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The gradual demise of the fine art of cooking ‘paththar ka gosht’

In December way back in 1980, I was on a training course at the Banjara Hotel in Hyderabad when my friend Pramod invited me to attend a nikaah in the old city near Charminar.

This was a wedding where I knew neither the bride nor the groom but I attended nevertheless as a ‘guest of a guest.’ Pramod invited me knowing I was interested in learning about Hyderabadi Muslim weddings: the ritual, the ceremony and, more importantly, the food that is served on these auspicious occasions.

Hyderabadi Muslim weddings are very unique, or at least they were back then.

For one thing, at that wedding the bride and the groom wore no gold ornaments. Instead, it was all silver and pearls. Yes, silver and pearls took precedence over gold. Even the bride’s wedding dress was totally white without even a hint of any ‘gold’ thread or shimmer.

It was an entirely white wedding!

Once the ceremony was over, it was dinner time and I was really looking forward to this.

The daawat was amazing. There was lukmi, shikampoor . . . zamin ki machchi, murgh ka shahi qorma.

The KGKB [Kache Gosht Ki Biryani] was sublime and then there was this khansama making something I had never seen anywhere else in India.

The khansama had the most amazing way of cooking thin slices of marinated meat on a stone. This stone was being heated by live embers beneath it.

I couldn’t stop watching this dish being cooked and the end result was perfection!

The desserts included nimish, seviyan ki kheer and much, much more. . .

The bride and groom departed, the guests dawdled and lingered and I left a happy ‘guest of a guest’ as I learned the name of the dish.

I was told it was called, yes, you guessed it folks, paththar ka gosht! (For those of you who might not know, this means literally meat cooked on stone.)

paththar ka gosht

Well, let’s leave the wedding guests and the couple for now and fast forward to 2012.

The city is Bangalore, the place a 5-star hotel.

I am visiting India after a few years.

Every time I come back to this once, appropriately, named ‘garden city’ I see more and more concrete structures in the form of 5-star hotels and high-rise apartments take over the beautiful gardens.

These huge properties with mega lobbies and many bars/lounges house multi-cuisine international restaurants.

However, ironically, the one thing missing is an ‘ethnic’ Indian restaurant – the kind that will showcase the local cuisine of the region.

I mean, I do wonder why one would go to India and then avoid, okay, avoid the street stalls, but in the swish hotels, why not showcase our diverse cuisine?

Anyway, let’s get back to the big hotel where I’m meeting my old friends.

There are seven of us at the bar and we all belong to the hospitality industry.

After a few drinks, when the music starts to sound like a ‘cacophonous’, we move to the open-air restaurant so we can hear one another talk. We’re older guys now, remember!

Anyway, more wine and more snacks appear. The snacks are beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. We have a paneer dish, a chicken snack with pepper and fenugreek followed by a serving of prawns with a sweet and hot and sour dipping sauce, just beautiful.

But where is the local food? How about some Mangalorean style snacks to go with my French red wine?

I ask my friend, who is a senior teacher at the catering college, if the young generation of chefs graduating from the college are training in ‘ethnic’ cuisines and her smile  says it all.

“Ajoy,” she says dipping a prawn into the sweet sauce, “No young chef wants to cook, or learn about, the fine art of cooking local Indian food.” She pauses, reaches for her wine and adds, “It is just not ‘sexy’ enough for them to take it up! They believe it takes them nowhere on the professional front, and certainly there is no glamour about cooking Mangalorean food or Andhra food or Gujarati food or for that matter Hyderabadi food.” She sips her wine and looks at me as if to say, ‘Well, what do you expect?’

Well, what can I say?!

How very ridiculous and absolutely blockheaded this approach is!! No wonder this cuisine has remained where it is, right at the bottom of the pecking order in the world of cuisines, when in fact it should be right at the top as it contains more diversity and richness than any other cuisine the world can imagine!

But unfortunately that is not how it is.

Every region has its unique style of cooking not seen anywhere else on this planet.

When most chefs in the world are trying to create dishes, we in India have food that has never been explored, all we have to do is recreate it and present it in a modern way, just look at Mr Vineet Bhatia.

You don’t know this man?

Okay, well he is the chef of the world-renowned Rasoi restaurant in London and what a marvellous job he is doing. I am sure there could be many more Vineet Bhatias in India if only there was a desire to succeed, and more importantly, the ‘passion’ and ‘pride’ in presenting Indian food exquisitely whilst maintaing its heritage. Here is the man himself:

“Oily and greasy food was the face of Indian cuisine in UK which was aggressively macho, illogically hot and spicy. I looked like a rebel waging a war against this falseness with no benchmark to set myself against. So I set my own trend in Indian cuisine minus messing up its authenticity.”

He says it how it is!

In my 30 years, or so, of cooking Indian food I have yet to come across an Indian chef who has a Michelin star cooking French, or Italian, or Mexican food (the list of other food nationalities is long but my space is short and I’m sure you get the idea!) but I certainly have seen a fair few Indian chefs cooking their desi food who are at the very top of their game. All these chefs have at least one, and sometimes two, Michelin stars amongst them: AV Sriram from Quilon restaurant, Suvir Saran from Devi, KN Vinod from Indique restaurant, Atul Kochar from Benaras and Alfred Prasad from Tamarind restaurant, the youngest chef to get a Michelin star, to name a few!!

It’s getting late in the day, but it could be worse if we desi cooks don’t wake up now and realise what a jewel of a cuisine we’re sitting on and letting go to waste as we’re not sharing its richness! Believe you me, there is plenty of room at the top, it’s not about replacing one cuisine with another but sitting alongside other cuisines.

The world is waiting for us to make the first move!!

Try and instigate change. Do it in small steps, with your family and friends. Even if you fail once, twice, or many times it is so important to educate.

As someone once said, “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail you learn what doesn’t work; and secondly, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach!!”

