Friday, February 13, 2009

Dastarkhwaan e Hyderabaad: Mirchi ka saalan

Delicious with basmati rice.
Saalan simply means a wet gravy, a "curry," if you will. The word saalan is mainly used in Muslim Indo-Pak cooking, despite it being a Sanskrit origin word. Non-Muslim Hindi speakers are more apt to use the word tari or rassa. However, mirchi ka saalan has gained fame across India and in Pakistan as well, though it is a specialty of the South Indian city of Hyderabad.

I find this dish a very cumbersome to cook because you have to "bhunofy" the gravy for a long time to get the best taste. You also have to lightly fry the peppers separately. And you have to prepare the tamarind water. Tamarind water is made simply by soaking a 3 inch chunk of tamarind pulp in about a cup of warm water for an hour, then straining out the seeds and fibers and reserving the remaining water. You should also have bhuni hui pyaaz (reddish-brown fried onions) done and set aside. Plus you have to roast the sesame seeds and peanuts by stirring them around for a few minutes in a hot pan until they get a little color, then allow them to cool before grinding. Oh, and you should have fresh shredded coconut on hand (I buy it at the desi grocer and keep it in the freezer). So you see, this is not a dish to cook on a whim. But if you prepare for it, it is a delicious, rich, and luxurious dish.

You can make yours with a dryer gravy, as is sometimes found in pan-Indian restaurants, but you can also make it more liquid if you like. A liquid gravy is more traditional. Depending on what kind of food processor, blender, or mixie you have, you may end up with a grainy coconut-peanut-sesame mixture. Go ahead and fry as usual, but you can blend it or use the stick blender once you have added the yoghurt and then water, but before you add the tamarind. It should be slightly grainy but not unevenly grainy or chunky.

I have had this dish in Hyderabadi homes containing whole or chopped mirch, and even the addition of a few other vegetables in the saalan. Pictured is a mirchi ka saalan gravy I made with chile peppers, long green eggplant, and cauliflower. You can use any kind of larger, "sweet" chile pepper, (try the Hatch Chile in late summer in the USA) but in desparation, you may substitute bell pepper. Although this deviates from the traditional mirchi ka saalan, I have also seen this dish served with the chiles stuffed with seasoned paneer as sort of a modern and fancy touch. So there is some leeway for variation with this dish.

You can see the cut chiles, long green eggplant, and cauliflower.

You need:
8-10 large green chile peppers, other veg like eggplant, cauliflower, optional.
1 brown fried onion, crushed
1/4 cup white sesame seeds pan toasted
1/4 cup peanuts pan toasted
3 tbs fresh shredded coconut
1 tsp roasted white poppy seeds (khashkhaash - Toast whole seeds in hot pan till lightly browned, allow to cool, then grind. Do 2 cups at a time and freeze it to use as needed. Don't store in cupboard because it goes rancid.)
1 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbs garlic ginger paste
1/2 cup yoghurt
2 cups water (or more for desired thickness)
1/2 cup tamarind water
1 tsp salt or to taste
3 tbs oil

Baghaar (tempering) of 2-3 tbs oil plus 1 tsp mustard seeds, 6 curry leaves, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp nigella seeds

Make a length wise slit in each chile. Lightly shallow fry in a pan just to partially cook, and set aside. Lightly fry your cauliflower florets or eggplant cut into 2-3 inch thick chunks, should you be using them. Keep aside.

Finely grind coconut, toasted sesame seeds, and toasted peanuts in a food processor. Don't over grind or you will end up with a nut butter.

Heat oil, add in the ginger garlic paste, caramelized onions, then dry spices, and allow to sizzle for a moment until the ginger garlic is cooked. Add in the coconut-sesame-peanut mixture, plus the khashkhaash, and fry well, stirring constantly for a few minutes. You may need to add a little bit of water to this to aid the frying process. As always in desi cooking, you are looking for the oil to rise to the top of your paste to indicate that the ingredients have properly cooked. Now, turn off the flame and add in the yoghurt. Stir and stir letting the oil once again rise to the top of the mixture. Turn on the heat and flame and keep stirring. Now add the 1 cup water, and salt. Stir and fry and fry and stir and stir and fry until the mixture is dry and well "bhunofied." The oil will separate from the gravy and float to the top when the gravy is done. Add more water as needed.

When the gravy is done, add in the tamarind water and fry for just a few more moments. At this point, add some water. You can add more or less water for a thicker or runnier gravy. Allow it to boil again and stir until the oil rises on top of the liquid. Taste for salt because the ingredients soak up a lot of salt and you may need to add more. After adding salt as desired, you're getting close to the end. Add in the fried chile peppers (and other veg if you are using it), stir around gently, and cover for about 5 minutes on low heat to finish their cooking. Cook until they are done. But take care not to let them fall apart and turn into mush. Before serving, add the baghaar (see below). To serve, put in a platter or serving dish where the mirchi/veg shows.

