30 October 2011

Emperor Shah Jahan's chicken dinner with naan

Emperor Shah Jahan's chicken dinner with naan (bread)
Mughal feasts #5 on 30 October 2011

For the Mughal feast #5 cooked 2 recipes on Sunday afternoon on the 30 October 2011 for Emperor Shah Jahan from Shah Jahan's section in the S. Husain "Emperor's Table". The two recipes were
1. Chicken Royal or "Murgh-e-Taaus" and
2. Almond Pistachio Bread or "Nana-e-Nemat"

This was a delicious, nutty, and sweet combination of dishes, both using almonds, pistachios, saffron, ghee, and yogurt. The bread complimented the saucy chicken curry.  Neither of them used the more common curry spices of cumin, coriander, or cayenne pepper, but the chicken included some cinnamon, cloves, white or black pepper, and turmeric. These get an overall rating of B+, with the chicken rating an A- and the bread a B-. The chicken was very rich and filling in its white yogurt marinade and sauce, added to which were several small amounts of pastes from poppies, almonds, and sunflower seeds, enriched by some cream, sprinkled with mace, green cardamom power and saffron, and garnished with nuts - pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts. Not to be outdone by the chicken, the naan was garnished with almond power, pistachio slivers, chopped raisins, and saffron dissolved in rose water. It is perhaps these garnishes that made these recipes distinct for the Shah Jahan's dinner.  Deej's one remark - cardamom flavor dominated the chicken too much.

09 July 2011

Emperor Jahangir's Lamb kebabs dinner

10 April 2011

Emperor Akbar's chicken dinner with dal and roti (lentils and bread) - Mughal feasts #3 on 2 Ap 2011

Mughal feast #3 cooked three recipes on Saturday 2nd April 2011 for Emperor Akbar from Akbar's section in the S. Husain "Emperor's Table". The three recipes were
1. Murgh Zameen Doz = Chicken wrapped in bread and baked
2. Khasa Tilaai (Paheet) = Lentil cooked with yoghurt
3. Roghni Roti Shahi = Wholewheat milk bread

See photos of the Mughal feasts, or start with the Akbar section.

This feast or dinner was a nice combination of chicken with lentils and bread. It was fun to make, but overall the flavor and taste was not that great - they get an overall rating of B-. The chicken especially was not outstanding - the meat was moist and somewhat flavorful, but not succulent or exciting, an overall C+. So too with the lentils - just mildly interesting with a B-. The bread was perhaps the most interesting with a mild sweet flavor, different from the normal rotis, and gets a B+.

Question: who are better cooks, women or men? I tended to favor
men for a while because they seemed to write the best and most books, and were famous chefs in famous restaurants. But I've modified that over time with all the Julia Childs stuff, other women who've been very good restaurant chefs, and personal women friends who are fantastic cooks. I'm wondering if the gender of the cook is important at all. Well, that's much more to say on this - and I'd like to hear other people's opinions about this - who are the better cooks? men or women? This ends Part I of this topic.

Cardamom - it seems like this spice was discovered and used in Akbar dishes more extensively than before in Mughal cooking. All three dishes used it, and it is the dominate flavor in all three.

Other ingredients? New to me was black cumin (shah or kala jeera), though no others I talked with were surprised by it. It took a while for me to find garlic paste, even harder to find almond paste. Easy, but new to my Indian cooking was mace. Impossible to find was ginger juice - though one can evidently buy it online for around $60 for a 5 oz bottle. Deej was a great help for this and worked for 1/2 hour or so squeezing out the 2 t we needed. Also the type of lentils - arhar dal - which I'd never cooked, and had a hard time finding, but the store I bought it at said it was the same as toor dal, yellow lentils, or chana dal. I'm not convinced, but ...

Equipment? - it would be nice to have a juicer, which would have extracted the juice from the ginger. Also a handi for the last stage of cooking the chicken. And a large, large metal bowl, which Indians use upside down to cook the roomali roti.