Well folks, here is my pocket-sized contribution towards this cause:

This is the complete recipe of paththar ka gosht from Shuruat. This is just the way we make it in my restaurant for our ‘Chef’s Tables’, and we are cooking on a paththar, of  course!!

Step 1

1. Prepare the stone. [Check below for points on seasoning and looking after the stone.]

preparing the stone (see notes below about ‘cracked’ stones)

2. The stone must be seasoned before it is used as a BBQ plate.

3. Light the fire and place the stone on top of the fire.

4. As the stone starts to heat up, increase the heat gradually.

5. Once hot, put a drop of water on the edge of the stone. If the water sizzles, the stone is hot and ready to use.

stone is hot & ready when the water sizzles

6. Lower the heat to moderate and maintain at that temperature.

Step 2

Ingredients for the PKG (Paththar Ka Gosht):

1. 8 lamb cutlets or chops, fat trimmed and bone ‘Frenched’ (this means it has been cut into long, thin slices)

2. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

3. 2 pieces of cassia bark (cassia buds are generally used, but are not available in Australia)

4. 4–5 cloves of garlic peeled

5. 1 small piece of ginger, washed

6.  4–5 fresh green chillies

7.  Salt, to taste

8.  Juice of 1 lemon

Ingredients for the salad:

1.  1/4 bunch mint leaves

2.  1/4 bunch fresh coriander leaves

3.  Salt, to taste

4.  1 medium red (Spanish) onion

ingredients for the gosht (clockwise from top to bottom): garlic, green chillies, ginger, cassia, peppercorns, salt & lemon juice, plus lamb cutlets (centre)
ingredients for the salad (on the left): mint leaves, coriander leaves, red (Spanish) onion


1. Following Step 2, set aside the lamb cutlets in a bowl.

2. In an electric blender, grind all the remaining ingredients to a fine paste.

dry ingredients for the marinade in grinder

fresh & dry ingredients for the marinade

add the lemon juice before grinding

ground marinade

3.  Apply the marinade on each cutlet, return to bowl and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.

applying the marinade on each cutlet

try to apply the marinade evenly on each cutlet

marinating cutlets

cover with cling wrap & refrigerate for 1 hour

4.  Following Step 3, in a clean blender mince the coriander and mint with the salt. Chop the red onion, then wash in cold water and drain. Set aside.

chopped & washed onions and ground mint & coriander with salt

5. Mix the mint and coriander ‘pesto’ with the chopped onion and set aside to serve as an accompaniment.

onion salad ready for the lamb cutlets

6.  Remove the marinated cutlets from the fridge and gradually place them on the seasoned, hot paththar (stone).

marinated cutlets ready for the stone

place the cutlets on the stone, one at a time

lamb cutlets cooking on the stone

7.  Cook the cutlets on each side till the marinade is crisp and the chops are medium-well cooked.

turn the cutlets over

marinade should be nice & crisp

cook evenly on both sides

paththar ka gosht ready for the plate

8.  Serve with the onion and ‘pesto’ salad.

serve with the onion salad

So, there you have it, folks. This is the simplest and best way to make this dish and then you can serve it in a ‘contemporary manner’.

a dish fit for the nizams – paththar ka gosht

No, this is not a ‘contemporary’ recipe but it is an ancient recipe shrouded in a lot of history and then served in a ‘present-day’ style. A fusion, if you will, of ancient and modern.

As for ‘contemporary’ food, well, let’s leave it to those who don’t . . . well, you know!!

And before I finally sign off, here are some

Points to remember when seasoning the stone for making PKG:

1. Season the stone by heating it gradually sprinkled with salt. As the stone gets hot, gradually increase the heat. The salt starts to cook and ‘cleans’ the stone.

getting the stone ready

seasoning the stone with salt

2. When the salt turns black, reduce the heat, remove the blackened salt, wipe the stone and allow to cool. The stone is now ready to be used as a BBQ plate.

salt changing colour

salt turn brown to black after a while

wipe off the blackened salt off the stone

3. If the stone cracks during the seasoning, it could be because it is not heavy enough for its size and it may have an air pocket. A cracked stone can still be used as long as it is not washed.

4. The stone does not need any oil as it renders the fat from the meat as it cooks and thereby keeps the meat moist and tender.

5. Any meat cooked like this on stone is ready to serve as soon as it’s ready, i.e. it needs no ‘resting’ as is the case when you grill on ‘metal’ plates.

6. Never use any detergent to clean the stone as it is porous and will absorb the detergent.

scrape off any bits of food from the stone after cooking

add salt & leave till the next time

7. Cooking on stone is fun and kids just love it, ask my son. He wants all his meat dishes ‘stone cooked’. It’s so easy, all you need is a stone for each protein!!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

The name of the restaurant game is ‘consistency’, but consistency of what?

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Recipe featured in this week’s blog

A step by step (with photos) ‘bhunaoed’ spinach recipe

“The restaurant trade is a tough trade. One has no personal life once one is in it, it is very demanding and it takes the hell out of you, and you can’t make any money, and blah, blah, blah. . !””

The only thing true about the above statement is the last part.

You cannot become a millionaire if you are a chef and run your own restaurant (you would have taken out enough mortgages on your house already, so there go the millions). There is not a chance either, unless of course you own the property, or have a freehold of the place.

Well, not many chefs can do it, and certainly not yours truly.

However, having said all the above, it is an extremely rewarding business. I mean, there must be other reasons why we keep on doing what we know best?!

Well, of course there are, but the rewards are not always in the form of awards like a ‘chef’s hat’ or a ‘restaurant and catering award’ (RCA) for the “best restaurant” but they come from two important people every night.

No, I don’t mean my wife or son, Meera or Aniruddh, though that’s another kind of reward!

No, the reward I’m talking about is, yes, you guessed it, the customer.

And the second?

