theyie,
The Kerhu you write about, reminds me of a similar looking lentil we have in Uttaranchal. I am not sure what the proper name for it is, we simply call it the Naurangi Dal. It has similar long (but thinner and flatter kidney shaped beans in a rainbow of colors ranging from green to reddish brown, maroon and even purple. Although sold as a dal they are not as good for making dal (they do not break down as other legumes do) as they are for making stuffed parathas. I wonder how they would be cooked with meat like the Kerhu with Pork dish you wrote about. I have run out of them, but Navdanya carries them so I will try to get some on my next trip there and perhaps we could add that to our list of dishes to cook together.

Dhansak the Parsi dish you talk about really is delicious. When I was at Mayo Girls in Ajmer, my local guardian was Gul Marfatia, a lovely Parsi lady that had about 30 wards from both the boys and the girls schools. Those were our hungry years. We believed we lived in MCP (Mayo College Prison) and were starved because we were not allowed to keep tuck (food from home). We would go to any lengths for food – literally! So you can imagine what a highlight it was to visit Gul Aunty on our monthly outing Sundays. It took a lot to host 30 something children for a meal, but that was Gul aunty for you gentle, generous and big hearted. The patterns of our visits typically started with us spilling into her house and settling down in various sections of it. A tall glass of Lemon Barley water (a local brand that we still ask for from people visiting Ajmer) would be served to tide us over until a sumptuous lunch of Dhansak was laid.

Dhansak is the name of the main dish as well as the whole meal built around it. Chunks of meat are slow cooked with lentils and Dhansak masalla until falling off the bone and served with white rice that is browned by a special method. Side dishes include fried meatballs and a cachumber (salad) of finely chopped onion tomato and coriander distinctively flavoured with Kolah’s vinegar, the vinegar that is characteristic to Parsi cuisine.

As luck would have it, though, your post came into my inbox as I happened to be working on my cookbook, on a chapter that deals with another Mumbai cuisine of Persian influence; Irani cuisine. Everyone has heard of the Irani cafes of Mumbai, those places time has forgotten, but are the most tangible and well known landmark of the immigrant Irani community that has been intrinsic to the growth of this city we live in today. But in all that we seldom give thought to Iranian home cooking. In my chapter on Irani cooking, I enter the home kitchens of Shahnaz Anand, affectionately known as Pushi aunty. A second generation Irani - her father was the legendary Agha – Pushy aunty has been a part of my life since her elder daughter Isha and I became best friends at Mayo.

Pushi aunty is an exemplary cook - who has to her credit a cooking show on Doordarshan as well as many fans of her cooking amongst friends of her husband (actor Tinoo Anand) and her daughtes – her kitchen is always deliciously aromatic and table always set for the extra guests that invariably drop in. Over the years she has instructed me in the nuances of various aspects of cooking, but most especially Irani cuisine, often sharing memories of being Irani and settling in India. Of course as a result of eating her addictive cooking, I have also ended up unable to live without two quintessentially Irani ingredients. Zaresht berries and Limoo Omani.

While Zaresht Berries, the legendary berries used in the iconic Berry Pulao have become failry well known thanks to the Berry Pulao Britania Cafe serves, Limoo Omani are lesser known. Limoo Omani, also known as kala nimbu are lemons that are boiled in salted water and then dried till hard and are used in irani/persian /middle eastern cooking to add a haunting, sourness to certain dishes. It is used to make a fabulous dish called Gormeh Subzi, that I have just finished refining and will be putting in my book but your email reminded me of another recipe that Pushy aunty taught me that I am not using in my book. Kheema (mince) with Channa Dal is one of those soul satisfying recipes that you cannot stop eating. Unlike other lentils, Channa Dal holds its form through the cooking and offers a deliciously silky contrast to the grainy mince when eaten. It also tastes better for breakfast the morning after it is made with hot fresh Pav.

Keema Chana Dal with limoo Omani
1/2 c oil
2 onions, sliced thin
Khada Masala (whole spices) - 2-3 cloves, a small 1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 green chillies1 kg meat or chicken mince1 tsp ginger garlic paste 2 tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced Spice powders - 1/2 tsp lal mirchi and haldi 1/4 tsp jeera powder Water if required1 tsp Salt1 ½ c Chana dal, soaked
1 limoo amoni
Heat oil in a large thick bottomed pan. Add the whole spices chillies and onions. Fry until golden. Add mince and ginger garlic paste, brown well (about 5-8 mins). Add spice powders, and cook for 30 seconds till they are cooked. Add the soaked chana dal and allow to cook. Add tomato and cook stir frying occasionally until the tomatoes disappear. Add a bit of water here if you think it is required. Crush and add 2 limoo Omani. Pressure cook for 1 whistle. Open but do not dry out water keep a little wet. Eat with Roti or Rice or Pav.

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