But I'm getting ahead of myself - I didn't realize at first I needed to cook the chicken in the last stage on a bed of roomali roti. And the book was no help - no description of making roomali roti in the book. I went online and found a couple videos which helped me out. One other suggestion (after the cooking) was to use a large tortilla as a substitute. But I went ahead, experimented to make my own roomali roti, making the dough and rolling it out fairly thin, and cooking two together on a large skillet. Sometime in the future I'd like to try making real roomali roti, which involves (like pizza making) thining out the dough by throwing it over ones head several times, and then cooking it on the upside down big mental bowl. There are wonderful roomali roti street carts cooking it right there and selling it - like in Chandni Chowk, etc.

The chicken or Murgh Zameen Doz takes a long time to make - three different marinades during 2 or so hours, then cooking it in broth, then (after you've made the roomali roti) placing it on a bed of bread (roomali), wrapping it in foil (because you don't have a handi) and baking it. My main modification was to cook three chicken breasts instead of cooking a medium chicken. Over all it was okay, and we ate the chicken over several days - again the cardamom taste was sometimes overwhelming.

The lentils or Khasa Tilaai (Paheet) was a new kind of lentils than I have cooked before and I cooked it about 3 times longer needing twice as much water than the recipe called for. It was way too much and we ended up throwing part of it away - it was pretty tasteless and uninteresting.

The bread or Roghni Roti Shahi on the other hand I found quite interesting. Good tasting, followed the recipe, including rolling it out thick (but not as 1/2 inch thickness like called for), and making those nice holes with a knife - which ended up like a pattern.

So, there you have it, the Akbar feast, chicken, lentils, and bread, not bad food, but not great. As usual, a fun adventure in cooking, some interesting new ingredients, new ways to make things, and new recipes.

19 February 2011

Emperor Humayun's supper and breakfast - Mughal feasts #2

Mughal feast #2 was to cook four recipes for Emperor Humanyun from his section in the S. Husain "Emperor's Table". For his supper - a soup, lamb kebabs, and bread, and for his breakfast - an eggplant omelet. Listed as
1. Eshkaneh Shirazi or Yoghurt Soup Laced with Saffron
2. Luleh Kebab or Lamb Kebabs Wrapped in Bread
3. Naan-i-Tunak or Baked Flour Bread Flavoured with Mint
4. Kukuye Bademajan or Eggplant Omelet Served with Yoghurt
I cooked the supper items on Saturday evening the 12th of Feb 2011, eating the soup and kebabs over three evenings; while we cooked and ate half-recipe omelets for brunch the early afternoon of Sunday the 13th Feb, and the evening of Wednesday the 16th Feb.

Yogurt soup

Lamb kebabs
Eggplant omelet

Did they celebrate Valentines Day in the Mughal court? (of course not) Or if they would have, what foods do you think they would have cooked and eaten at the Court? What would a Mughal Valentines card look like? "To my wives . . . "

See many more photos of this at Piscasa - scroll down to Humayun's yogurt soup photo.

Overall these again were delicious foods - fun to cook and experiment with. The yogurt soup gets a B+ Though at first taste it seemed very light and shallow, but that changed completely as one bit into the walnuts, which gave it wonderful flavor and provided 'meat' or depth and fullness to the dish. The kebabs get a B if maybe a B- Interesting, but no very full in flavor, nonetheless filling, similar to hamburgers. The bread or Naan - a resounding D or even F, a failure again like the bread for Babur's supper. It fell apart, crumbled. See below for experiments with 3 other recipes for the bread. The omelet gets an A- Nice and subtle, a great vegetarian omelet. Overall a delicious supper and breakfast for emperor Humayun.

Question? Are Indians vegetarians? In this day and age, people who consume only vegetables, but also dairy products are often times not considered to be true vegetarians. Because almost all Indians consume or use dairy products - milk, ghee, yogurt, etc - they fall out of the definition of vegetarians?

