From the Nawab’s kitchen

In conversation with Aparna Shivapura, Chef Rehman talks about reinventing and reviving heritage Muslim vegetarian food with panache and passion

Chef Rehman

Talk about regal Awadhi and Lucknowi cuisine and what comes to mind is elaborate and scrumptious non-vegetarian culinary delights right out of the Nawabi dynasty. Chef Rehman, however, serves the heritage platter to you with a difference. He specialises in creating, serving and teasing your palate with the best of Muslim vegetarian food. Yes, you read it right, Muslim vegetarian dishes! And he has customers all over the world, from international to local!

In Bengaluru recently to host ‘Dawat-e-Ishq’ at Oakwood Hotels, Chef Rehman spoke about the importance of holding on to traditional and heritage food legacies. Rehman believes that amongst many other things, India is known across the world for its culinary heritage and rich food traditions that came to us from the royal dynasties. For Rehman, the journey started almost 20 years back when he chose to leave mainstream academia and chartered a new course into the world of culinary delights, foods, spices and, of course, tradition.

From Awadh, with love

Rehman’s inspiration is his great grandfather who was part of the royal kitchen in the Awadhi dynasty. Generations later, interests died down and people pursued different academic goals. But the idea of reviving and restoring the ancient culinary legacy of Awadh stayed in this chef’s mind. Rehman recalls with fascination the many stories from his family of the royal dynasty, their passion for food, the attention to detail, the use of spices and vegetables, and more. Lucknow, people know to this day, offers one of the finest cuisines in the world, and Chef Rehman wanted to be part of it, wanted to do something exciting to revive it and take it to people. He says, “I started with a small hotel serving these delights, but success came when I was invited by hotels to participate in food festivals and private parties. It was here that I got the opportunity, scope and freedom to serve authentic, traditional and hitherto unknown Muslim vegetarian cuisines to people from across cultures and communities.” All of them were super impressed and became a fan of Rehman’s dishes!

Chukander-e-afroz
Chukander-e-afroz

To ensure that his dishes are authentic, the recipes are curated accurately and served like in the royal families, Rehman formed a team of the families of khansamas (cooks in the royal kitchen) and ensured they were part of the creation process. Rehman sincerely adds, “I focus on the taste and not necessarily the look. It is important to ensure you have created the dish with accuracy, the way it was meant to be, and the garnishing, presentation aspects become secondary to
authenticity.”

The beginnings

During his early days, Rehman realised that the world of Muslim vegetarian food was neglected, and the tradition was almost dying, with many people preferring non-vegetarian dishes. In fact, Rehman makes an important point on the perception that classic heritage Awadhi food or Mughlai food is largely non-vegetarian and tastes better. “People in those days had a passion, taste and liking for Muslim vegetarian cuisines and that is where I saw the opportunity. I felt the need to save the tradition, and started learning about the dishes, their elaborate cooking methodologies and procedures, the exotic spices, and the right concoction of ingredients,” he says. Today, Rehman believes this is his USP.

Rehman was recently invited to Turkey and Bangkok to prepare unique and signature royal vegetarian dishes. His guests include an envious list of celebrities, politicians, business leaders, sportsmen and ambassadors like Ratan Tata, Sachin Tendulkar, Pratibha Patil, Salman Khan, Ahmed Patel, Javed Ahmed, Karunanidhi, Shivraj Patil, Shilpa Shetty, and lots more!

Delicious delights

In one of the parties, Rehman served a vegetarian dish which had small veg koftas wrapped in gold leaves and layered with pine nuts! People say his nawabi baingan is to die for and his sukander-e-afroz (beetroot halwa, for commoners like us) is every customer’s delight! There is a distinctive difference between Lucknow biryani and Lucknow pulao and his customers throng to him with delight when he makes a case for it! There are so many types of dals and rotis in Muslim vegetarian cuisine like dal mumtaz, bakharkhani, shirmaal and taftans, and then there is supremely exotic sheesh ranga — a six-layered sweet dish prepared with types of meethe chawal (sweetened rice).

Rehman currently works out of Dubai and travels and consults with big hotel groups across the world. His current project includes creating Purani Delhi where they plan to serve the essence of Old Delhi cuisine to customers. “There is lots of good work to do and very less time as every day I step back into the past and serve up an exotic dish to the present, only to save it for the future. The dishes are unique, they are prepared with passion, and they belong to our cultural legacy!” he signs off.

 

Nawabi Gobi Musullum

Gobi mussullum
Gobi mussullum

Ingredients

Cauliflower – 2 pieces medium size

Cashew paste - 2 cups

Curd - 1 cup

Coconut powder - ½ cup

Garam Masala - 1/2 spoon

Yellow chili powder -1 spoon

Elaichi powder -  ½ spoon

Javitri powder - ¼ spoon

Rose water -½ spoon

Ittar -  1 drop

Tomato puree - ½  cup

Refined oil - to fry

Salt as per taste

Method

Firstly, remove all the green leaves from cauliflower, cut the extra stem, boil it first, until half tender. Then take a kadai, add refined oil or ghee, fry the whole cauliflower until it becomes light brown.

Add cashew paste, curd, yellow chili, garam masala, elaichi powder, javitri powder, coconut powder, tomato puree, ittar, mix well.

Keep a handi on medium fire and add the gravy to it. Keep the heat on a simmer and stir regularly. It will take 20-25 minutes to cook well.

Arrange the fried cauliflower on a baking tray, top it with the thick ready mixture. Ensure that the entire cauliflower is covered.

Then bake it in an oven for 10 
minutes on 180OC.

Serve hot with roomali rotis.

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From the Nawab’s kitchen

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