Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. We aren’t arguing that fact, however.
2 litres whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cardamom
4 to 5 tsp corn starch, dissolved in 2 tbsp of water
1 tbsp rose water
2/3 cup pistachio, chopped
A pinch of saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp of milk
Soak saffron strands in one tablespoon of milk and set aside. In a separate bowl dissolve cornstarch in water and let it rest. Pour milk in a heavy-lidded pan to boil. Once it comes to a boil, lower the flame and let the milk thicken. Half an hour in, add the cornstarch, saffron and sugar to the simmering milk. Stir the dissolved cornstarch before adding to the milk, and keep stirring while doing so. Add cream and pistachios and keep stirring. Let simmer for an hour and a half, or until desired thickness is reached. Add cardamom powder, rose water and switch off the flame.
Let the mixture cool completely and pour into kulfi moulds. Freeze overnight. Your saffron kulfi is ready.
And why is that?
Because it takes 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron, and the flower is said to bloom only one week of the year. No wonder the spice is said to be priced as much as gold — maybe not literally, but almost.
My first recollection of being introduced to saffron is from the jingle of Zahoor Zaafrani Patti Tambakoo. This catchy jingle holds a bell for all those born between the 1950s and the 1970s. However, what’s never been established is that was saffron really an ingredient in this two-bit chewing tobacco product? A mystery yet to be solved, and one that makes me chuckle.
One of the myths surrounding the origin of saffron tells the tale of the Greek god Hermes, where he accidentally killed his friend Crocus, and whose spilling blood germinated saffron. God only knows how this can be true; all we know is that Hermes products now are also worth their weight in gold, or saffron.
Beautiful, war-ravaged Kashmir is one of the places where saffron is cultivated. The spice and its mehek (fragrance) is a big part of the dishes included in Kashmiri wazwaan, and is the oomph factor in it. However, it is said that it was first cultivated in Greece and then further moved east to Morocco, Iran, Turkey and Japan in Asia, and to Spain in Europe. Currently, Iran is said to be the largest producer of the spice.
Saffron is a magical spice, and having experienced its aroma there is one thing I know about it for sure, it’s hard to describe it. If I had to, I’d say it’s a smell that has a taste.
According to Sarah Salkin, an editor at cookstr.com, “Wherever saffron is grown, foods have been developed to showcase its magic: The French have bouillabaisse, the Italians have Risotto Milanese, the Spanish have paella, the subcontinent has biryani, curry and kulfi and Iran has a whole host of saffron-infused dishes. And saffron can be added to any number of plain foods to make them magical. But in order to make the most of saffron, you need to know how to handle the precious threads. The secret is infusion.”
Like tea leaves, saffron threads have to be infused in hot water for maximum fragrance — usually for 30 minutes or so, a few threads in eight to 10 ounces of water, or any other liquid, hot milk, broth, etc.
Sitting at a Kashmiri family friend’s dinner table, I learnt an interesting little anecdote about the spice. Uncle Rasheed Mir, while passing a platter of Roghan Josh, said to me, “A Spanish dish will taste perfect when made with Spanish saffron, while a Kashmiri dish is best flavoured with saffron cultivated in Kashmir.”
Saffron is high in riboflavin and vitamin B and has long been acknowledged for its medicinal uses. Europeans used it to treat the common cold and cough, and ancient Persians thought it to be an aphrodisiac. I don’t know about it being an aphrodisiac, but I do know that there is nothing as delicious as the zaafrani kulfi, and here it is from my kitchen to yours.
GAJAR, MATAR, AALO SABZI
2 cups chopped potatoes
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon amchoor powder
Salt to taste
4 to 5 tablespoons oil (or as desired)
Garnish with chopped coriander, lemon wedges and green chillies
Heat oil, add cumin, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, onions, fry for a few minutes and toss in the vegetables. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring and spraying with water, periodically, once vegetables are tender, add all the masalas, cook for a few minutes, garnish and serve.