Eggplant omelet ingredients
Ingredients. The lamb again needed to be bought at a special butcher. As last time, I went to the Main Street Market, and to the Organic Butcher there. The receipe called for 26 oz of minced lamb, but I kept it to 24 oz of 1.5 lbs. Even that I think was too much for the two of us. Next time I think I'd reduce the recipe's by a third and use only 1 pound of minced lamb. Wow, was I surprised - Saturday morning there's a huge crowd buying meat from the popular Organic Butcher, so I had to wait my turn in line as people bought specialty meats like rabbit, which one is hard pressed to find elsewhere in Charlottesville. A little bit of spinach and walnuts - had to find, but I settled on a $3 boxed salad that had both in it. Eggplant? - most general grocery stores had very soft and useless ones, except when I got to the Foods of All Nations, and one of their four was mostly firm. Ghee and finer wheat flour? went to Integral Yoga for some finely ground wheat bread flour, and the smaller (7.5 oz or 212g) of two jars of Ghee - that's expensive stuff! Pomegranate? out of luck, out of season, in the dead of winter, no place to find one in Charlottesville's four stores I went to. Next time I'll have to cook Humayun's lamb kebabs when pomegranates are in season - does anyone know for sure what time of year that is? While you're at it - tell me where and when I may purchase fresh lychees - the canned stuff is just not the same.

13 Kebabs broiled
Procedures and modifications. These are little and big things I had
to deal with. Cooking the 1. soup was simple and easy - except I did not get much thickening when I added the maida (refined flour). For the 2. lamb, I should have ground the paste's dry ingredients first (pepper, salt) before adding and grinding the other (onions, basil, coriander, spring onion). We did not have a grill in the dead of winter, so broiled the kebabs for 3 minutes on each side and then left them in the over to cook thoroughly for another 10 minutes. I'm not sure what "flat skewers" are, so we made flattened balls of about 4" by 2" wide and 1" high. I'll get to the bread in a minute. The 4. omelet was cooked as half recipes once on Sunday and then on Wednesday. Sunday's cubed eggplant absorbed lots of the vegetable oil, taking about 10 minutes to fry; while Wed's eggplant absorbed almost no oil - was that because it was 3 days older?

3. The bread experiments. Are failures also successes? in cooking. If something fails, that leads me to experiment and try something different, and see if I can succeed with the modifications. So it was with the bread, which failed last time and this time - turned out like a pie crust, and left us with a lot of crumbs. What, where were the problems with these Mughal breads. Was it that I had used butter and not ghee, and not at the right temperature? or not the right wheat flour? What was going wrong?

4 naan dough variations
The bread experiments - I decided to split the Naan recipe into
four versions
A. whole wheat flour with ghee
B. wheat bread flour with ghee
C. whole wheat flour with water only
D. wheat bread flour with water only

The results? both of the ghee doughs would not roll out, but just separated, and when cooked as flattened round 3" loaves, simply crumbled. Both the water doughs rolled out fine, cooked up well, and even puffed up on the flames like regular chapattis. Deej felt the bread
4 naan variations
flour naan was not as tough as the whole wheat flour

naan. Oh, another thing - I thought the spices for this Naan recipe were very, very strong, so I reduced the cloves to 3 instead of 4 and also reduced the cardamom. The recipe said to use 6 brown cardamoms - but I could not figure out if it meant 6 tiny seeds or 6 pods of seeds. I use 4 pods of seeds in the first round and 3 pods in the second. Deej felt there could have been a stronger cardamom flavoring in the second round naans. Another thing I've learned? like with the lamb, grind the dry ingredients (cloves, cardamom) before adding and grinding the wet ones (green coriander, mint) - works a lot better.

Comments? Well, there you have it - another adventure and experiments in cooking and feasting on Mughal cuisine -
Philip cooking the omelet
learning, trying, savoring eating the wonderful foods.

Humanyan's supper and breakfast. Did you enjoy you soup, kebabs, and bread for supper, and your omelet for breakfast, Emperor Humanyun? And what comments and suggestions might you (our readers) have on all of this?

06 February 2011

Babur's supper - Mughal feasts, food, cuisine

I'm interested in Indian food, especially food from historic times, like the Mughal's. So, I'm going to experiment and cook some of the recipes from Salma Husain's The Emperor's Table (2008. ISBN: 8174364536).

We start with two recipes from the time of Emperor Babur (1494-1530), Karam Dulma or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Kyulcha or Spicy Wholewheat Baked Bread. I cooked these last night, Saturday the 5th of Februray 2011. I write a narrative of the details of making these below.

