Friday, 22 August 2014

Keema Kofta: A Family Heirloom


This post is special. The dish I am going to share with you is special still. A recipe that has been a guarded treasure handed down through 5 generations of my aunt’s family. It is no less than a family heirloom and definitely one of my aunt’s most prized bequests. When my aunt married my uncle, that was nearly half a century ago, the recipe became our family’s pride too, as it had become in three other families into which her three other sisters married. Keemar Kofta, but no ordinary ones. Spicy Kofta, or meatballs, crammed with raisins poached in a spiced caramel jus infused with juices from the meat.

I have grown up devouring, craving, fervently waiting for Maiji’s Kofta. Every time she would make it, I would not leave her side in the kitchen, watching all the while as she trumped up her signature dish Maiji, that’s what I call her, has beautiful hands, long, slim fingers and I loved watching her sculpt the meatballs. She made it look like a sacred art. And then when she would skillfully drop the meat balls into the bubbling caramel water I would hold my breath till the last kofta was let into the pan. And then I would wait. It was such an ordeal, the waiting. But it paid off since I always got to taste first and I always got an extra one. 

 I remember one incident revolving around the kofta that didn’t end on such a sweet note for me. I was in school back then -a petulant teenager, not an innocent child.  Maiji had made a batch of kofta to be served to guests for lunch the following afternoon. My exams were underway, and that meant late night studies which in turn meant late night snacking. I had seen the bowl of kofta go into the fridge earlier in the evening, I kept thinking about it and could hardly concentrate on Sher Shah Suri. So I thought, I would have just one. So I went to the dining room, opened the fridge and popped a cold kofta into my mouth. It was so good despite being cold. I popped another one.Then I lost control and throughout the night I made innumerable trips to the dining room popping one kofta after another until less than half was left. I had had bowlfuls of the jus as well. When I did realize what I had done, I only made one more blunder. I added two bowls of water to the kofta bowl in my panic, to fill up the bowl. Next morning I left for school an hour early, I needed to study before the test I said. However, when I returned my mother was waiting for me with a wooden stick we had brought from Puri, Those ones hurt like crazy. My mother had sworn to break my legs. And that day though I didn’t end with a broken anything, I can still remember my burning cheeks after it had made contact with my Maa’s palms.

It is strange how no one in our house, not my mother neither my other aunts, ever tried making the dish. They always turned to Maiji whenever they craved the legendary Kofta. My aunt always said that she would have to take the recipe to the grave. “After me, no one will get to taste the kofta,” she rued. When I started cooking Maiji turned to me with hope. And though I maintained I will take kofta lessons soon, I always evaded it. Actually I was scared. The dish has such an iconic status in my house, and Maiji was such a pro at it, I hesitated in fear of making a fool out of myself. But when my sister-in-law, another fabulous cook, mustered the courage to make it, though she had initially forgotten to make the caramel and had added the kofta to plain boiling water, (she redeemed it later though) I finally decided I to take the plunge.I have never been so nervous while trying a new dish as I was this time. Maiji has no specific measurements for the recipe, she doesn’t need measurements, she simply knows. So, what I had was a list of ingredients, an outline of the procedure and my memory to guide me. 




Maiji insisted I feel the dish with all my senses, “enjoy the process of making it,” mull over the texture of meat as I mash it, relish the sight of the caramel jus bubbling away, take in the aroma of the whole spices flavouring the jus, listen to the hissing and whooshing inside the pan when I add water to the caramel. So, after an anxiety ridden afternoon I finally put on my apron and took the kitchen over.I was trying to emulate Maiji all the while, even in the way my finger moved through the meat, the way I carefully dropped the meat balls, one by one, from one corner of the pan, into the bubbling jus. I watched as the meatballs simmered, and how the jus, now infused with juices from the meatball gradually reduced and took on a dark brown colour, I caressed the caramel coating on the meatballs with my eyes. Of course, every few minutes I dipped a spoon in and tasted. Finally, the dish was ready, and though I wouldn't confess yet, my heart did do a somersault after I tasted the dish the final time, before taking it off.

10 upon 10 Maiji said, and my brother, her son and my greatest critic after my mother, had disbelief on his face. “I couldn’t make out a difference, he said.” Earlier in the evening he had teased me saying this was going to be my greatest kitchen disaster. “No one can make kofta like my mother, you know that right?” he had said. And now he was raving about it. Ye perhaps he was exaggerating a little when he said it was as good as Maiji’s, but I was happy to have come close at least.  

And with Maiji’s permission I am sharing the recipe with you guys. 






6 comments:

  1. Another beautiful story accompanied by an even more beautiful recipe. Even though your food always, always look delicious, I inevitably read the story before I plunge on to the recipe. Don't know whether that's a good or a bad thing. :P And I get a gut feeling that Maiji's koftas will soon be made in my kitchen. Absolutely brilliant. :)

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    1. Thanks a ton Pritha, glad you loved the recipe. Happier still that you read the stories, I feel they better explain the emotion that goes behind making a dish which in turn helps the reader connect to a dish, especially since one can't taste it. If you make the kofta, do let me know how it turns our!

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  2. Love reading the little glimpses of your life along with the fabulous recipes!

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    1. Thanks Sarani, you always have the most encouraging words for me. Thanks a ton.

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  3. My mommy also cooks amazing Kofta but her gravy is a bit thicker than what's shown here...yours is more of a Payaa kinda gravy but here I can taste your Kofta only through my eyes and I give 5/5 to it! No, I'm not trying to be lenient but it's looking so delicious and that rustic appeal of the platter and that wooden plank is giving it a unique character! Well done Priya! Now pick up your earrings from up there...you can proudly wear them now!!

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    1. Hey Uckbarr...thanks a ton for all the lovely things you said. You know at my place koftas are made is quite a few ways...thicker gravies, richer too, I especially love one which is quite like Gushtaba...but this one is special, I haven't had something like this elsewhere...trust me it might surprise you and pleasantly so...And about the earrings...I can't find them anymore :(

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