Monday, November 25, 2013

purani Dilli Al Karam Kebab House : a piece of the walled city in the heart of Millennium city

We have been in love with the food from purani dilli already. That ishtoo from Al Jawahar is legendary, Korma from Karim's and those small hole in the wall shops that sell wonderful kababs, kheer, halwa and many such foods from the past. Matia Mahal in purani dilli is a place well preserved in time as the aromas, the sights and sounds remind you of older cities, the smaller towns and food from your grandmother's homes.

There are many old nuggets to find every time you are there and that is how Varun Veigas, a young pharmacist happened to be dining at Afsar's Al Karam and he struck a chord with the owner Umez bhai, who came across a friendly person and pointed him to other places of interest around Matia Mahal. Varun asked Umez bhai why he was not taking his food outside the walled city and that is when he felt that these people want to showcase their talent but lack of opportunities and may be a lack of business acumen too, is holding them back. He invited them to Gurgaon, Umez bhai and his team followed suit and the rest is making ripples in the food world of the millennium city, that is Gurgaon. Purani dilli Al Karam Kebab house is located at DLF phase 4 market amongst many nice eateries around, we found it jam packed when we arrived and this was just after a week of its existence. You know what I mean.

Very basic interiors, reminding of the eateries of purani Dilli, a kabab grill at the entrance completes the picture for you. I was there for a private tasting session and the array of kababs (or kebabs) and curries from the walled city was just perfect for the onset of winters. The grilling of kababs over charcoal is such a winter thing and one is awestruck by the way they painstakingly prepare the meat, tenderising it with raw papaya, spicing it right, wrapping it around the skewers and grilling them perfect before you dig in.

 We tasted the Seekh kababs, Kakori kababs, Gilafi kababs, Dhaga kabab and Shami kababs. You would find chicken tikka and malai tikka etc as well.

Seekh kababs are succulent and soft, meaty and robustly spiced. The green boorani chutney and onion rings that are served ont he side do absolute justice with these delicate textured kababs.

Kakori kababs are a bit milder in spicing with bits of  cashew nuts strewn in. These are the kababs you can have anytime. They would make a nice meal by itself wrapped in roomali rotis along with onion rings and that chutney.

Gilafi kabab came in a white creamy sauce. Buttery, creamy and delicious. Bits of vegetables and a rich sauce makes it suitable for all those who love milder spicing as all the fats tone down the spices.

Shami kababs were a bit more robust on spices than I like normally, but good taste nevertheless. This would be lovely with a ulte tawe ka paratha may be, or roomali roti. I can't eat much rotis or parathas, just a few bites and I feel full. But kababs I can eat on their own, the onion rings and chutney for company.

Dhaga kabab was a threaded seekh kabab, delicate meat sausage secured with a string. More of a drama than taste I think, taste wise all kababs were great.

And then there was this Achari biryani. I had never had a biryani made with pickling spices, this one was a good surprise. The good thing is, they serve biryani in a quarter portion as well, priced really affordable even for students. The biryani is served with a generous helping of fresh yogurt and makes a nice meal in itself.

Loved the Haleem with a generous layer of ghee floating on it. Rich with nut paste, the haleem doesn't miss the taste of lentils in it, the way I like it. I recommend the haleem strongly if you want another main dish after you order the kababs and Nihari.

Nihari is a slow cooked dish that originated in the walled city of old Delhi and at Al Karam kebab house, this will be another bestseller I feel. Well done.

The Ishtoo (mutton stew) was good but I like the Al Jawahar Ishtoo better. Korma was nice and well balanced, both of us loved it.

What surprised me after having these robustly spiced kormas and ishtoo, was a white chicken curry they named Kashmiri chicken.  The curry is milky, lot of cream and nut paste in it and raw khoya sprinkled on top along with ginger julienne and coriander greens. The flavors were not Kashmiri at all, but reminded me of the curries of my own Banaras. Khoya, milk and aromatic spices dominate the kormas and curries of Banaras and this one had a hint of that mildness. A yummy chicken curry with khameeri roti, just don't look for anything Kashmiri in it.