Well, I bet you can’t guess the other one.

Okay, it is the staff!!

These two sets of people, who are at the opposite ends of the restaurant equilibrium, are what it takes to keep restaurants afloat and keep the rewards flowing in. The latter group (the staff) keeps the business alive whilst the former breathes life into the business which, in turn, keeps people like me in the restaurant trade.

It is the consistency of the staff that is paramount and you can’t put a price on it.

By this I mean it is those ‘intangibles’ that are so important, like receiving a guest with a smile, or doing something extra to make that guest feel special.

Or it is the ‘tangibles’, like the chef cooking a dish and the waiters serving that dish exactly the same way as it was done the last time, for example, Dr Mudbidri and his wife, Lucy, were here for dinner. And the chefs and waiters know exactly how this couple like their food. The waiter knows what the guest likes, and if he doesn’t, or if the guest is new, he is able to gauge what it might be.

So, it is this consistency of intelligent service, and nothing else but consistency, carried out consistently well that is paramount!!

And the guests? Well, that’s obvious. It’s coming back again and again, it’s treating the staff with the recognition they deserve, appreciating the food where it calls for it and letting us know, if heaven forbid, it doesn’t.

It’s so simple.

So, where am I going with all this?

Well, if you’ll follow me folks, let’s go straight to the kitchen – which is the heart of any restaurant.

It is the hot, frantic yet ordered room that keeps the business going by producing the food with, yes, that word again, ‘consistency’.

Take, for example, a dish made with spinach, whether it be palak paneer, or saag murgh, or saag gosht, or . . . well, I won’t go on, you know where I’m heading with my spinach dishes!

Most chefs can cook these dishes and make them taste good (well, a little practice helps but you know what I mean).

A few chefs can even cook these dishes and make them smell good, too (this comes with even more practice and some procedure).

However, it is only a fraction of chefs who are able to retain the color of the spinach (this comes with lots of practice, great process and deep knowledge about the ingredients which are being added)!!

So, even our simple spinach dish belies a lot of experience and knowledge to raise it from being an acceptable green side dish to something fresh tasting, vibrant and totally delicious!

In a good restaurant, great results are achieved by using a simple technique called bhunao which you do to the saag. [Bhunao means to cook, uncovered, over a constant heat to remove any excess moisture. Keeping it at the same temperature means the purée cooks without getting a ‘shock’, as it were, and thereby it cooks evenly and retains an ‘even’ colour.]

This is a simple, yet very effective process that keeps the colour of the puréed spinach so that it remains bright green for at least a week! (Yes, that’s right! It’ll keep its colour for that long, if it hasn’t already sold out because it’s so good and looks so fresh.)

Don’t worry about the bhunao, the taste and smell will always be good!!

So, let’s take a closer look at this simple yet flavoursome dish:

“bhunao palak”


1. 2 bunches of English spinach, washed and stalks removed, approx. 400 gms

2. Plenty of water to cook the spinach (a.k.a blanching)

3. A pinch of Alleppey turmeric

4. Ice-cold water to cool the spinach (a.k.a arresting the cooking of the hot spinach)

clockwise from left to right: ice-cold water, turmeric & spinach


1. To blanch the spinach, in a large, wide pot bring water to a boil.

boiling water in a wide pot

2. Add a pinch of Alleppey turmeric (Alleppey turmeric has a bright yellow colour and helps bring out the colour of the spinach; it also acts as an anti-oxidant).

add a pinch of Alleppey turmeric

3. Add the washed spinach leaves and bring the water back to a boil.

add the spinach

4. In a strainer, drain the leaves immediately and plunge into the ice-cold water for a few seconds to cool the leaves. Do not rinse in running tap water as this will discolour the leaves.

plunge the spinach into ice-cold water for a few seconds

spinach leaves in ice-cold water

5. Remove from the iced water and lightly squeeze to remove any excess moisture.

remove the spinach from the iced water

squeeze well and lightly

the spinach is now ready for the food processor

6. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.

blended spinach

7. Refrigerate immediately.


1. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2. 1 teaspoon brown cumin seeds

3. 1 tablespoon crushed garlic

4. Salt, to taste

5. 1/2 teaspoon Madras turmeric (you may use Alleppey if Madras turmeric is not handy)

6. 1 fresh green chilli, chopped (retain the seeds)

clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, cumin seeds, crushed garlic, Madras turmeric, salt & fresh green chillies

To bhunao the pureed spinach:

1. In a pan, heat the oil until it is just about to smoke (this makes the oil light and helps it rise to the surface easily).

heat oil in a pan

2. Remove the pan from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.

add cumin seeds and let crackle

2. Add the crushed garlic, as soon as possible, and fold. Then add the salt (adding the salt helps to caramelise the garlic without burning it).

add garlic

add salt

3. Add the Madras turmeric (this has a very earthy smell and goes well with spinach).

fold quickly before adding the Madras turmeric

add the Madras turmeric

4. Now add the chopped chillies and fold.

add fresh chillies

5. Return the pan to the heat and add the puréed spinach to this ‘infusion’.

add the puréed spinach

6. Cook over moderate heat, folding regularly, and let the oil rise to the surface.

folding & cooking spinach

cooking the spinach, always over moderate heat

7. Once the oil has risen to the surface, remove the spinach from the pan. Let cool and then refrigerate.

the spinach is almost ready, just waiting for the oil to rise to the surface

yummm…the spinach is ready to go!!

portioning the spinach for a “rainy day”

refrigerate or have it now, this is pure “green gold”!!

Here are some great and simple ways to use your ‘bhunaoed’ spinach. Let me know which one works the best for you, folks!

1. Cook some chicken in a pan and add the ‘bhunaoed’ spinach. When you do this you will have created the best palak murgh on the planet. (Just remember to add some dried qasoori methi [that’s dried fenugreek leaves] to serve!)

