The Darina Allen Column
This month Darina shares some of the culinary highlights from Lucknow, a place that turned out to be full of surprises on a recent visit to India
What a surprise Lucknow was, even though it is famous for its Awadhi food, sophisticated culture, gastronomic etiquette and Chickan embroidery, it's not really on the main tourist trail despite its fascinating history and memorable monuments. We spent three days there and loved it. The city was founded by the Nawads who came from Persia at the invitation of the Mogul king Mohammed Shah in 1725.
I only knew one person in Lucknow, a lady called Vijay Khan whom I'd met briefly in Udaipur a couple of years ago and had promised to visit if I ever came to that city. She'd invited us to dinner at her home and a trip to their house in the country the following day. Well, it turns out that she is the wife of the Raja of Mahmudabad no less.
What a lovely surprise, we were collected from our hotel and brought to their residence in Lucknow. After lots of riveting conversation, we went downstairs to what appeared to be a family dining room with book lined walls, simple furniture, fascinating black and white photos on the wall and intriguing memorabilia.
The round table was groaning with some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten anywhere, several mutton (goat) dishes including Raan and Biryani, an aubergine raita, an intriguing sweet dish called Mutanjan with rice, mutton, yoghurt and spices apparently this was a favourite of the old Nawads, but few cooks know how to prepare it nowadays. For dessert there was Royal toast, light fluffy balai ke tukre topped with silver leaf – all totally memorable.
Our gracious host, Sulaiman Khan, is a great scholar and a graduate of Imperial College Cambridge with degrees in astro physics and theology. A native Urdu speaker who bursts into poetry every now and then to illustrate a point. It was a memorable evening in so many ways. The servants and cooks, Bawarchis (cooks), Rakabdars (mastercooks), stood around in a semi circle silently watching while we enjoyed the delicious food they had cooked for us.
Lucknow has many spectacular buildings and historical monuments but as ever food was my focus so I arranged to have a cookery class. My teacher Cyrus turned out to be a great fan of Rachel's so I promised to send a signed copy of her latest book. He taught me how to make a Lucknow chicken korma and the mutton kebabs that Lucknow is so famous for.
The famous Awadi food of Lucknow evolved under the patronage of the Nawads and aristocrats who treated it almost like an art form but when time and history wrought havoc on the fortunes of the noble families, their ‘out of work’ cooks and chefs continued the gastronomic tradition on the streets and the secret recipes were passed down in families from generation to generation.
Cyrus also took us on a 'culinary tour' of the Chowk Bazzar in the heart of the old city. The frenzied atmosphere was similar to Old Delhi. We ate some amazing street food in surroundings that were challenging even for me!
We started with Kebabs at Tundys, a 108 year old kebab house in the Chowk which originally made its name catering for the Nawabs of Awadh. Kebabs in Lucknow aren't remotely like kebabs as we know them, Tunday is famous for little tender spicy mutton patties cooked on an enormous pan to a secret recipe. They are now cooked by the great grandson of the original owner sitting there with a little white crochet cap.
We tasted another Lucknow delicacy at Museem’s, another 'hole in the wall' place famous for pasanda, a spicy barbecued meat dish marinated in yoghurt and spices and cooked over a charcoal grill.
Locals also queue up at Raheem's for a spicy, oily dish called nigiri. The sealed pot of mutton is cooked slowly overnight with lots of spices. In the morning, it's opened and each diner gets just one piece of mutton with lots of really flavoursome gravy which is eaten with a stack of fluffy flat breads called Kulchas, heart stopping but delicious...
Lucknow is also famous for its sweets, Rehmat sweets have some of the very best Jauzi Habshi and Halwa, all tooth achingly sweet but very typical.
As we wound our way along the lanes, we came to the Parathi wali gali where one shop and stall after the other turned out to be serving a mesmerising selection of freshly cooked breads from fluffy Rulchas and bakarkhani to paper thin romali roti and spongy sheruals kneaded in milk – the skills are simply mind boggling.
Here are some recipes for you to try and enjoy.
Shammi Kebab - Mutton Kebabs from Lucknow
These mutton kebabs, for which Lucknow is famous, are like no kebabs you’ve encountered before, in fact they are much more like little spiced meat patties – delicious. In India the word mutton often means goat and very delicious it is too but of course we can use lamb over here if goat is unavailable.