The chicken Badami was another surprise. I had never eaten anything made with just the gizzards and hearts of chicken and this curry was a milky creamy stir fry of sorts made just with those. Surprisingly good, I recommend if you like gizzards just like Arvind does.

We tasted everything in small bits and were full by this time. I requested Varun to get really tiny portions of Kulfi when he insisted we have to taste all 4 flavours. These are Kuremal ki kulfi sourced directly from purani Dilli so there was never a doubt about the goodness. Anjeer kulfi is yummy, kesar pista is not a favorite but still I loved it. But the best was Pan kulfi which had a whole betel leaf in it. The best paan I have ever had, in any form I must say. Orange kulfi is something I wont order when there are such good options to choose from. These kulfis are the best money can buy, a result of generations of kulfi making.

I have always loved the way our traditional khansamas cook, the almost religious faith they have in food and it's powers of winning hearts. The wisdom and knowledge that is passed on to generations, the cooking techniques that are perfected so much they don't need to check temperatures and cooking time, it becomes instinctive for them. I love it how they watch people eating their food with a great satisfaction, taking all the praise with a faint smile always. There is a hint of pride in the food they cook and we could see how the Al Karam team was glad to see we liked their food.

Enough to get smitten by the old world charm.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

methi wali machhli | fish curry with fenugreek greens

I have had methi wali machhli cooked by a friend's mother and had been planning to cook fish the same way since then. It is a mildly spiced fish curry in yogurt gravy and a lot of fresh fenugreek leaves. The fish suitable for this curry is large steaks with bones and skin and I decided to cook methi wali machhli as soon as I found good large fish steaks. This fish curry is similar to Machhli ka salan that doesn't use so much methi leaves o skips using them altogether.

methi wali machhli

Most people cook this recipe with a lot of oil in it but my recipe doesn't have oil floating on top. You can use oil generously to get more glaze (or roghan) in this curry.

Having fish at home has been an occasional treat lately, as we don't get good fish around our place. The skinned de-boned fillets don't count as fish which of course is available abundantly. I do cook some Basa sometimes but it doesn't feel like eating fish honestly. I want a fishy fish when I want fish, I know you understand what I mean. Although this methi wali machhli is not too fishy I must add. If you cook it with Basa fillet or large Pomfret fillets, it wont be even remotely fishy.

We have a few nice fish markets in Delhi and we do get our fish from those places whenever we are around. We generally get a large Rohu or Catla or a Betki nicely cut into steaks to be frozen in portions and sometimes we get some Mackerel or Bombil which we cook the same day. The steaks I cooked in this curry were from the belly part but any bony steaks will be suitable, just take care the pieces should be sturdy enough to handle in a curry.

This methi wali machhli is loosely based on a recipe I  saw here but my recipe has fresh fenugreek leaves as the star ingredient, exactly the way I had loved it. This is a slightly tart curry as the curds I use for this is a little sour, the way I prefer it, the flavors of fenugreek complements really well with the tartness of curds (dahi).

fish steaks (Rohu. Catla any firm fish, preferably river fish) 500 gm approximately
fresh yogurt 1 cup
roughly chopped onion 1/4 cup
garlic cloves 3-4
dry red chillies 2-3 or to taste (keep it more than you think enough as yogurt neutralises chilies)
coriander powder2 tsp
turmeric powder 1 tsp
finely chopped fenugreek leaves 1.5 cup packed (or lesser)
salt to taste
mustard oil 2-3 tbsp
fenugreek seeds about a dozen

methi wali machhli


Make a paste of the onion, garlic, red chillies and 1/4 cup of yogurt along with coriander powder and turmeric powder. Add salt to it and dump this paste over the fish steaks in a mixing bowl. Add the chopped fenugreek leaves to this mixture, mix well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Blend the remaining 1/4 cup yogurt in the same mixie jar and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil in a pan and add the fenugreek seeds in it. Wait till they become fragrant but take care not to brown them. drain the fish steaks form the marinade and fry in this hot oil both sides lightly. Drain and keep in a plate.

