From the land of royals

From the land of royals

On a brass thali was laid a lavish feast. Bowls loaded with traditional Rajasthani fare. Laal maans. Gatte ki sabzi. Ker sangri. Murg shekhawati. Thar ke papad. Dal, baati, churma. Bajra roti. Papad in tomato gravy. Fried chilli. Garlic chutney. Mawa mishri. And a gigantic glass of lassi to wash them all down. In Sirocco, the all-day dining restaurant in Crowne Plaza, Jaipur, all I needed was a crown, a kingdom, a stallion and perhaps a long twirling moustache to feel like a Rajasthani king. 

“Let’s first get the basics right,” executive chef Vikash Prasad began the Rajasthani food story on a different wok. Laal maans, the fiery red mutton curry, does not borrow its name from the chilli. Traditionally, venison was used for this dish; its gamy odour smothered by spices. With a ban on killing deer, venison has been replaced with tender goat meat.

Something for everyone
If the meat eaters could kill for laal maans, the vegetarians will happily die for gatte ki sabzi (curry made of black gram powder). Interestingly, this fave Rajasthani curry was born out of a famine. Legend has it that during the 1965-66 famine, a queen ordered her maharaj (cook) to knead, steam, fry and then add the besan dumplings in gravy. And lo! Everyone ate out of the queen’s hand. 

In Rajasthan, food can be easily class or caste categorised. The Rajputs thrived on game meat like hare, deer and wild boar and they created countless dishes. Like khad khargosh dish, which required the rabbit to be marinated, wrapped in a kachha roti, packed into a gunny bag and buried in a pit, topped by a charcoal fire and mud, for a few hours.

Rajasthani suda was made by roasting the back of a goat leg on open charcoal fire and hot ghee poured over it for the smoky flavour. There was raita made of cleaned and diced goat liver, while soor ka saanth is a pickle made of pig fat left in buttermilk for days. In royal Rajput households, even rotis had specified weight. Like the roti of the Rawats of Deogarh weighed 1.25 kilograms! 

Being a dry area, there is more ghee, curd and buttermilk used in Rajasthani cooking than water. There’s more of this in Marwari cuisine, which is purely vegetarian. Papad was born in Rajasthan and is a staple in every Marwari household. The nomads subsist on ker sangri but the Rajputs kept it out of their kitchen.

The best lentils are grown around Bikaner and Barmer, which have traditionally been the state’s namkeen heart. In winter, the staple breakfast is bajra khichda (millet porridge), eaten either with jaggery and ghee or savoured with sesame oil. During summers, bajra is replaced with wheat and sorghum.

“The essentials are turmeric, lime, earthen pot and seasonal grain or vegetables. And, of course, an open fire on which we either boil, cook by dum, bhunno (long saute process) or do khad cooking, which entails digging a pit, burying the meat and surrounding it with hot coal,” says Maharaj Ram Prasad, who rustles traditional dishes in Sirocco.

Interestingly, sweets are not served as desserts after the main course in Rajasthan; they come with the mains. Ask a local and he’ll tell you what to eat where: malpuas in Pushkar, mawa kachori in Jodhpur, ghevar in Jaipur, potato halwa and lapsi (liquid porridge) around Barmer. If you plan to ever step into Rajasthan, be sure to carry a spare stomach — you will need it!

Ingredients
l  600 gm mutton, cut into 1-inch cubes
l  400 gm mutton spring cut
l  70 gm mathania red chilli paste
l  1 bay leaf
l  1 gm cinnamon
l  3 gm green cardamom
l  1 gm black cardamom
l  30 gm salt
l  30 gm ginger and garlic paste
l  60 gm pure ghee
l  250 gm tomato paste
l  250 gm onion sliced
l  100 gm yoghurt
l  10 gm garlic
l  10 gm ginger julienne
l  1 gm turmeric powder

Method
* Heat ghee in a pan. Add cinnamon, green cardamoms and black cardamoms and sauté till fragrant.

* Add garlic cloves and onions, saute till golden brown. Add mutton pieces and ginger and garlic paste and mix well.

* Add turmeric powder, salt, red chilli paste, tomato paste, yoghurt and mix well.

* Cook mutton for 10 minutes, then add some hot water.

* Cover the pan with lid, simmer and cook it for at least 40 minutes.

* Add julienne ginger and serve hot.

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