2. To make saag gosht, heat some rogan josh (see here, also, for a particularly good rogan josh recipe and story!) in a pan and add the ‘bhunaoed’ spinach and, well, the result is the same as the palak murgh, all superlatives!

3. And to make palak paneer . . . well, here is my version. What more can I say? Just go and try it, please!!!

And remember to do all the little things right. Yes, that’s right. Every single little detail, no matter how tedious it might seem. If you get the small things right the big ones look after themselves. So, whether it’s cooking spinach, or boiling rice, or even frying pappads, follow every little rule.

And it is this that I call ‘consistency’!!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

(If you’re in Sydney, you can buy Alleppey and Madras turmeric from Herbie’s.)

At 31 years of age he is already an ‘ustaad’ !!!

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Indian music is like Indian food: totally mis-understood and completely undigested.

Indian music is not all ‘Bollywood masala’ and Indian food is not all ‘curry in a hurry’!!!

We’ve heard enough (well, almost, I would say as one can never say/hear enough about it!) about the ‘curry in a hurry’ stuff so let us play a different tune (pun totally intended) today.

We’re talking Indian music.

But I want to focus particularly on an instrument called tabla, a percussion instrument extensively used in Indian classical music.

Tabla is derived from the Persian word tabl which means drums.

So, how does a percussion instrument fit into cooking?

Well, as a part of our 16th birthday celebrations we had the privilege of hosting a baithak, or private concert, of a percussion artist who is possibly one of the youngest to be called an ustaad!!

This man is a disciple of the great ustaad Allah Rakha Khan, and his son ustaad amjad Ali Khan, who are pioneers of the Punjab Gharana who are, well, I’d love to go on but I can’t because, unfortunately, I am completely ignorant of this instrument and music in general.

However, this doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the instrument or the way it’s played and I certainly can recognize the pleasant from the ear-splitting!

So, when my friend, Uday, recommended that I hear Aditya Kalyanpur play it was a great opportunity for us at nilgiri’s to have him play in front of about 80 guests. As each guest arrived they were given masala vadai with a mocktail.

Then the music began and it did not disappoint!!

The young master played.

And he played non stop for nearly 2 hours!!

Whilst the music filled up the room, the guests were then served biryani in a box and on and on it went. Amazing!

He played tukras and he played kaydas from the Punjab Gharana, mesmerising the guests with his artistry and mastery that he has picked up from his master ustaad Allah Raakha.

The dessert we served was cardamom and pistachio kulfi, how else to try and mimic the joy of the music with the joy of a kulfi!

It was a privilege to have this young man come and play. It was great to have the food, the atmosphere that this night brought.

I want to have many, many more nights like this where young talents come and create something special at nilgiri’s. So, if you’re an aspiring artist (and we know the many forms this can take, from dance to illustration to music, ancient or modern), let me know!

If we can foster our young artists, if we can show off their skills, then that’s great. I’ll do the cooking and they can do the entertaining!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!

A story and a recipe all the way from Colorado…

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about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

A while ago, my friend John said to me, “Ajoy, you’ve been blogging for nearly a year now and everyone (who wants to) has read all your stories about the travels, the ustaads, the friends, and the food and etc. . . and I am sure you’ve got more stories to come, but don’t you think it’d also be great to hear stories about food and people from other bloggers, or chefs, in your blog.” I didn’t react, not because I was offended, or anything, but because I was listening to what he had to say and absorbing it.

So he continued, “I mean, no offence, we love what you have to say about Indian food not being a ‘curry in a hurry’ and all of that, and I now always cook my onions “Ajoy’s way,” but. . .”

And I cut in, nodding my head, as I knew exactly what he meant.

“Yes John,” I said, “I get the message. You want to read other people’s views on Indian food, and you want to read their ‘war’ stories.”

So, we decided to get Ansh Dhar, all the way from Colorado in the USA, to do a special blog for us.

Ansh is someone who thinks it is not wrong to think about dinner while eating lunch. She is the writer of the sometimes quirky, usually chirpy and intelligent blog, Spiceroots, which she started as an online recipe box for her friends.

She lives in Denver, Colorado with her daughter, who is the designated taste tester and the most loyal fan of her cooking, and her husband who works as the dishwasher and the clutter picker-upper!

Ansh discovered that she was fond of cooking when she moved from India to the United States about five years ago. Until then, she mostly thought food grew in her mum’s kitchen, or in restaurants. Now, however, she is ensuring that her daughter knows that this is not the case!

I hope you enjoy reading about her dish as much as I enjoyed cooking and eating it with my friends, right here in Sydney. And with no further ado, let’s hear what Ansh has got to say:

The Kashmiri Pandits call it kabargagah. The same dish is called tabakmaaz by the local Muslims.

“I don’t like ‘Indian’ curry,” said the kind gentleman whose identity I would like to keep anonymous since we survived this initial relationship hurdle and are now, I’m pleased to say, good friends.

As soon as the words had left his mouth, images of shelved bottles of grocery store “madras curry powder”, and its multiple incarnations, flashed across my mind.

It was the same scenario regarding the food that is dished out and served as “Indian” in the restaurants in Denver, Colorado where I live.

I knew his taste buds had been traumatized. But to get a real picture of just how much the poor old guy had been tortured I asked him which curries did he not like.

“Oh,” he cries, “There is chana masla curry and saag paneer curry, chicken tikka masala, goat curry, biryani curry. . .” And on he goes, listing dishes, counting them on his hands with great emphasis.

I can’t take any more and butt in exclaiming, “But none of these are curries! And the food you are being dished out, which is so-called Indian, is not even remotely similar to the spice infused, delicious Indian food that I grew up with and learned how to cook!” And I place my hand on his shoulder and smile in disbelief.

He looks slightly taken aback, “Really?” he exclaims, “So what is a curry? And what do you guys eat at home? How can you eat all that spice and not drink gallons of water?” and he looks intently at me, expectant.