In the remaining oil add all the marinade and bhuno till the oil separates. It takes about 4-5 minutes and the mixture get aromatic.

As you see the oil separating form this cooking mixture, add the remaining yogurt, mix well and add about 1.5 cups of water. Let it come to a soft boil before adding the fried fish steaks.

Cover and simmer for about 5-7 minutes or till the oil floats on top.

methi wali machhli

Serve hot with plain boiled rice.

These steak were large about 6 inches long with 2-3 long bones in it. The flesh acquires a nice yogurt and fenugreek taste while the gravy is absolutely yummy with all the flavors. I am planning to cook paneer exactly the same way next. Will let you know if I do.

Better you cook and let me know if you are a vegetarian..

Saturday, November 9, 2013

ajwaini arbi and a malabar spinach daal : a meal from your childhood

Ajwaini arbi lifts up a simple meal with it's burst of flavors. The bland arbi gets a nice spicy-tangy coating to be shallow fried till crisp. Goodness in a slimy bland vegetable believe me.

Arbi is colocasia rhizome and I rarely cook this vegetable as the husband doesn't like it much and I don't feel like working on a vegetable which is not green. I get the colocasia leaves whenever I spot them and make this layered rolls called patoda or patra but the rhizome get neglected though it is available throughout the year.

But then I have a habit of buying vegetables by the looks, the most fresh looking vegetables are bought instantly and when I saw these plump and long Arbi at our Mother Dairy outlet sometime back, I couldn't imagine ignoring them. Promptly bought four of those long and plump rhizomes and came back thinking of the ajwaini arbi as the large arbis would make nice steak like fries.

Ajawaini arbi is something you can have on the side if planning a daal-chawal meal. They provide a meaty flavorful tangy-spicy fulfilment to plain dal-chawal meals. This time I was making a nice arhar ki daal with malabar spinach (poi saag) with plain boiled rice and ajwaini arbi fitted in perfectly.

(2 servings as a side dish)
4 large colocasia rhizomes (large arbis)
1/2 cup besan (chickpeas flour)
1 tbsp rice flour
2 tsp amchoor powder
1 tsp ajwain seeds
red chilly powder to taste
salt to taste
mustard oil to shallow fry (about 2 tbsp but the arbi does not absorb all the oil)


Boil the arbis in pressure cooker till done. The cooking time will depend on the size of arbis and also on how mature they are so cook for 2-3 minutes under pressure first, check and then cook again if you find them raw. A knife prick will confirm if it is done.

Peel the arbi and keep aside.

Mix all the other ingredients except oil and spread in a shallow plate.

Press the peeled arbi over this dry mix so that the rhizomes get flattened. Coat well with the dry besan mix both sides and shallow fry in hot oil using a flat based frying pan.

Serve hot with daal-chawal meal. The dish takes just about 5 minutes once you have boiled arbis so shallow fry them when the daal and rice are cooked and ready to serve.

I had made this arhar ki daal with malabar spinach with a generous garlic tadka and we loved this meal. I am totally a daal loving person and spinach or any kind of greens in my daal is an absolute delight. I can live on daals and often crave my daals.

The recipe of this daal can be seen here at Down to Earth magazine where I did an article on Malabar spinach. Malabar spinach is a garden vine that many of us grow and keep using frequently. It has many health benefits and is a good substitute for spinach in some recipes. I will post a pumpkin subzi soon with malabar spinach. Stay tuned in.

chachi ki kachori subzi aur jalebi | subah-e-banaras aur banarasi nashta

Chachi ki dukan at Lanka was famous for the old lady who was fondly called Chachi (aunty). The shop was all about a small team of Chachi, mostly her family members who would churn out subzi and crisp kachoris on one side and hot crisp, syrup dripping jalebis on the other side of a small cramped shop. More of a hole in the wall actually.

