Smoke in the kitchen

Smoke in the kitchen

Traditional cooking

Smoke in the kitchen

Though today, the modern Indian housewife is most comfortable with gas chulhas, Authentic Indian ways of cooking produce the most exotic flavours ovens and open-air barbecues, there was a time when all of this cooking was done in traditional wood-fed chulha, charcoal-fed angithi and tandoor.

Most would scoff at the idea of getting back to old-world chulhas and angithis, but people of yore swear by the taste of food prepared in these. For the same reason, many restaurants coming up these days are also embracing such traditional Indian ways of cooking.

A chulha is a brick cube with a hole in the front to feed the fire and holes on the top to act as burners. Chulha construction requires skill as careful plastering has to be done to provide the right draft for a hot and even source of heat. Traditionally, the brickwork was done by bricklayers, but the plastering and preparing of the oven was done by women as it was considered an art.

A chulha gives the cook the option of using a pan or cooking directly over the flame. Because of the round shape of the holes in the top and generally a lack of a cooking grate, kebabs are a particular favourite item to cook in this. A variety of meats and vegetables are also prepared like this.

Angithi, on the other hand, provides a great way to grill. A steel bucket is converted to an angithi by layering its inside with clay. A metal grill is placed on the top and a small access opening is cut near the bottom to feed paper and dried twigs in it to fire the charcoal. It is also used to make a variety of barbecued dishes and even used as a space heater to keep the sleeping room warm during winter nights.

Most people today think that tandoor is a recipe. This is however, another traditional cooking equipment which has become synonymous with the food it cooks. A tandoor is a clay oven in which a hot fire is built. Marinated meats are lowered into the oven on long metal skewers and cooked in this smoky and extremely hot environment until done.

Throughout Asia, a number of dishes are prepared in the tandoor. These include flatbreads - tandoori roti, tandoori naan, butter naan, stuffed naan, tandoori laccha. Peshawari seekh -cashews, corn and cottage cheese paste marinated in spiced thick cream and achaari khumb ke soole - mushrooms marinated in pickled yoghurt and jodhpuri spices - are also grilled in tandoor. Baluchi aloo - potatoes stuffed with cottage cheese, vegetables and cashew nuts, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka and kalmi kebab are also cooked deliciously in tandoor.