Now I am about to faint. He is also confusing spices with the heat of chillies and he really has no idea what Indian food is really like.

Was I offended by his saying he did not like curries? NO!

Was I laughing when he called a biryani a curry ? NO and NO!

I was deeply ashamed as an Indian. For a country that has distinct and varied cuisines in each state, and sometimes even within a state, we really haven’t done a good job in letting the world know about the difference between cuisines like wazwan, chettinad, kathiawadi, bengali, muglai, malabar
. . . I could go on and on.

Even worse, a number of accomplished Indian chefs and TV food personalities have abused the term “curry” to pass off things that are not even within the “curry” genus.

So I just could not laugh. I had to do something about it.

To unravel a deeply rooted “curry myth”, I first thought that an episode on MythBusters might be needed. But thinking that the producers of the show might also believe that it was not a myth, I did not contact them.

So, I was on my own. I gradually introduced my friend to various Indian dishes that were not “curries.” And thankfully, I lived to tell the tale and he lives on, enjoying the broad range of Indian food.

Is the situation really so bleak that to break the myth surrounding Indian food seems insurmountable?

I think not.

When maestros like Chef Ajoy take part in the same crusade, there is Hope.

Where each of the recipes he shares are works of art, the stories behind the recipes are nuggets of culinary history, I feel assured.

His post on ‘curry’ tickled me to the core. It makes a phenomenal read.

His passion about Indian food is inspirational. His enthusiasm is totally infectious. But it is his educating and sharing his knowledge that makes me respect him with all my heart.

So, there is hope for the real Indian food to shine through the curry myth.

And when he asks you to do a blog post, you immediately say, “YES! I am honored that you asked me Chef. I would Love to do it.”

And then you freak out and realise that you said, “Yes!” in an unthinking, masochistic moment.

And later on you think, “Oh dear! What have I done? What could I possibly share with the readers of his blog?”

And the answer gradually dawns on you. You smile and go back to your roots and share something your mom taught you. Simple, homely, comforting. Just like all good food has to be. And yes, it is not a curry.

The recipe I am sharing today is called kabargah as made in Kashmiri Pandit homes and tabakhmaaz as made in Muslim homes.

The meat used is lamb ribs that retain some fat on them. Delicate in flavor, this dish is served as a starter at all important occasions and is served piping hot.

The key to eating a good kabargah is to eat it hot. The fatty part of the rib that has been cooked in ghee (I have used unsalted butter instead) tastes best when it is hot.


ingredients clockwise: black pepper, black cardamom, nilgiri’s garam masala, asafoetida, salt, unsalted butter, cassia, bay leaf, clove, muslin cloth, red radish

2 pounds lamb ribs (not the chops, just the ribs – you can also use goat ribs)

6 cups water

2 cups milk and 1 cup water – mixed together

1 tsp of Chef Ajoy’s meat garam masala

a pinch of asafoetida


Ghee, for frying (I used unsalted butter)

A bouquet garni is comprised of

1 inch cinnamon or cassia stick,

2 Turkish bay leaves,

4-5 cloves,

1 long black peppercorn or 1 tsp black peppercorn

3 brown or black cardamom pods

The contents of a bouquet garni: black cardamoms, cassia, bay leaf, black peppercorns


Step 1

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add the ribs. Continue to boil until the brownish ‘riffraff’ (scum) floats to the top

Step 2 – Remove the riffraff with a spoon and discard. Continue until all riffraff has been removed.

Step 3 – Now drain the water and wash the meat in clean water.

Step 4 – Bring the milk and water mix to a boil.

Bring the milk and water mix to a boil.

Step 5

Add the bouquet garni

Step 6

Add the garam masala

Step 7

Add the asafoetida

Step 8

Add the salt

Step 9

Add the meat

Step 10

Cook on slow heat until the meat is tender

Step 11

Once the meat is tender, remove from the milk

Step 12

Drain meat on a wire rack. This is important because your next step is to fry the ribs

Step 13

Heat up some ghee, or unsalted butter, in a pan

Step 14

Fry the ribs, a few at a time, ensuring you don’t overcrowd the pan

When they are nice and golden and crispy, you know they are ready.

Step 15

Serve with some thinly slice red radishes

And now, Ajoy here!

This recipe sounded so good I tried it and I served it with some good old Australian beer or, I thought, it would go brilliantly with a chilled, sweet Shiraz from the Iron Gate winery in the Hunter Valley (in NSW) or a Pinot Noir reserve from Nazaaray in the Mornington Peninsula!! (You can read about these places here.)

I am so pleased to have found Ansh and enjoy reading her blogs. I am also chuffed that there is another being who also has a similar mission to me namely: dispelling the myth of Indian food is now a forceful duo!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Lamb and lentils slow cooked to make the perfect recipe . . . dalcha!!

the perfect dalcha (a slow-cooked Indian 'lamb stew' with lentils). see how easy it is to do this lamb recipe!

In 1991, when I decided to start my (sorry, I had a partner), when WE decided to start our first restaurant in Sydney ‘I’ was determined that this was not going to be another ‘curry house’. No way!!

I wasn’t going to cook any ‘bl..dy’ curries, not after having spent my time working with the Indian ‘masters’ (I called them ustaads), who taught me a simple lesson which I still hold true today.

“Son,” they said, “Indian food is a complete art. You can ‘see’ this art being created, you can ‘touch’ it, you can ‘hear’ the music when tempering a dish, you certainly can ‘smell’ the aromas wafting through the air, and last but not the least, you can ‘taste’ it.”

savouring the aromas wafting through the air

And they were right. Cooking is the perfect art that uses all the five senses!!

So, keeping these guidelines in mind we carefully worked out our menu and for the first time Sydneysiders got a chance to savour Indian food in its true form.

