Kitchen of the Kebab king- The New Indian Express

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By Ayesha Singh
Digest this. The man who put Butter Chicken in the culinary premier league is a vegetarian. Monish Gujral, Managing Director of Moti Mahal Delux Management Services, is also a dab hand at tossing up the dish. As he is points out, it has taken years of practise to perfect the art and as a goodwill gesture towards those who dream of the dish, he shared the recipe in his last book—On the Butter Chicken Trail. “The dish is synonymous with our restaurant and is one of the most popular items on the menu. It’s overwhelming to see how fond our patrons are of it,” says Gujral who was at the Penguin Literature Festival in Delhi recently, talking Butter Chicken and beyond.

His latest book, On the Kebab Trail, has been making the rounds for some time now. Not many know it, but the recipes in the book have been painstakingly put together by Gujral, based on experiences the world over, his own experiments and rare family recipes.

Before the recipes were lost to posterity, Gujral meticulously recorded them. “For the last few years, I have been on the kebab trail, travelling from Turkey to the Middle East. My grandfather introduced Tandoori Chicken to the world, so it is natural for me to be interested in kebabs,” says Gujral.

For most of us, kebabs are synonymous with all things non-vegetarian. You think kebab, you think Chapli, Shammi, Kakori, Galouti, Digi, Seekh, Burrah and others. The book, however, is a smorgasbord of delectable vegetarian flavours. “I have successfully shattered the misconception that ‘good’ kebabs can only be mutton, chicken or seafood. Being a vegetarian, I can vouch for the fact that the book has some great options like Asparagus Kebabs, a contemporary recipe I demonstrated at a fusion cooking show in Germany, the Red Kidney Bean Kebab that is loved by children because of their fixation with rajma, Bottle Gourd Kebab which I like eating when I am in the mood for a light meal and Arbi Kebab which is one of my favourites. Then there is Corn Kebab which is my daughter Tanisha’s favourite, Rice and Corn Kebabs that is one of the easiest to make, Jackfruit Kebab which again is very popular at home, Lotus Stem Kebabs that has received rave reviews, and Sesame Potato Kebabs that is ordered often and a lot more,” he says.

According to Gujral, while the kebab may have originated in Central Asia it was only after it arrived in India that it got its ‘character’. India is where grilled meat, combined with a plethora of spices, turned the humble food into a delicacy.

“People think that kebabs were popularised in India by the Mughals. However, they had been around even before the Mughals. The Rajputs made sule or smoked kebabs long before the Mughal invasion. As hunting was popular among Maharajas, game meat was eaten and they had some terrific kebab variations,” he says, pointing out that today in India, most states have their own version of kebabs. The only difference, he points out, is the way kebabs were made then and now.

“Earlier, they were made on an open fire and today they are cooked in tandoors. There are certain things you should always remember. Kebabs should never be overcooked as they dry up. They are supposed to be had while juicy and succulent. Heating them in a microwave is a no-no. Hung yogurt should be used in marinades and they should be thick pastes, not runny,” he says, adding that the Butter Chicken man would love to be known as the King of Kebabs.

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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