1 kg (2¼ lbs) mutton, boneless
150 g (5 oz) split bengal (channa dal), lentils
50 g (2 oz) onions
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seed
3 whole red chillies
seeds from 5 small green cardamom
seeds from 3 big black cardamom
2 inch (5 cm) piece cinnamon
6-8 black peppercorns
2 inch (5 cm) piece fresh ginger
5 allspice berries
20 g (¾ oz) garlic
3 bay leaves
1 green chilli
2-3 tablespoons onion
2-3 tablespoons green coriander
Pass the boneless mutton through a mincer and make a fine paste.
Soak the channa dal (split lentils) in water and keep aside for 1 hour.
Chop the green chillies, green coriander and onion. Keep aside to be added later.
Take a deep saucepan; put the mutton mince and all the ingredients into it. Add a little water (approx. 5 fl ozs) enough to almost cover the ingredients.
Put on a medium heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and meat is cooked through. Cyrus cooked this in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes.
Add a little fat to the mixture and stir so that the moisture evaporates and the mixture firms up. Remove from the saucepan and allow to cool and make a fine puree in a food processor. Add the chopped chillies, coriander and onions to the meat and mix in well. Divide the mixture into equal portions.
Make round patties of 2.5 inches (6 cm) diameter and shallow fry on heated tawa, griddle or frying pan on both sides till golden brown and serve hot.
We ate these delicious kebabs with sheermal an Indian flatbread with freshly chopped coriander and mint or naan would be good too.
Note: If the mixture is not firm enough to shape into balls or cracks on the outer side when rounded add 1 beaten egg to bind.
Lucknow Chicken Korma
Cyrus introduced me to Screw Pine Essence, of course it’s not essential but it really enhanced the flavour of this korma which was delicious anyway.
1 kg (2¼ lbs) chicken breast
3 onions, peeled and finely crushed
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon black cumin
2 inch (5cm) piece cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
6 green cardamom, seeded
1 blade mace
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 black cardamom
2-3 dried chillies or ¼ teaspoon dry chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
50 g (2oz) cashew nuts, coarsely ground
200 g (7oz) natural yoghurt
few drops of screw pine essence (Kewra) optional
Cut the chicken breast into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes, approximately.
Whizz the onions and garlic with all the spices. Cook in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes to dry stirring to prevent sticking. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of oil or ghee.
Add the ground cashew nuts and allow to cook until pink in colour, 5-6 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces and sauté. When all the liquid has evaporated, add the yoghurt stirring in a little at a time. Add salt to taste.
Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the chicken is tender – about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add a few drops of Screw Pine Essence if available. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Serve hot with rotis, (Indian flat breads) or basmati rice.
Taken from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery
1 lb (450 g) carrots
1¼ pints (700 ml) milk
8 whole cardamom pods
5 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
5 tablespoons caster sugar
1-2 tablespoons sultanas
1 tablespoon shelled, unsalted pistachios, lightly crushed
10 fl oz (275 ml) cream, optional
Peel the carrots and grate them either by hand or in a food processor. Put the grated carrots, milk, and cardamom pods in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil.
Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring now and then, until there is no liquid left. Adjust the heat, if you need to. This boiling down of milk will take at least half an hour or longer, depending on the width of the pot.
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat. When hot, put in the carrot mixture. Stir and fry until the carrots no longer have a wet, milky look. They should turn a rich, reddish colour. This can take 10-15 minutes.
Add the sugar, sultanas and pistachios. Stir and fry for another 2 minutes.
This halva may be served warm or at room temperature. Serve the cream on the side.
Mangoes and Bananas in Lime Syrup
1 ripe mango
2 ozs (50g/1/4 cup) sugar
4 fl ozs (110ml/1/2 cup) water
Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, allow to cool.
Peel the mango and slice quite thinly down to the stone. Peel the banana into cut rounds. Put the slices into a bowl and cover with cold syrup.
Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Serve chilled.
Upcoming Courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School Include:
12 Week Certificate Course begins Mon 28th April 2014
12 Week Certificate Course (6 Week Starter Course) begins Mon 28th April 2014
0.5 Day - Homemade Butter, Yoghurt and Several Cheeses Wed 7th May 2014
0.5 Day - 10 Great Brunch Recipes Fri 9th May 2014
0.5 Day - Get Blogging with Lucy Pearce Sat 10th May 2014
0.5 Day - Gluten Free Cooking with Rosemary Kearney Part 1 Sat 24th May 2014
'30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013
Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013
Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine from 16 - 18th May 2014
Once again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2014. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.
Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.