GAJAR KA HALWA (SERVES 10 TO 12)
1 kg carrots (orange)
1 ½ to 2 litres of milk
½ pint Half-and-Half
1/3 pint heavy whipping cream
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
¼ cup oil
8 to 10 cardamoms
1 tablespoon raisins
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds
Lightly peel and grate carrots and set aside. Bring milk to boil and add the carrots, let the milk and carrot mixture come to a boil then add half-and-half and sugar, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture comes to boil, reducing heat to medium. Once the milk evaporates (should take one-and-a-half to two hours) add heavy cream, stirring constantly. Once cream evaporates, add butter, oil and cardamoms stirring constantly, keeping the flame medium to high. Keep stirring until oil separates, and the colour is a rich beautiful deep orange. Garnish with raisins and almonds and serve.
2 pounds carrots, chopped
4 or more cups water
1 can condensed milk, or malai with sugar (I prefer it with condensed milk)
Dash of nutmeg/cinnamon or green cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon fresh ginger
Blend carrots in a blender, adding water; sieve through mulmul (muslin) cloth. Squeeze extracting all juice, discard the pulp and pour the juice into the blender, adding all ingredients. Puree and serve hot or chilled.
Mix all above ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Wash and make cut on lamb and rub marination on lamb. Leave it overnight.
Place lamb on baking tray and cover with aluminum foil.
Bake at 180 degree for one and half hour. Then uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until tender.
10 chicken legs (whole) with barbeque cuts (skin off)
1 cup yogurt
2 to 3 tbsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
Salt to taste
6 to 8 tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. ajwain (carom seeds) roasted and ground
Red food coloring ¼ to ½ tsp. (optional)
Combine all the ingredients to make a marinade, (except the chicken) mix well, let it sit for 10 minutes.
Then, marinate the chicken and refrigerate it for 6 to 8 hours, grill on a barbeque grill or bake in an oven, periodically brushing with oil.
Once tender, charcoal the tikka to get the desired smoky flavour. Serve with side of yogurt, tamarind chutney, sliced onions, and naan.
Karachi does chicken tikka like no other city in the world. Hence growing up in the wonderful metropolis, I have had the luxury of tasting the best barbecue chicken tikka available to humanity, may it be from Meerut, Bundoo Khan, Spinzer, the local clubs, BBQ tonight, or any other local restaurant.
Expectedly, every trip back home has me devouring tender chicken tikka off the bone, one hand tearing at the warkhi paratha, while the other is busy dipping thinly sliced onions in imli key chutney, and the result is my taste buds enjoying a meal in foodopia.
The Encyclopedia of Meat Sciences edited by Michael Dikeman and Carrick Devine says the following when describing the famed subcontinent chicken tikka:
The meaning of tikka is ‘bits and pieces’ and thus it refers to the meat, mostly boneless chicken, that is cut into small pieces and baked like tandoori in a tandoor, following marination in spices and yoghurt. While cooking, butters and oils frequently brushed over the chicken to ensure that it remains tender and moist and is not overcooked.
Tikka can be served as chicken tikka sizzler, wherein it is served on a red hot plate along with onions. Tikka sizzlers are also eaten in Afghanistan along with Pakistan and India. Tikka can also be used as an ingredient for preparation of chicken tikka masala. Tikka masala is a gravy dish containing tikka chunks, cream, a blend of Indian spices, and a gravy containing sauce and tomatoes.
My research also led me to understand that barbequing and grilling are entirely different; until now I thought the two were an interchangeable form of cooking.We can safely assume that our ancestors were grilling meats from the beginning of time. Travelling men hunted and cooked meat over fire, sometimes rubbing salt water, or available herbs on it.
Grilling is the cooking of raw foods in its basic form over direct fire or heat source, while barbequing is slow cooking over indirect heat. Hence, this slow cooking process infuses the barbequed meats with a delicious smokiness of the charcoal (if used as a heat source) and marinade.
The wonderfully rich subcontinent has a large menu encompassing traditional meat items. Countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and other regional countries are more alike culturally than different, and the availability of spices, meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains has played a key role in the evolution of the sub-continental cuisine.
The Encyclopedia of Meat Sciences furthers says;
These meat products have percolated down history and have metamorphosed into spicy ethnic Indian meats. The history of the Indian subcontinent depicts various culinary practices amalgamated into Indian spices and the Indian cuisine embodying the culture of the different settlers. The meats common to the region are kabobs, chicken tikka, biryani, curry, meat pickle, palao and dry salted meats amongst others.
