Ramzan dishes that have stood the test of time
Breaking the fast with family and friends over the evening meal, iftar, is always a warm affair. Whereas before it was a big get-together for the whole neighborhood, the party is now reserved for family and occasional relatives. But the Ramzan dastarkhan is still just as sumptuous, embellished with precious preparations over the centuries. Chefs and foodies tell us about tried-and-tested delicacies prepared at home. “A dish that we always serve as part of iftar was ganji, a traditional preparation made from semolina. We continued to serve it to our guests. It is a nutritious soup that takes three to four hours to prepare. With minced mutton, it’s very pleasing to the palate,” says chef Anees Khan, originally from Orissa.
Culinary expert Shazia Bukhari, daughter-in-law of Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, says a rich nihari always takes center stage in the iftar she prepares at home. It is believed to have been invented in Old Delhi during Mughal times and considered a shahi (royal) dish. It is a healthy meal made from tender meat and dried fruits. It used to be that our grandmothers spent five to six hours simmering it to perfection, and now it’s ready in just two to three hours. But it’s still irresistible,” she says. Another dish that sits alongside nihari on its dastarkhan is Bukhari Pulao. “A Saudi specialty is rice flavored with spices, served with perfectly cooked roast chicken.
The spices that are used when preparing the delicacies make the difference. Uttarakhand-born chef Riyaz Ahmed, The Claridges, says, “It’s the spices that matter and I make sure to use whole ground spices from Old Delhi. It’s my family tradition to add selected spices, be it cinnamon, chili peppers or masala to the meat.
For beauty expert Shahnaz Husain, who grew up in the city of nawabs and tehzeeb, Lucknow, Ramzan is about reliving the traditions of her childhood. “My mother loved supervising the khansamas (family cooks) to ensure a perfect iftar. Although they are experts in their trade, she insisted on supervising, especially the slow cooking of the Haleem – a delicious stew made from wheat, meat and fragrant spices. There can be no shortcut to this dish. It is cooked for 5 to 6 hours, then beaten with a pestle-like stick to obtain a smooth mixture of spices, meats and wheat. The dish features in our iftar even now. It’s a very hearty dish, full of flavor and nutrition,” says Husain.
Singer Nilofar Wani, from Jammu and Kashmir, loves preparing Yakhni for iftar, served in large dongas. “It’s tender mutton cooked in a yogurt sauce, flavored with whole spices. We also make Roghan Josh – mutton cooked with tomatoes, curd, Kashmiri laal mirch and crushed spices. Marchwangan Korma is another specialty that has been perfected over generations, made with mutton, Kashmiri laal mirch, fennel seeds, saffron and other spices. What gives these dishes a distinct taste is the inclusion of animal fat,” says Wani. Vibrant chutneys such as akhrot ki chutney (nut dip), mooli ki chutney (radish dip) and dahi ki chutney (curd dip) are also a must. “In Kashmir, iftar is a big affair with at least 30 people celebrating together, as our families are very close-knit. In Delhi, it’s a small gathering, but traditional dishes are still carefully prepared to retain their authenticity. “, she says.
Journalist and novelist Alka Raza, married to former UN diplomat Shariq Bin Raza, who lives in Shikwa Haveli, their 700-year-old ancestral mansion in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, shares that moong and urad daal rasgulle and dahi phulki are the two dishes served in the haveli on iftar for ages. “For the unique rasgulle, daals are soaked overnight then made into a thick batter, fried and soaked in a sweet sugar syrup and rose water, while dahi phulki is made with besan, green chili and onion, left for a few hours, fried and soaked in hot water with heeng, then soaked in curd, topped with zeera-lal mirch ka chauka.
1/2 kg basmati rice (soaked for 20 minutes)
1 kg skin-on chicken (cut into 4 large pieces)
2 large onions; 1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 teaspoons of tomato paste; 2 large tomatoes (mashed)
100 g of raisins; 50g almonds (both fried)
4 green peppers; 2 dried limes
1 carrot, 1 potato (both cubed)
1 chicken stock cube; 2 teaspoons olive oil
Add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 black peppercorn, 3 cinnamon sticks, 4 cardamom and cloves each, 5 bay leaves to a hot skillet. Roast until the spices release their aroma. Grind into a fine bukhari masala powder.
Heat the olive oil (or butter) in a heavy bottomed nonstick skillet with a lid. Add 2 cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, chopped onions and a little salt. Sauté until the onions are soft, golden.
Add the chicken pieces, bukhari masala, dried limes, tomato paste and puree, garlic paste, chicken stock cube, half a cup of hot water.
Add carrots and potatoes in cubes, green peppers. Bake for 15 minutes with the lid on. When this mixture boils, take the chicken out and keep it aside for grilling later. Taste the broth for seasoning and add the soaked basmati rice.
Stir well, cook with the lid on. When the water is reduced and the rice is well cooked, lower the heat and cook for another 8 minutes, covered. Grill the chicken and place it on the rice. Sprinkle generously with fried almonds and raisins.
By Shazia Bukhari