India has a history of incredible food culture in terms of variety, richness, and regional influences. But when you think of royal food, what first comes to mind is Mughlai cuisine. The taste and aroma of Mughlai food is unbelievable. Most of the dishes are incredibly rich and creamy, redolent of fragrant spices, with dry fruits like cashews, raisins, pistachios and so on adding an unexpected depth to the taste of curries.
Developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire, the cuisine is a mix of culinary styles and recipes of North India and Central Asia. It is basically an amalgamation of the cooking traditions of Persia, Middle East and India. Since the food is rich, winter is a good time to indulge in these ambrosial delights.
A RIOT OF COLOURS
Preparing Mughlai cuisine, however, is a time-consuming process. Asim, executive chef at Mughalnama, a unique bespoke catering concept in Delhi, says, “Mughlai food is a riot of colours and fragrances. When you cook it, the rich aroma of desi ghee and other milk products fills the air. The food normally is oily, but that is because of the extensive use of milk, cream, oil and butter, which makes it more appetising, flavoursome, aromatic and finger-licking good.”
Chef Vijendra, Jodha Akbar Restaurant, Noida, says, “We use lots of whole spices like nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, ginger, onions, tomatoes, and garlic in the cooking which give the food a delectable aroma.”
Usually, non-vegetarian dishes are made with goat and sheep meat and fowls. For non-vegetarians, one of the best known and most distinctive Mughlai dish is the Murgh Musallam. It is one of the most exquisite Mughlai dishes made with a whole chicken stuffed with egg, tomato, and different spices and seasonings like ginger and onion, and cooked over low heat.
Other non-vegetarian delicacies include Biryani, Kebabs, Kofta (meatballs), Pulao (or pilaf), and tandoori items like Mughlai Paratha, Malai Kofta, Reshmi Kebab, Kadhai Gosht, Murg Tandoor, Keema Matar, Haleem, Navratan Korma, Shahi Rogan Josh, Rezala, Pasanda, Boti Kebab, Murg Chaap, Kachri Keema and Meat Durbari, among many others.
Mughlai cuisine is a meat-intensive cuisine, but there are enough interesting dishes for vegetarians too. Nargisi Kofta, Shahi Kaju Aloo, creamy and spicy Akbari Daal (urad dal, fresh cream, beaten curd and a mixture of spices), Soya Mughlai, Shahi Mushroom (a spicy, creamy mushroom dish) are some of the vegetarian delights.
The dishes are paired with breads like Tandoori Roti, Roomali Roti, Naan and Sheermal, and various rice preparations like Biryani and Pulao. Roghni Naan is one of the best liked Mughlai flat breads made with all-purpose flour, egg, milk, yoghurt and a few spices like poppy seeds and onion seeds.
ON A SWEET NOTE
Desserts are an important part of a Mughlai meal, and they too are heavenly and have delightful aromas. Shahi Tukda, Barfi, Kalakand, Falooda, Sheer Korma/Khurma, Gulab Jamun, Kesari Firni are the ones to die for.
Kulfi, derived from a Persian word which means a covered cup, is one of the most popular frozen dairy-based desserts. It is a mixture of thickened milk seasoned with saffron and pistachios that is frozen in a metal cone and later served with Falooda, a type of noodles prepared with starch, and garnished with pistachio nuts, saffron and ground cardamom.
Shahi Tukda, also known as Double Ka Meetha, too is a famous Mughlai dessert from Hyderabad. It is made with ghee and condensed milk drowned in bread and topped with dry fruits.
(The writer is a traveller journalist and blogger who blogs his experiences at www.exatraveller.wordpress.com)