For the tikka, after marination, the meat is cooked at a high temperature on a grill or an oven and charcoaled to give the authentic barbeque flavour. It is periodically brushed with fat to maintain a tender, juicy and moist texture to the bite.
In researching my world tour of grilling and barbeque, I discovered there was a barbeque belt that encircles the globe. Or more specially, that there are six grade barbeque zones. The largest continuous barbeque zone starts in Turkey and runs east through the Caucasus Mountains, Central Asia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.The Barbeque Bible by Stephen Raichien says the following about grilled Tikka:
In the 13th century, the Moghuls lead by Genghis Khan spread their love of grilled meats as far west as turkey. The Arab world refined the idea and then shipped it back via the Moghul rulers to the Indian subcontinent and possibly beyond to Indonesia.
To make chicken tikka for Food Stories, I used Shazlee Auntie’s recipe. Easy to make and so delicious, here it is, from my kitchen to yours.
3 to 4 lbs. mutton (leg meat)
3 mugs basmati rice
6 oz. to 10 oz. oil
2 ½ to 3 large onions, sliced
4 teaspoons freshly chopped garlic and garlic
Salt to taste
Red chillie powder to taste
10 green cardamoms
½ to ¾ tsp. peppercorns
½ to ¾ tsp. cloves
2 to 4 cinnamon sticks
5 black cardamom pods
16 oz. to 20oz. yogurt
6 to 8 green chilies
½ bunch coriander leaves
Orange food colour (just a pinch)
8 oz. to 16 oz. water
Dash of lemon juice
Salt to taste
4 bay leaves
4 cinnamon sticks
3 black cardamom pods
¼ tsp. black peppercorns
¼ tsp. cloves
In a separate pot (colander) boil water adding whole garam masala and bay leaves.
Once the water comes to a boil, add pre-soaked rice keeping the rice to tender crisp phase, since we cook the rice completely in the dum phase.
Drain the rice, layer the pot with rice, topping with a layer of biryani masala, adding a second layer of rice.
Top with fried onions, sprinkle food colouring, cilantro, mint, a pinch ofgaram masala powder and 2 tbsp. kewra. Seal pot with foil and lid.
Notching full heat for five minutes and medium to low heat for 15 minutes to complete the dum.
Let it sit for 10 minutes, mix and serve.
Garnish with green chillie, mint and chopped cilantro. Serve with a side ofkachumer (chopped onion, tomato and green chillie salad) and raita.
I sat in the January cold of Michigan craving biryani, the painful realisation that my migration from Pakistan had taken me away from most desi delights.
Dejected, head bent I walked to the mailbox, battling the bone chilling wind and meandering the snow and then, I smelt it; the aroma of desi masalas.
I followed the smell to 70-year-old Fakhrunissa auntie’s apartment on the second floor. I rang the doorbell, and auntie warmly welcomed me to a delicious mutton biryani lunch.
The journey and evolution of biryani chronicled by Lizzie Collingham in Currystates,
The same process of synthesis went on in the kitchens. Here, the delicately flavored Persian pilau met the pungent and spicy rice dishes of Hindustan to create the classic Mughlai dish, biryani. One of the most distinctive Persian culinary techniques was to marinate meat in curds (yogurt). For biryani onions, garlic, almonds, and spices were added to the curds, to make a thick paste that coated the meat. Once it had marinated, the meat was briefly fried, before being transferred to a pot. Then, following the cooking technique for pilau, partially cooked rice was heaped over the meat. Saffron soaked in milk was poured over the rice to give it colour and aroma, and the whole dish was covered tightly and cooked slowly, with hot coals on the lid and around the bottom of the pot, just as with pilau. The resultant biryani was a much spicier Indian version of the Persian pilau. Nowadays, it is a favorite dish in the subcontinent at all wedding celebrations.
Famed Mumtaz Mahal is credited for the modern day biryani, she thought it to be a complete meal and suggested it for troop consumption, during wartime and peace.
The evolution of the biryani from pilau is fascinating.
History suggests that the dum method of cooking comes from the Persian style of cooking, and may have travelled to the Indian subcontinent from Persia through Afghanistan, or from ancient Arabia to Kerala through the Arabian Sea with traders.