We had dishes like prawn balchao (marinated prawns in a spicy mix), chicken xacutti (a spicy chicken dish with cinnamon) and caril de piexe (another spicy dish, this time using fish with vinegar and coconut and chillies and so much more!) all from Goa, kozhi vartha kari (chicken pieces cooked in aromatic spices) from Tamil Nadu, meen porichattu (marinated fish cooked the Muslim way!) from Kerala, paththar ka gosht (slow-cooked lamb with cassia), shikampoor (delicious stuffed lamb kebabs), tali hui machali (pan fried fish with a spice crust), khatti meethi dal (sweet and sour dal), dalcha (lamb cooked with dal) and many more, along with my favourite masala dosai!!

However, the one dish that sold the most after the masala dosai was the dalcha.

I think the dalcha was so popular because it was the closest thing to eating a dal and roganjosh (lamb and lentils) with rice!! It was like an Indian lamb stew (or you may like to call it a broth) for the Sydneysiders!

So, here is how we made it then and how we still make it in my restaurant!

And yes folks, you’ve guessed it, this week’s garam masala is for, that’s right, red meat!!

If you’ve missed the other garam masala series that cover poultry, seafood, vegetarian and vegan meals, click six basic spice mixes

Ingredients for the red meat garam masala are as follows:
Step 1

red meat garam masala contains: 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 nutmeg (that has been grated!) and 2 teaspoons black peppercorns

Step 2

ground garam masala

grind the spices until they resemble coarse sand

Step 3

ingredients (clockwise from 12 o’clock) in the tray: slit green chillies, ground ginger, juice of a lemon, ground garlic, salt, ground red chilli, ground turmeric, crushed coriander seeds, vegetable oil; on the outside: chick pea lentils, yoghurt, diced lamb

Step 4

add 1 cup lentils (you might know them as yellow split peas) to mixing bowl

Step 5

add 3 cups water (at room temperature)

Step 6

set aside to soak for about 15 minutes

Step 7

add garam masala mix (2 1/2 tablespoons for about 1 kg meat)

Step 8

add 1 tablespoon ground chilli powder

step 9

add 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Step 10

add 2 tablespoons ground coriander

step 11

mix spices together

Step 12

add 2 1/2 cups full-cream yoghurt

Step 13

fold yoghurt into spice mixture

Step 14

keep folding until mixture is smooth

Step 15

add 1 kg diced lamb

Step 16

make sure lamb is well coated with yoghurt mixture

Step 17

keep mixing yoghurt and meat until smooth then set aside for about 15 minutes

step 18

heat saucepan and add 1/2 cup polyunsaturated vegetable oil

Step 19

when oil is smoking, add sliced onions and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Step 20

fold onions till they star to caramelise!

If you want to see a simple video on how to caramelise onions, go to the techniques page of my blog.

Bringing it all together
Step 21

add 1 tablespoon ground garlic when onions have started to caremelise

Step 22

fold garlic into caramelising onions

Step 23

add 1 tablespoon ground ginger and fold

Step 24

when onions have caramelised, add marinated meat - set aside mixing bowl, you’ll need it in a moment!

Step 25

fold meat into caramelised onions

step 26

keep folding until meat is seared

step 27

drain lentil water into marinated meat mixing bowl

Step 28

add lentils to seared meat (with as little water as possible since you want the lentils to absorb the flavours of the marinade as they cook, not boil in water)

Step 29

mix the lentil water with the remains of the marinade to produce 'lentil stock'

Step 30

pour ‘lentil stock’ into pan when meat is seared and oil starts to appear, reduce heat to medium

Step 31

fold lentil stock into meat

Step 32

place shallow frying pan on stove (you will need one large enough for the meat saucepan to sit in)

Step 33

place meat saucepan into frying pan

Step 34

add sliced green chillies

Step 35

place clean stainless steel mixing bowl on top of saucepan

Step 36

add 3/4 cup water to mixing bowl

Step 37

use 3/4 cup of water

Step 38

water will evaporate (approx. 50 minutes) - when it has almost disappeared, turn off stove

Step 39

remove mixing bowl with tea tea towel as it will be hot!

Step 40

the meat will (should!) look like this

Step 41

add lemon to taste (I am using my hands as a ‘sieve’)

Step 42

fold lemon juice into meat

Step 43

serve with steamed basmati rice

Step 44

add tempered kari leaves for an extra 'oomph'!!

Folks, try this dish with goat or even lamb shanks, serve it with a bread of your choice, a simple salad of fresh greens and you have the most amazing and satisfying meal on the table!! For a one page summary of this recipe, click dalcha recipe.

If there are any leftovers (this does occasionally happen in my house as Meera doesn’t eat red meat, however usually Aniruddh and I generally wallop half the contents in one sitting!

However, as I started saying, should there be any leftovers keep them in an earthenware pot, covered. Place the pot in a ‘waterbath’ and leave overnight. It’s as simple as that, it’s the way many people cook in India and it preserves the meat. Make fresh basmati rice and serve the dalcha on to the hot rice . . . just like a Nihari!!

Need help with making basmati rice or tempering kari leaves? Then watch these quick videos and if you’re a diaspora Indian listen and weep!:

Next week we have a ‘BIG’ surprise for you….

Till then, happy cooking!! Oh, and last, but by no means least, if you’ve got any feedback, your mother’s best recipe for this dish that has its own quirks, or any comment at all, I really enjoy hearing from you! So, let’s get the chat flowing, until then. . .

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Six basic spice mixes – you may call them “garam masala”. . .Part 1 of my garam masala series.

 The above image shows the six garam masala spice mixes. From L to R top row we have the spice mixes for: seafood, vegetarian, poultry; from L to R [bottom row] for: red meat, nilgiri’s biryani mix, kebabs

How do you simplify a complex cuisine which has at least a billion different interpretations, all of them equally correct in their own way?