For the final baghaar: Heat 1 tbs oil then add all of the seeds. When the mustard seeds pop, add in the curry leaves and fry briefly. Immediately pour this over the saalan.

Phew, that was a heck of a lot of trouble and now my arm is tired from the stirring and bhunofying and trying to achieve the correct texture. But dang that is good stuff. How can you go wrong with peanuts, sesame, and coconut? Serve with rice or hot naan! Or Hyderabadi biryani, of course.

*Option: you can make this dish as baghaare baingan by cutting small round eggplants, or slitting them in four pieces which are intact at the stem, briefly frying, set aside, and add to the gravy as you would the chiles.

Chicken dopiaaza: Chicken cooked in onion gravy

This dish is also called istew and istew dopyaaza. Dopiaaza is a reference to the fact that the dish incorporates bothe sauteed onions and caramelized (bhuna) onions into the gravy. My recipe was passed along to me by my mother in-law. As she is from U.P. originally, this recipe is yoghurt based and doesn't contain tomatoes. It requires whole garam masala (khara masala), as well as powdered garam masala. I keep fried onions ready in my freezer. You can also buy them ready fried at any desi grocer. The sauteed onions are easy to do, but these days you can also get packets of ready sauteed onions at the desi grocer. I also keep pre-ground ginger/garlic paste on hand in the fridge. These ready done items make this dish easy to make, but it is quite easy even if you start from scratch.

You will need:

1 chicken skinned and chopped into botees (bone in)
1 onion chopped finely for sauteeing
1 onion sliced from brown frying (or just use pre-fried bhuni hui pyaaz)
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
1 heaping tsp kashmiri chile powder
1 heaping tsp garam masala powder
1/2 cups yoghurt
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2-3 tbs sunflower oil

Khara Masala:
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 bay leaves
5 peppercorns
5 cloves
5 green cardamon pods
1-2 large black cardamon pods
1 tsp cumin seeds

Mix all powdered masalas plus 1 tsp of ginger and 1 tsp of garlic paste into the yoghurt and set aside. Pre-fry sliced onions and set aside. Heat oil in pan. Add in khara masala and fry for a few moments. Add in chopped onions and sautee until the are clear. Add in the rest of the ginger and garlic paste and fry for a few minutes. Stir in the caramelized onions and chicken. Stir around until chicken is browned. Add in yoghurt-masala mixture and salt, plus 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Cook for about 25 minutes or so until chicken is done (chicken available where I live cooks very might take yours longer). The dish is ready to enjoy. Serve with basmati rice and/ or naan.

*Tips: I buy a bad of whole mixed garam masala and pick out the ones I need as pictured above, rather than buying individual quantities of each masala. Life is just easier that way.
An alternative style is to add finely chopped tomatoes and allow the water to evaporate from them when the finely chopped onions have melted down a bit and before you add the chicken to bhunofy. I have tried both ways, and both are equally delicious.

Kashmiri Style Ribs: Tabak Maaz

I have adapted the recipe from an old magazine clipping. The hing, ginger powder, fennel, and of course Kashmiri chile powder give the gravy a Kashmiri touch. This is a great party dish. It is tasty as well as easy. You can make it in a dry velvety clinging sauce (pic 1) by drying up the moisture in the gravy, or serve it in a more liquidy sauce (pic 2), as per your preference. You could also serve the wetter gravy as a dipping sauce on the side.

1 lbs lamb or goat chops (mutton chops or champein!)
1 cup yoghurt
1 heaping tsp ginger powder
1 tsp freshly ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder
1/8 tsp (pinch of) hing/asofetida
1 heaping tsp kashmiri chile powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp or so salt (to taste)
1 cup water
3 tbs sunflower oil for braising
1/4 cup sunflower oil for pan frying

Blend all of the spices and into the yoghurt. Marinate ribs in yoghurt for a few hours or overnight. Heat 3 tbs oil in a pot and then add ribs. Add in salt now. Braise for a few minutes on medium heat until the oil separates from the gravy. Take care not to allow the yoghurt to curdle by keeping the heat controlled. Add in one cup water or so to cover the ribs, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on very low heat for about 1 to 1 and a half hours until ribs are nice and tender. Remove ribs and set on plate to cool completely. Keep the gravy aside. At this stage you can boil off excess water from the gravy to thicken it. The ribs should be completely room temperature for the next step, in the meanwhile. Now heat the rest of the oil in a flat frying pan. Brown room temperature ribs in the frying pan by frying on each side. Serve on a flat plate and pour the remaining gravy on top of the ribs, or if youv'e done a ticker gravy, paint it on. If you do this for a party, you can wrap the end of the bones in foil.

This is a great go-to party dish and believe me people will suck the goat ribs dry!