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Nonetheless in Persian, birian means grilling or frying before cooking, hence the method to cook biryani. Today, we boil the rice before the process of dumbut tradiontionally, when biryani was prepared, the unwashed rice was initially fried in butter or ghee, before boiling.
It was believed that frying the rice gave it a nutty flavour and also burnt the starch, gelatinising the outer layer of the rice.
Separately, a lamb leg was set to sit in a marinade of curd, spices and papaya and then cooked to tenderness. Once the meat was cooked it was layered with the half cooked rice, infused with droplets of rose water, saffron and mace (these spices gave it a flowery and royal essence) and were then sealed in ahandi and set on low flame until the rice was fully cooked and plumped, and ready to be served.
Biryani has variations from different regions of the subcontinent, all claiming that their twist on it is the best.
It is so rumoured that before the advent of Mumtaz Mahal, Akbar the Great made Asfa Jahi the Nizaam of the great state of Hyderabad. The Nizaam wanted Hyderabad to own the royal dish, thus he had his kitchen give it a twist and the outcome is the legendary Hyderabadi biryani.
Tipu Sultan of Karnataka spread the biryani to Mysore, giving us the Mysoree biryani, but the most special biryani may be the one that does not have meat. The nawabs of the region hired vegetarian cooks to create the meatless biryaniand thus tahiri came to be.
Despite all the different twists to the dish; Sindhi biryani with potatoes,Memoni biryani with spicy masala, kacha gosht biryani cooked in whole garammasala spices sans tomatoes, it is actually Lucknow that lays the ultimate claim to it. The Awadhi dum biryani is another gift the nawabs gave to the northern part of India.
In the 1640s, Portuguese priest Fra Sebastian Manrique visited the subcontinent and wrote about the aroma of biryani in the Punjab, namely Lahore:The specialty of the Awadhi dum biryani is that the meat is half cooked and the dish is brought to cooking perfection through the dum pukth style of cooking, almost like the ancient times when berian was buried into the ground until the rice plumped.
This city of tents contained market-places, filled with delicious and appetising eatables… Among these dishes the principal and most substantial were the rich and aromatic Mogol Bringes [biryanis] and Persian pilaos of different hues… Nor did these bazaars lack the simple foods of the native and superstitious pagan; as to meet their taste many tents held different dishes of rice, herbs and vegetables, among which the chief place was taken by the Gujerat or dry bringe….[biryanis].
Today, I share with you auntie’s biryani recipe. It is just what an immigrantdesi needs to combat severe homesickness. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.
Beef when combines with spices, yogurt and lemon juice it makes a perfect treat for everyone. Warm up the family and friends with scrumptious Beef Malai Boti.
Lightly flat beef boti with hammer.
In a bowl put beef boti, tikka boti masala, ground ginger, red chili powder, garam masala powder, salt, papaya paste, green chilies and yogurt. Marinade it for half an hour.
Put beef mixture in a pan and cook on slow flame until tender and water dries.
Now add oil and cook till oil comes on top.
Then add lemon juice and cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve delicious malai boti with roghani naan.
میدے میں تیل ملا کر پانی کے ساتھ سخت سے گوندھ لیں۔ اور پھر اسکی پتلی سے روٹی بیل لیں۔ اس کو کٹر سے گول گول کاٹ لیں۔۔خیال رہے کہ آپ ٹکڑے ساتھ ساتھ گیلے ٹھنڈے کپڑے سے ڈانپتے جائیں۔۔۔پھر آئل گرم کر کے فرائی کر لیں۔۔۔اگر کوئی گول گپہ نہ پھولے تو اسے پاپڑی کی طرح استعمال کرلیں۔
املی کو 3-2 گھنٹے کے لئے پانی میں بھگو دیں۔۔اس کے بعد گودا نکال کر اس میں باقی چیزیں مکس کر لیں۔۔۔اور ہلکا سا جوش دے لیں۔۔۔پھر تھنڈا کرکے -5-4 گلاس پانی ڈال کر کھٹاس بنا لیں۔
گول گپےکو پیش کرنے سے پہلے اس کو سائیڈ سےتھوڑا سا توڑ کے اس میں آلو اور چنے بھر لیں اور اس کھٹاس کے ساتھ پیش کریں۔