One way is to call it a ‘curry’ and just leave it at that!

But that is not the point and honestly does not do any justice to the millions of khansaamas, bawarchis, dastarkhwans, aka chefs, who have devoted their lives trying to tell the world that this is an intricate cuisine and not just ’a bit of this and a bit of that.’

So, let’s get down to one of the basics of any dish.

What is it? The type of pan used? Cast iron or copper, or is it the oil that should be used? Or the sort of bread that should accompany a dish?

No folks, none of these is the basics of a dish that I want to discuss [though hold your breath because in the following year I will be touching on some of these]!

But for now I want to direct my attention to spice mixes. This week I want to show you how to make, step-by-step, six spice mixes that we use in my kitchen at nilgiri’s.

Next week I’ll be using one of the spice mixes and over the next SIX weeks I’ll be be using all six spice mixes that I am explaining today. If you want to make the recipes in the coming weeks that use these spice mixes, get started and make all six now – since  they’re spices, they won’t ‘go off’, in fact, the more they’re left to ‘talk’ to each other in the jar, the more infused and enthused they’ll become! But  you must store your spice mixes in airtight glass jars that are kept away from direct heat, sunlight, or any moisture. If you get this right your spice mixes will be perfect for months.

Okay, so let’s start. You’ll need whole spices and six separate airtight glass jars and once you’ve got that, you’re sorted (of course, you can make one, or two, or all, or none of the spice mixes!). The choice is yours.

Follow my method of adding each spice as I have. Want to know why? I believe it is a good habit to add one ingredient at a time even if it is not being cooked as in this case.(When cooking it is important to add the biggest spice first followed by the next  in size and so on…. this gives the biggest spice a longer time to cook and bring out the volatile oils, you know what I mean!!!)

Anyway, the first garam masala mix that we’re setting up is for seafood.

I call this one, guess what? Seafood GM, not too romantic I know, but it does its job and is a sensible name.

Let’s begin.


Starting clockwise you have:  1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 3 dried red chillies and 2 teaspoons fennel seeds.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

The cloves

Then the black peppercorns

Then the dried red chillies

And finally, the fennel seeds

Here is your spice mix for seafood ready to be stored in its glass jar

Place spices in the glass jar

SPICE MIX 2 ~Vegetarian garam masala

As its name implies, this is great for flavouring vegetarian dishes, including dishes made out of paneer, or cottage cheese, or fresh cheese…I like to think of it as my “vegetarian garam masala”. You can call yours what you want but trust me, it’ll taste superb.

Starting clockwise we have:  2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves and 3 dried red chillies.

First of all add the coriander seeds to your bowl

Then add the cumin seeds

The bayleaves

And finally, add your dried red chillies

Now store all your whole spices in an airtight glass jar

And as I mentioned before, keep your spices away from direct heat, light and moisture

SPICE MIX 3 ~Poultry Garam Masala

Poultry garam masala is as follows: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 1 1/2 teaspoons cloves, 3 star anise, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons mace blade.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

And the cloves

The star anise

The fennel seeds

And finally, the mace

Your poultry garam masala is now ready for storing in its glass jar

Putting the poultry spices into the glass jar

Voila! All ready for storage.

SPICE MIX 4 ~ Garam masala for red meat

Starting clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 nutmeg and 2 teaspoons black peppercorns.

Take the cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then the cardamoms

The cloves

The nutmeg

Yes, you’ll have to grate your nutmeg!

But don’t grate it all, about a 1/2 a nutmeg should do

Then add the peppercorns

And your red meat garam masala is ready for storing in your glass jar

The final product for red meat garam masala!

SPICE MIX 5 ~Biriyani mix (nilgiri’s garam masala)

From clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 4 black cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 1 nutmeg, 3 spears mace, 4 bayleaves,  2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Take the two cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then add the black cardamom

Then add the cloves

Add the nutmeg

And the mace spears or blades

The bay leaves

The black peppercorns

The fennel seeds

And finally, the saffron threads

Place all spices  into the glass jar,except the saffron. Place the saffron in a separate container as this will be soaked in milk when we use it for our recipe for the biryani!!!

And your biryani garam masala is ready for storage

SPICE MIX 6 ~ Kebab Mix

Starting from clockwise:  2 cinnamon sticks, 12- 15 cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 3 mace spears, 5 dried red chillies, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Add the cinnamon sticks to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then the cloves

Then add the mace spears or blades

And the dried red chillies

The coriander seeds

The bay leaves

And finally, the saffron threads

Here is your melange of kebab garam masala without the saffron. Place saffron in a separate container.

Storing your spices in the ubiquitous glass jar

Ready to be stored. A visual feast!

Phew!!! Once done we will use each one of the above spice mixes to create a dish starting with the seafood spice mix next week.
My plan is to create a southern style fish with coconut.
Until then. . .

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

A Tale of Two Classics

the classic Kashmiri, Pandit-style rogan josh

In my 30-odd years of cooking, if there is one lesson I have learnt, it is this: never challenge a customer.

Never. Ever.

Some may agree with this, but there is another school of thought that believes otherwise.

Some chefs in so-called high places believe that a customer is out to get him i.e. that the customer is just someone who wants to prove that he is more knowledgeable than the ‘Creator’, that is, the chef!

Well, it is not true.

Or so I thought till this happened. . .

At nilgiri’s we change our menu every month, that’s right, every month and we have been doing this since we opened our doors way back in 1998.

It’s no mean task doing this!

Every single menu that is made goes through a process where the menu is checked for its right balance in terms of taste, colour, chilli level and its visual appeal.

Of course, as most of you will know by now, we also believe that there is no such thing as ‘authentic’ when it comes to Indian food though there are some classic dishes that shouldn’t be played around with.

Apart from that, the rules are simple.

