Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shahi Kababs and the Dalda Cookbook

The Dalda Cookbook is probably the best known English language Pakistani cookbook. It was produced by the Dalda Cooking Oil company. It is available online (have a google) and as I frequent Pakistani and Indian food websites, I have seen many, many recipes plagiarized directly from that book (and also Zubeida Tariq's book From Zubeida Tariq's Kitchen...the other English language Pakistani cookbook, this one with a Hyderabad Dakkani twist). It seems that EVERYBODY has the Dalda Cookbook. The married women in my in-law's family make jokes about it. My mother in-law gave me a copy when I got married. I don't know much about the history of the cookbook or how it came to be so popular. The recipes are scant and simple, but often turn out very well. On the ground, what Pakistanis eat is a collection of regional cuisines based on the diverse regions of Pakistan, and the cuisines tied to history of immigration to the nation that became Pakistan after the partition of India. What is French cuisine? The cuisine of Paris is not the cuisine of Provence. What is American cuisine? We can give generalized answers for the sake of easy explanation. So what is Pakistani cuisine? The Dalda Cookbook exemplifies Pakistani cooking because it contains recipes for every one of Pakistan's iconic dishes, as well as some changed-up, experimental, or international dishes for good measure. Anyhow, I have cooked a lot based on the Dalda recipes. I would like to know more about this book. Who put it together? When was it first published? How many editions are there? Was there ever a show based on it? What is the backstory?

One of the "changed up, international" recipes in Dalda is for Afghani kababs on page 2 of my copy. It is a simple yet interesting recipe in which one makes pan fried minced meat patties, slices them into rectangular-ish kababs, and adds these kababs to a tomatoey (karhai type) gravy. The recipe has no dried spices in it besides black pepper. This makes me suspicious that it is not a true Afghan recipe. There is this myth among Southern Pakistanis and also Indians who know of Pashtoon and Afghan food that in the Afghan culinary belt, the people only use salt and pepper to season their food. I feel that I have read this in a Lonely Planet edition as well as somewhere in a Madhur Jaffrey book. My mother-in-law has told me this as well. However, all evidence I have of actual Afghan and Pashtoon cooking indicates that this is a complete myth. Pashtoon cooking is regional as well, but generally the entire belt uses a spice mix seasoning that is essentially the same thing as a simple garam masala. So they DO use masalas. I own an Afghan cookbook and two other pan-regional cookbooks that have Afghanistan sections. I also have some down-the-street neighbors who are Pashtoons. In the recipes of these books and of my neighbors, there are multiple garam masala type spices used. The food is just not as chile hot as Southern Pakistani cuisine. However, some Pashtoon recipes which I have seen online also contain a lot of chiles, green and red. So it seems that this whole "salt and pepper" Afghan cuisine thing is not true. I wondered to myself what this recipe would taste like if it were more highly seasoned it.

Anyhow, once a long time ago, I made this recipe. It is 'different' compared to the typical meat saalans (gravy or "curry" dishes) that I serve regularly, so it was fun to make and serve. Somehow, I kept coming back to this recipe as I thumbed through the Dalda Cookbook. I wanted to make it again. But I wanted to change it. So I took the idea, plagiarized it if you will, and changed it up completely. I added in "Mughlai" touches like poppy seeds, cashew nut paste, as well as red chiles.

So here is my totally changed up Dalda Afghani Kabab recipe. It is the same concept of making a seasoned meat patty, cutting it into strips for 'kabab' and then adding these kababs to a tomato gravy. Other than that, it is a totally different recipe:

Shahi Kabab*

The kababs: Combine in a mixing bowl the following ingredients

1 lbs minced beef or mutton
1/2 onion pureed
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1-2 green chiles ground to paste
1 slice of white bread soaked in milk, squeezed to drain the milk, added to the bowl
1 tbs of cashew paste (soak 10 cashew nuts in just enough warm water to cover, then puree to grind to a paste with the soaking water)
1 tbs ghee
1 tsp freshly ground anise powder (saunf)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbs white poppy seeds (khashkhaash)
1/2 to 1 tsp red chile powder
pinch of red chile flakes
1 tsp or so salt, or or to taste

Mix these ingredients together well, kneading them into the meat. Divide the meat into 3 portions and flatten these into large disc shapes about 1.5 inches thick. Heat oil in a frying pan and brown each meat disc on both sides. Don't worry about cooking the patties all of the way through because you will finish off their cooking in the gravy later. They should have a nicely browned outside, though. Allow the patties to cool, then cut into long strips. They will look kind of like rectangular-ish seekh kababs at this point. Set aside. TIP: before you fry all of the meat, take out a bite sized amount of meat, cook it in the pan, and taste it to check the salt and seasonings and adjust if necessary.

For the gravy:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs ginger-garlic-chile paste (just grind these together, 1:1:1 portions and use as needed for a week)
3 small-medium tomatoes, blanched and pureed
1.5 tbs crisp fried onions, crushed
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red chile powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander powder
2 tbs whipped yoghurt
1/2 cup water
1 tbs cashew paste (see above kabab recipe to know how to prepare)
1 tsp dried mango powder (aamchoor)
1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom powder
3 tbs oil
1 tsp salt or to taste

Heat oil in pan. Add in cumin seeds. When they sizzle, add in ginger garlic chile paste. When the garlic and ginger turn golden, add in the tomato puree. Cook this for a few minutes until the oil rises to the top. Add in the ground fried onions, turmeric, red chile powder, garam masala, cumin powder, coriander powder, and cook for a few moments to cook off the spices. Lower heat and stir in the yoghurt. Stir for a few minutes until the oil rises to the top of the dish again. Pour in the water and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Add in the dried mango powder and cashew paste, and salt. Add in the kabaabs now, and a dash of water if the gravy looks to dry. Cook covered, simmering on low heat for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan gently so that the bottom doesn't stick. When the kabaabs are cooked through and the gravy is semi-dry, it is done. Stir in the cardamom powder, mixing gently to distribute it in the gravy without breaking the kababs.

Serve with naan.

*Shahi means royal. Since these kababs are enrichened with Mughlai ingredients, I changed the name of the dish.

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