Thursday, September 2, 2010

All about South Asian Qorma (or Korma, or Qormah)

Qorma is one of those dishes that I love to learn and read about and compare recipes. Qorma is also one of those dishes that was traditionally cooked by South Asian Muslims for special occasions and only several times per year, but like biryani, it is now made much more frequently in the homes of the affluent and also in the homes of diasporic desis. Since desi Muslims are the direct culinary inheritors of the Mughlai tradition, the dish is theirs, but it is also widely loved in many interpretations by people of all backgrounds and faiths, and many vegetarian friendly and widely divergent recipes have evolved. (I have seen jackfruit korma!) But traditional versions of qorma are prepared in all of the main former centers of Muslim rule in India and Pakistan.

The word qorma came to South Asia from Central Asia and means "roasted, baked, browned" in reference to meat in Turkic dialects (kavurma). The Persians have their gormeh, prudent Nafees Urdu speakers of duroost shin-qaaf must say it Qormah. In both India and Pakistan it is widely pronounced as korma with no attention given to the Urdu original gutteral /q/ sound, which is approximated as /k/. But in the best Urdu diction it is Qormah/ قورمہ. It is an indeed a dish of Mughal legacy in S. Asia.

At least in South Asia it is traditionally made with mutton although these days chicken, fish, and pure veg. qormas are made to suit different preferences. I make chicken qorma much more often than mutton qorma, just because it is easy and fast cooking. My husband loves mutton qorma, though.

If I happen to be talking to a foodie, I always ask her how she makes her qorma, or how it is made in her community. A Pashto speaking acquaintance (Northern Pakistani) makes a liquidy stew with mutton and vegetables as her qorma. I think for Pashtoons qorma is any stew type dish and this is more in line with the original Central Asian qorma. I had a housekeeper who was a Bangalorean (South Indian) Muslim from a pure Urdu speaking family and she told me that they make their qorma with coconut milk, not yoghurt, and that it is mostly served on holidays and at weddings. My in-laws family (Urdu speaking North Indian origin Pakistani) qorma recipe is more of a typical North Indian Muslim-Pakistani qorma recipe: meat must be browned or well braised, lots of crispy brown fried onions are used (often ground to a paste), yoghurt is the liquid, the seasonings are garam masalas (whole and ground), ginger and garlic paste (heavier ginger to garlic ratio) ground coriander, a pinch of red chile, and at the very end of cooking, a second pinch of garam masala and ground green cardamom, and a tiny dash of keora jal (pandanus flower extract water which you may know as biryani perfume) are added at the very end of cooking...without the dash of pandanus water it doesn't have that qorma perfume taste by their family standards. A layer of oil is floating on the top of the semi-liquidy gravy. It is eaten with naan and basmati rice, never chapati. There is also "white qorma" which doesn't contain browned onions, only onions which are cooked until the rawness is fully gone. Ground almond or ground cashew pastes can be added to make the qorma "shahi" or royal, and also to serve the function of thickening it. Hyderabadis (of India) are known for white qorma. In Kashmir greens and vegetables can be added to the qorma, so it is more like the Central Asian-Persian type concept of qorma.

In my laziness I often use Shan Masala Korma spice mix, just 2 teaspoons, plus homemade garam masala and ground coriander powder, and a dash of roasted ground poppy seeds, but otherwise prepare it as described on the back of the box. I only use very fresh yoghurt (so it won’t have any hint of sourness) and rarely add cream as is prescribed on the Shan box, but if I do, I will add 1 tbs at the very end of cooking just to thicken the gravy. I also make a qorma biryani by using the same qorma recipe, making a slightly thicker gravy (by boiling to dry up the liquid) and then using qorma gravy to layer between parboiled rice then, then close the pot and finish off the rice.

When I am not feeling lazy, I make a more classic Lucknowi qorma based on my mother in law's recipe.

In Indian restos you will get a lot of interpretations of korma. Based on being a dish associated with Muslims, it gets classified in the restaurant 'Mughlai' genre of foods and therefore you will find, in line with the restaurant interpretation of what Mughlai means, lots of cream, nuts and even raisins/sultanas since that is what is taken as 'Mughlai.' This can be a tasty dish, though it doesn't look much like a qorma made in North Indian Muslims-Pakistani homes. I wouldn’t say that's “the wrong way” to make qorma (or perhaps I should write korma here), because it IS made in India by Indians that way, and this type of korma is also what we know at UK and US faux-Mughlai/Punjabi restaurants. Who has the copyright on qorma, anyway? What I see as the “authentic” North Indian Muslim-Pakistani qorma isn't much like the original Central Asian qorma, either. I do have creamy qorma like that at restaurants sometimes, and it is yummy, too.

Here are links to three non-restaurantish, Muslim home style chicken qormas, including one Lucknawi and one from Indian Hyderabad from two good websites, just in case anyone wanted to see a sort of tradional Muslim desi non-resto/no-cream type recipe example. Boneless chicken breast can be used but as far as I know, whether it is chicken or mutton it is traditionally bone-in, and with chicken it would be whole skinless bone-in cut in 12 pieces (not specified in recipes).


http://zaiqa.net/?p=260

The Zaiqa blog (a fave I learned about through Ambhi) is an excellent resource for Hyderabadi recipes...What to me stands out as Hyderabadi about this chicken qorma is that it includes coconut (Southern touch)and roasted peanuts (she used the term "ground nut"). It also has green chile in addition to powdered red chile, plus mint leaves. I don't think those would be in North Indian qormas.
And:


http://www.khanakhazana.com/recipes/view.aspx?id=5311

and

http://www.khanakhazana.com/recipes/view.aspx?id=1405


Khana Khazana is a user-added recipe site, has loads of good Pakistani and Indian stuff. The first qorma is very tradional and Lucknawi with its white poppy seeds (khashkhaash) and extra nutmeg and mace in addition to the garam masalas. The picture doesn't look too yummy but the recipe looks very good IMHO. The other recipe is very similar but without the white poppy seeds. Both users' recipes calls for the kewra water I mentioned above---very traditional.


Note that in all recipes the onions are brown fried seperately and ground to be added to the gravy.


I was happy to see the qorma with -q-, too on the recipes :-) as an Urduphile.


Anyway, just fun to see some regional variation.