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Gourmet India
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Amarnath

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Dear readers,

Since I am going to upload some recipes soon, and probably more, in these coming months, I wish to dedicate this post to my inspirations. Well, as you all probably know by now, I happen to be a die- hard Hyderabadi cuisine lover at heart.

I am a true- blue Bengali. And I come from a family where food has always played a very important role. Since the turn of this century, the venerable old ladies of my house have been ladling out tasty, somewhat wholesome Bengali fare. Coal and cow dung fires were the name of the game. Stone grinders, fresh whole mustard, aromatic sesame seeds and fresh fish from our very own lake would all play a part in our meals. Ah! those days...

As the family enters its fifth generation, magic rays they call microwaves, and steel cabinets with heating elements( read: ovens) make their presence felt. The foods are still delicious, but can not match up to the tastes our grannies whipped up in the days of yore. Mustard oil is now often used as an oil to flavor, but rarely as the main fat for cooking. Kids can easily be weaned away from steaming hot fennel and asafoetida flavored white lentils accompanied with potatoes curried with poppy seeds and gleaming green chillies. They'll happily forgo this quintessential Bengali fare for greasy Chinese food.

This was much the case with me. Now, at 27, I regret this transmogrification. What an insult, what an outrage, to those old ladies and those old men who are now no more with my family, but who were staunch guardians of that kasha mangsha recipe, faithfully made each Sunday.

The winds of change blew, and blew strong, in the early months of 2007. I yearned to make the fabled Hyderabadi biryani in my own home. Luckily for me, I came in close association with a grand lady from the Salar Jung family of Hyderabad. Consequently, one of the first dishes I ever made, was the heavenly Katchay Gosht ki Biryani. People who have partaken of this royal dish come back for seconds.Always. The recipe serves 6 to 8, but I have always found that it will satiate the jaded palates of just four, with scope for generous seconds...

Hyderabadi cuisine, the way you know it, is dying. The same way as much of our erstwhile highly popular Bengali cuisine. I will make attempts to revive such dying arts. I choose to term them "arts" for reasons good enough.

If you wish to come with me into this brave new world, I'll be none the happier. Don't rush through. Don't watch the timepiece on the kitchen wall. Spring a surprise for your guests on a weekend. Introduce Indian food to Indians.Yes, I won't mince words about this; hardly any of us know, me included. But boy! once I found out just a bit, I was floored.

Go for fresh herbs, grind your whole spices, soak your broiled saffron in lukewarm cream overnight, roast those almonds on a coal fire(yes, you read right "a coal fire"; go get yourself a small sigri). Cook to save these old cuisines, they need your time. If you are hard pressed for time, I suggest you don't make such elaborate fare. As they say in Hyderabad, "itminaan se..."

Most of such dishes require patience. Visit the butcher, put on your most disarming smile for him. He might reciprocate by parting with the choicest cuts of tender mutton, just for you. Feel your hara masala at the bhajiwallah's. Back home,put on some old world ghazal. Wear something light and airy. NO cooking aprons; we love that turmeric stain on you. Fill up a small glass with deliciously chilled wine. And start weaving the magic in your pan.

Use heavy bottomed pots and pans. Wikipedia says ghee has 8 mg of cholesterol per tsp, so if you're paranoid, don't use it. But, as must be known to you all, ghee is has the lowest trans fat, being the purest form of milk( burnt solids that appear during the making of ghee are the bad guys, which you discard). In the days of yore, when diet was a word hitherto uncoined, ghee was all the fat that was available. Offerings to our Hindu pantheon were made with ghee. Vows were taken over fires fueled by knobs of the stuff. But the reason why most remained healthy was moderation of the amounts of ghee used. Our ancestral populations never suffered from morbid obesity. Cut through to the modern times, America does n't do ghee, but yet, they are plagued by the looming specter of killing obesity, much more than Indians. And, what is Italian without cheese and its goodness of sinful sodium and fatal fat? Some thinking to do, in there....

Another thing, is water. Water is great to drink, but when it comes to drawing out the maximum flavors from your leafy greens and your meats, go thin on the water, if at all. Adult mammalian flesh(and here, I'm including lambs and goats too) has around 75% moisture. That should be enough moisture to cook your next delectable shorba or jhol. My friends don't term me a purist for nothing! If water is something you must add, and if Nature's water bounties in Her creations fall short of your requirements, get it from alternative sources. I am thinking milk, yogurt and tomatoes.

To get the maximum tastes, cook on low flames. You might yawn, but so will your guests, after eating that same- tasting curry at your place for every party. Has it been stressed enough that high flame is a no-no for Indian cooking? To coax the juices out from your ingredients, keep that flame on a simmer.

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