kingdoms of kababs

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Through the Kabab kingdoms
By Monish Gujral 05th August 2012 12:09 AM

It started from Turkey, the birthplace of kababs, to the Middle East and several Indian cities.
Over the past few moons, I have been on a kabab trail, travelling to so-called kingdoms of kababs. Born and brought up in a family of restaurateurs and chefs, running one of the most renowned and legendary restaurant chains in India, and now globally, my first love for kababs was inevitable. My grandfather Kundan Lal Gujral created the tandoori chicken and the famous butter chicken, thus revolutionising the art of cooking and transformed the plebeian village tandoor into a royal mode of baking. This undying love for kababs took me on my long kabab trail.

It started from Turkey, the birthplace of kababs, to the Middle East and several Indian cities, following intricately, the history and traditions associated with these mouth-watering delicacies, which have become part of our gastronomic lives.

There are several varieties of kababs; the term has different meanings in different countries. Kabab means ‘grilled (broiled) meat’ in Farsi and Arabic and several other related languages. The generic term kabab usually refers to döner kabab in Europe, and to shish kabab in the United States, though its meaning varies.

The challenge in making a delicious kabab is to cook it in ways that enhance the goodness of the meat while cutting down on oil and fat. Selecting the right cut of meat, combining it with suitable herbs and vegetables, using the grill instead of the frying pan, all help to make it a healthy and nourishing part of a meal.

Kabab is spelled in just as many ways as they can be cooked, from kebab, kebop, kibab, kebap to kabap. There are several references on the derivation of the word kabab. It may have been derived from the Arabic word kab, which means a turning movement and cabob, meaning a piece of meat, fish, poultry or vegetable.

The kabab may have been created as a result of a short supply of cooking fuel in the Near East which made the cooking of large pieces of foods difficult, while urban economies made it simpler to obtain small cuts of meat at a butcher’s shop.

Indian kababs

In India, Ibn Batuta records that kababs were served in royal houses from at least the Sultanate period, and even commoners would enjoy it with naan for breakfast.

India is an ancient melting pot with its diverse races, cultures, cuisines and religions quilted together to bring about a richness and depth to society. In India, we usually associate kababs with the advent of the Mughals from Central Asia. This is simply because they popularised it, but one of the most delicious and important ancient non-vegetarian dishes of India is the kabab—skewered meat and vegetables cooked over a hot flame. The Mughals bought their own culture and cuisine with them. Ingredients such as dried fruits and fragrances like rose water and vetiver or kewra were introduced from Turkey and Afghanistan and used in fusion with the local dishes.

The Rajputs for example, made sulé or smoked kababs long before the Mughal invasion. Hunting was a popular sport of the maharajas and game meat was a favourite. It was often cooked over an open fire in the forests. All the meat was not consumed on the same day, and was pickled to preserve it for the next day. Rajasthan, particularly the state of Palanpur, is renowned for its kababs, as the Nawabs of Palanpur were of Afghan descent and introduced the kabab and pulao to the state.

The tandoor was brought into India from Central Asia. It was used to bake breads such as naan, roti, paratha (layered bread) and so on. The tandoor is a clay oven which was installed in the village centre and was called sanjha chulha, where the village women would gather in the evenings with their dough and bake their bread.

In other parts of north India, in Kashmir for example, Kashmiri Muslim cuisine revolves around lamb, characterised by its use of delicate flavours such as cardamom, saffron, yogurt, aniseed. Kashmiri tabak maaz, a kabab of tender lamb rib, is a gourmet’s delight.

Hyderabad is famous for its fiery food, which makes use of the hot spices of Andhra Pradesh and large chunks of meat, unlike the Awadhi cuisine’s galouti, kakori and shikumpur kababs, which are so delicate that they melt in the mouth.

The cuisine of Awadh (Lucknow) was raised to a fine art under the royal patronage of a number of nawabs. Several cooking styles were born here. For example, the royal chefs invented methods such as zamin doz, which imparts an earthy flavour to the food and dumpukht, where the food is slow-cooked in its own steam, (dum) so that it retains all the aromas and flavours of the spices used.

I think by now your salivary glands would have started sweating by just thinking about the glorious soft kababs, so here we go with a recipe of pudina lamb kababs (minted lamb kabab) recipe from my forth coming book Kingdoms of kababs Motimahal Kabab Trail.

Points to remember while making Kababs

●Kababs should not be over-cooked as they tend to dry up and get tough.

●Never reheat kababs in a microwave oven as it makes them dry and leathery.

●When yogurt is used for the marinade it should be hung in a muslin cloth for about 30 minutes before use, to drain off the

excess whey.

●Marinades should be thick pastes; not runny liquids.

6-8 servings

● 1 kg lamb chops

First marinade

● 1 tsp cumin powder

● 1 tbsp white pepper powder

● 2 tsp garam masala powder

● 5 tsp lime juice

● 4 tsp salt

Second marinade

● 4 tbsp cream, fresh, whisked

● ¾ cup yogurt, hung, whisked

● 1¼ cups mint chutney

● 2 tsp maize flour

● 3 tbsp raw papaya paste

● 1 tbsp garlic paste

● 1 tbsp ginger paste

● 1 tsp dried Fenugreek leaves

To cook the kababs

● Oil for basting

To serve

● 1 tbsp lime juice

● Wash the chops and trim them. Drain thoroughly and pat dry.

First marination

● Combine all the ingredients for the first marinade in a bowl and whisk, till well blended.

● Add the chops and mix well to ensure that they are completely coated with the marinade.

● Cover and set aside to marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.

Second marination

● Mix the cream, yogurt, mint chutney and maize flour in a bowl.

● Add the remaining ingredients for the second marinade and whisk to make a fine paste. Add the marinated chops and mix well to ensure they are completely coated with the second marinade.

● Cover and set aside to marinate in the refrigerator for two-three hours.

To cook the kababs

● Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature.

● Thread the meat on to long, thin metal skewers, one inch apart.

● Cook the kababs in a hot tandoor or grill under a moderately hot gas or electric grill for about 10 minutes.

● Baste with oil, turn the skewers and grill again for another five minutes.

To serve

● Slip the kababs off the skewers on to a serving platter.

● Sprinkle with lime juice and serve hot.

First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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