Overall? Very interesting tastes. I'd give the Karam Dulma an A- rating, while the bread or Kyulcha gets a B- or even C- rating. Very heavy food. I should have been content to eat just one of the Cabbage Rolls, but they were so, so good, rich, flavorful, juicy. And the bread turned out more like a stiff, spicy pie crust - don't know what's going on with that, but I have some suggestions (below). (See Picasa photo album)

I'm not sure if Salma Husain personally tried all the recipes in the book, or watched others make them (like he did with the Uzbekistan wedding pulao) but I think there might need some more modifications to what Salma has hinted at in his Author's Note. Of course, that's generally true with cooking anything - follow the recipe exactly, and some how there's something missing, or some sort of adjustments need to be made to improve it or even make it right.

The way I cook is not the way others cook - and who knows what were the conditions in the kitchens of Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, etc. 200 or 300 years ago. And there were a great variety of cooks or chefs making these recipes, not everyone handling and cooking things the same way.

So, if something doesn't turn out exactly right - is it a fault of the recipe, or the instructions of how to make it, or the ingredients, or the utensils and the pots and pans, ovens, or the way I cooked it on a given day or night? So many possibilities. I say just keep cooking, experimenting, trying things different ways, etc, and get it better over time.

And ask friends, or even the audience reading this here (that means YOU) for advise and suggestions - what am I doing wrong, or could do better, what ingredients or timing should be adjusted, changed? Hey, let me know.

Stuff cabbage rolls
Right away, one should recognize that Mughal food is not your usual Indian food and curries - they are very spicy, but hardly ever are hot, hot, hot. And a question I have about ingredients included in the recipes - I'm not sure if some of the ingredients were available or readily available or commonly used in early Mughal times - things like tomatoes, potatoes, corriander, etc. which were exclusively south and central American plants, unknown to Europe, India, China, etc until the Americas were discovered and plants brought from the Americans and grown and used in the West, Asia, and Africa. Anyone know about this?

I do not question Salma Husain's research and authenticity.  He's done a superb job of research, finding and studying manuscripts of the time. An admirable and very interesting book. 

Okay, here are some comments from cooking these two Babur recipes. First it is hard to easily find lamb meat here in Charlottesville - almost no usual grocery store regularly carries lamb in their meat sections, but there is a wonderful butcher at West Street market, who ended up selling me a pound of minced lamb for around $5.39 a pound.  A couple specialty stores ocassionally carry lamb (Foods of All Nations, but at over $6 a pound for minced) and Sam's club sell lamb boneless shoulders, but for usually $8 or so per pound.

Other ingredients - green cardomon was new for me, but is very similar to dry cardomon pods, and I found some green cardomon at FOANs.  Also we ended out having to rush to the store to buy powdered sugar for the bread, since we found we didn't have any on our shelves.

Making the stuff cabbage rolls was new for me, but fun, and relatively easy following directions.  My suggestions for all or next time - don't use the outside large leaves, rather use the softer leaves a little further in from the outside.  Our cabbage was hard and stiff, though still edible.

Bread baking
I'm not sure about what to do about the bread, since it turned out very strange, like a pie crust, as i mentioned above. First, the recipe calls for 1 cup of ghee to combine to two cups to  whole wheat flour, which is strange to me, but I melted a couple cups of butter and combined it with the flour and other ingredients - the dough just didn't look or feel right, so I added a third cup of flour and then about 3/8ths of a cup of water to make it more dough bread like.  Still it did not rise at all.  And the 8 balls and rolled-out breads still did not look right, and then no tandoori oven, just a regular oven.  Still a very interesting spicy bread pie crust - with the poppy seeds and the saffron brushed on top.

I think I might try something different if I do it next time.  Use about 1/4 cup ghee along with 3/4 cups water, instead of 1 cup ghee. That would make it closer to modern chapati or puri dough. Also, by the way, I noticed reading over the instructions for the bread recipe - it says add 1/2 cup ghee, not 1 cup. I had followed the 1 cup ghee ingredient as listed with ingredients. And then it says nothing about what to do with the second 1/2 cup ghee - again strange. Where's the mistake?

If anyone else tries to make this bread recipe, and the results are wonderful, and / or if you adjusted ingredients in any way, please let me know. I'll then try this spicy bread again.

Well, Barbur, did you enjoy these foods for supper during your time?  For me it was a marvelous, interesting and wonderful experience at my first try of cooking Mughal cuisine.