Saturday, 1 February 2014

Murg Dahi Kofta

I was perhaps 5 or 6 when Iqbal Mama first came to our house on a winter morning with his huge trunk crammed full with exquisite pashminas, shawls embellished with intricate gold thread-work, ponchos and pherans in lovely shades of lavender and pink and lemon yellow with elaborate, embroidered flowers I knew not the names of. I remember my mother and aunts sitting in the living room browsing through his treasure trove and my mother's strict instruction that I shouldn't touch a thing. Iqbal Mama had laughed and told my Mum that it was okay. Before leaving he had gifted me a black poncho with white and pink flowers on it. Initially I called him shawl-wallah uncle, later Mum said it was rude and I should call him just uncle. Iqbal Mama said I should call him Mama.

For years after and until recently Iqbal Mama came to Calcutta from Kashmir every autumn with hundreds of other Shawl wallahs and for me meeting him was a winter ritual I eagerly awaited. Soon, he had turned into a friend of the family, we were invited to his wedding and he would attend our family functions. We couldn't attend his wedding though because of the condition in Kashmir back then but we had in our hearts the very best wishes for him.

While in Calcutta he stayed with some of his fellows from back home in a house with blue walls in a narrow lane off Ripon street, 10 or 15 of them. Once Iqbal Mama had invited us over for dinner, we went. Mum couldn't for she was unwell but I accompanied my dad, uncle and aunt to his place. And that evening we were served a meal I still remember.

We were seated in a room and some of the guys were introduced to us while the others I only heard voices of. I have hardly ever seen such hospitality, they all seemed to be ready to go out on a limb to make us comfortable. And after the initial cheek-pulling and name-asking I was given two tins of chocolate cream biscuits which I could finish all by myself, they said. There were more for the elders they assured and that I could have as much as I wanted, but my aunt was already giving me THE LOOK. The elders chatted for hours, as far as I can remember the discussion revolved around Kashmir and what the people were facing there. One of these men had lost a family member to militants. I somehow still remember a few strands from the conversation. I was only ten, or nine perhaps, and so I can never be sure but I clearly remember him mentioning a severed hand.

Everyone was so engrossed in the discussion and for good reason that they didn't quite pay heed to the fact that discussions about bullets through the head and severed hands could freak out a ten year old just a little. Thank God my mind was elsewhere, elsewhere implying the kitchen,  that I am not scarred for life. The aroma wafting in from the kitchen was too much to handle.

A white sheet was spread on the ground and the plates were laid and the then food started coming. And it's one of the tastiest meals I have ever had. There were enormous pieces of paneer in a thick tomato gravy, there was meat cooked with saag, there was another dish of tender, melt-in-your pieces of meat in a creamy white gravy and there were enormous koftas in a soupy white gravy. I didn't know the names of any of these dishes back then, I think I do know most of them now. But what I still crave and often are the Aab Gosht and the Gushtaba. Many a time Iqbal Mama had promised to teach me how to make them but somehow we didn't get around to doing it. He has not been coming for a couple of years now...

Anyway, I am finally planning a trip to Kashmir in May and I am super kicked. The last week or so has gone into planning and making bookings and for innumerable times during this time I have thought about that sumptuous dinner many winters ago. Yesterday I had brought some minced chicken home and trumped up this dish which is definitely not Gushtaba, (come on it's chicken!)but definitely inspired by it. So, I am calling it Murg Dahi Kofta. Hope you'll enjoy it!


For the chicken kofta 
Finely minced chicken
Finely chopped onions - 1/2 cup packed
Garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Ginger paste - 1 tbsp
Chopped raisins - 2-3 tbsp
Chopped mint leaves - 3 tbsp
Chopped coriander leaves  - 6 tbsp
Salt to taste
Finely chopped green chilies - 5-6
OR Red chili powder - 1 tbsp 
Breadcrumbs - 5-6 tbsp

For the gravy

Ghee - 100g

Bay leaves - 2-3
Green cardamom - 6-8
Cinnamon stick - 2 inch
Cloves 5-6
Black peppercorns - 6-8
Nutmeg powder  - a pinch
Javitri - 2-3
Black Cardamom - 1 (big)

Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Ginger paste - 1 tbsp
Cumin powder - 1 tsp
Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
Warm water 7-8 cups
Yoghurt - 200g
Fresh coarsely ground pepper - 1 tbsp
Fresh cream - 50 ml
Salt to taste


For the kofta mix all the ingredients together and roll them into balls the size of ping pong balls!Keep aside.

 In a bowl whisk the yoghurt with half a cup water so that it is smooth, creamy and slightly runny.

Now heat ghee in a large pan, once it reaches smoking point reduce heat and add all the whole spices and let them release their mind-blowing aroma.

Add the garlic paste, ginger paste and the cumin and coriander which you must dilute in a little water before adding. Fry the spices for a minute or two, make sure you don't burn them.

Now add the warm water and bring it to a boil. Lower heat and add the yoghurt stir continuously and vigorously so that the curd doesn't curdle. Let is all simmer for a few minutes.

Now strain out the whole spices, turn up heat and once the broth comes to a boil add the koftas one by one, carefully.

Let is cook for about 20 minutes or until the koftas are done. Keep an eye.

Finally, lower heat, add the black pepper and cream and take it off heat. Serve with rotis or steamed rice. It is delicious.

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