Every dish must have its own character, name and an identity, if not it’s best called a ‘curry’!! We don’t have curries in my restaurant.

Again, and this is my mantra in an attempt to educate, Indian food is not curries.

Anyway, let’s get back to my story.

Some months ago we had a group of tourists who were visiting Sydney and decided to dine at my restaurant, excellent!

During that month we were doing food from the North-West Frontier and Kashmir.

Food from this region is one of my favourites, after Hyderabadi food of course!!

Anyway, we had some classics like gosht rogan josh (made with goat meat) followed by kadhai murgh, tsoont wangan, muj gard, and so on. . .

The orders are taken, the food served. All is going well, so far.

As a general practice, my waiters check on the diners at various points during their meal to see if everything is going well.

Table number 12 stops one of the waiters and says loud and clear so that every diner in my restaurant can hear, “This is not rogan josh!”

And he doesn’t stop at the rogan josh.

He continues, pointing at another dish saying, as loudly, “And this is no balti chicken, I want to speak to the manager!”

Firstly, there’s a slight problem here as we don’t have managers and secondly, all of my frontline staff are capable of taking decisions themselves as they’re highly trained  competent individuals.

However, because this diner insisted on speaking to someone whom he thought was ‘higher’ than a ‘mere waiter’ my staff knew that the best bet was for me to face the music!

I approach the table smiling and ask, “Sir, how can I help?”

“This is rubbish.” comes the reply.

“What is it that you don’t like, Sir?”

Again, he points at the dish saying, “This is no balti chicken, it is too hot and there’s not enough coconut cream!”

“Okay.” I respond, “And the rogan josh?”

The man shifts in his seat and continues, pointing at the rogan josh accusingly, “It is too thin, it’s not like the ‘curry’ we get in. . .”

And it is here that my patience is tried and my knowledge, pardon me, won’t be held in check.

I am no spring chicken and I do know a thing or two about Indian food.

So, I mentally rolled up my sleeves and launched into my explanation.

I tried to explain that there is no coconut cream in balti chicken, which in India is called kadhai murgh, but no sooner had these words fallen from my mouth I realised that the guest was not one bit interested in what I was saying.

I wasn’t trying to justify myself, I was simply just trying to explain why the food served was the way it was!

Anyway, as became clear the other diners at the table were enjoying themselves thoroughly, eating their meal whilst this exchange was taking place, but not this man.

He was a tourist who had seen a little, heard a little and tasted a little of a cuisine that is over 1000 years old and from this small knowledge he felt he knew it all.

It was later revealed that he had only eaten Indian food in England and had never even been to India!

So, my point here is that Indian food is, indeed, very simple and its origin, history, and name are straightforward.

However, and this is what my guest wasn’t au fait with, sometimes the same dish may have more than one interpretation, or recipe.

So, let’s try and understand this in a little more detail, if you don’t mind.

Kadhai chicken in India originates from a region called Baltistan in the North-West Frontier region of the disputed territory of Kashmir. (However, let’s stick to food only and not get into the political issues here!)

The region is rugged and has a very extreme climate.

It is wedged in-between Kashmir, Tibet, Gilgit and China.

Very little is grown there due to its harsh climate, and so the food is a reflection of the region and its produce.

Most dishes are served either dry or semi-dry.

Rice is not commonly eaten and the staple starch is either roti or naan.

This dish is popular in England, as well, especially in Birmingham and is called ‘Balti chicken’.

For some go…fors..en reason beyond my understanding, coconut cream got added to this dish in some quirk of translation, perhaps more suited to the palate there.

Coconut is not even grown in Baltistan and I don’t think the natives of this region would ever add it to their food!

So, let’s take the other classic dish rogan josh:

black peppercorns



fennel seeds


This dish comes from Kashmir.

The two main communities who live here, the Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits, eat meat (lamb and goat) and make this classic dish.

The Muslims add onions and garlic to the dish whereas the Pandits make it without onions and garlic.

Hence the Pandits’ dish is light and the sauce is thin to look at but by no means light to taste.

It is, in fact, extremely tasty and one does’t miss the onions at all!

In fact, the recipe that follows has been with me since 1981 and was given to me by my friend Chetan Kak’s mother when I was in Delhi training at The Oberois.

The dish is made with slightly fatty goat meat left on the bone to bring out the rogan which in Persian means ‘red oil’.

The recipe uses all the regular spices that go into the making of rogan josh, namely cassia (or cinnamon), green and black cardamoms, cloves and it then uses ground fennel seeds to add that unique flavour to the dish.

Instead of using onions and garlic, this recipe demands the use of asafoetida which is used to add the pungent onion and garlic taste to the meat without actually using them! Fresh ginger is replaced by dried ginger also called saunth.

Tomatoes get replaced by yoghurt which is beaten and added to prevent lumps.

Yoghurt added

The Kashmiri Pandits, I was told, also add a dried herb called rattan jot for the red colour along with Kashmiri chillies which are red and look flaming hot but are not hot to taste.

rattan jot infused with hot oil being added to the goat - to see the blog dedicated to this recipe click rogan josh recipe

The meat is seared in a hot pan/pot with whole spices added before it is put on the dum for about an hour and a half, or till the rogan (oil) rises to the top of the dish! (To read about the man who first showed me how to make this dish, see the blog Ajoy Meets Mr Karir.)

Served with boiled rice, this is one of my favourite dishes and I have asked my son to add this to the “100 dishes to eat before I . . .” list!!

As I shook hands with this group of tourists as they left my restaurant, I realised that there are times when the customer ‘is always right’, times when this isn’t the case and times when education could go a long way, but for the peace of my staff and myself, the teacher needs to realise when his pupils are fully focused, staring out the window or 100% certain they know it all!

If all this talk of cooking is whetting your appetite, please come with me on a step-by-step version of a Kashmiri, Pandit-style rogan josh, by clicking rogan josh recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

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