Let me explain where exactly this shop is located. Lanka is the 'mall road' equivalent, situated in front of the BHU (Banaras Hindu University) gate and you would find all sorts of fancy restaurants, roadside stalls of samosa, chai, pao bhaji, burger, pakodas and bookshops or student utility shops all in one place. The end of this road branches into three roads leading to Saamne ghaat, Nagwa and Sankatmoachan temple road. When you walk towards Sankatmochan road you see twin shops of kachori and jalebi right at the start of the road. The one that has more people waiting is Chachi's I conclude. The husband confirms as he has grown up in BHU campus.

Another famous shop for kachoris in the morning is Pehelwan ki lassi shop that sells kachori subzi and jalebi in the morning and lassi and lavanglata throughout the day. This shop is located at the start of the road to Nagwa, to your right when you are coming from the university.

We enjoyed this banarasi nashta when we were in Banaras last time. Just wanted to have a taste of this famous kachori subzi aur jalebi made in front of my eyes. And there I was braving the smoke and burnt smell of refined oil, waiting for my kachoris. It was well worth it I would say. For the experience and for the taste as well, just the taste of burnt refined oil kills it for me. I am sure it was fried in dalda (hydrogenated vegetable oil) a couple of decade ago and in desi ghee before that. But ghee is history now for this shop at least. We have had ghee fired kachoris in other places and it makes a marked difference in taste and aroma.

Totally smoked walls, a rickety old table fan that blows air into the giant coal fired oven and a couple of men working in rhythm with a practiced ease. This guy was found rolling out kachoris fast, as if in tandem with the load of kachoris frying in the huge kadhai.

He quickly pinches off dough balls and arranges them on a wooden board, and then starts rolling kachoris fervently. He keeps dunking all the rolled kachoris into the huge kadhai with hot oil and another guy keeps frying the kachoris and arranging them all on a huge sieve.

And once the kachoris become a little colder, they are dunked again in the hot oil to fry them once again. This is the secret behind super crisp kachoris that break into pieces once punctured.

That doesn't mean I love those kachoris. I actually feel nauseous smelling this burning oil but I had to taste it once on the spot and photograph them making the famous kachoris of Banaras. I love kachoris and I hate refined oil that gets burnt in such kadhais and is never changed. Yes I asked them and they confirmed that they never ever change the oil. :-(

They ladle out heaps of kaddu ki subzi in dried leaf donas (disposable leaf bowls) and then arrange the kachoris on paper plates and hand out to the waiting people. Those white paper bags have jalebis in them, someone got them packed to take home.

And believe me there are always a dozen people waiting for these hot kachoris and kaddu ki subzi. I loved the subzi, the kachoris from such shops was never a favorite, but I can eat a couple of them. Hot and crisp and all that jazz.

Killer looks they certainly have. Did you see the jalebis too?

Spirals of jalebi were also being churned out on the other side of this hole in the wall shop. A thick slurry like fermented batter of maida with a hint of besan added is filled in an earthen pot and the batter is dropped in a constant stream in hot oil. Making circular patterns while it flows out. I love this part of making jalebis and was missing doing it myself. Been long time since I made jalebis.

The spirals are fried both sides till they turn golden. Being turned and picked up with the help of tongs.

And then being dunked into a thick sugar syrup. To be quickly weighed down with the help of that huge sieve, so the jalebis soak up the syrup instantly.

After a couple of minutes in the syrup and the juicy crisp jalebis are sieved out from the syrup, the sieves doubles up as the display shelf.

The jalebis fly off the 'shelf' quickly as people are already waiting to get their hands of garam garam jalebis (hot jalebis). Here it is, one portion of the jalebi for the dessert part of the banarasi nashta. Quite a calorie high, inflammatory fats high breakfast it is.

Interestingly, I had never seen this chachi as I would never pass that road in the wee hours when banarasi nashta was being devoured standing in a meditative trans facing this little shop by Chachi. Chachi is no more but I have heard stories about how people would ask her questions to tease her about bad kachoris or a soggy jalebi and she would shower them with choicest abuses in local dialect. It was more of a good breakfast with entertainment thrown in for good measure, as I have heard people saying.

The entertainment came to us in the form of curiosity some people had in our camera. You see we had a good time enjoying this nashta and then walked towards Sankatmochan temple to work out the damage.