The first kebab, and one we were really interested in, was the famous Galouti Kebab of Awadh. It’s also called the ‘Melt in Your Mouth’ kebab, or Galawat kebab. The story of this kebab goes back to the 1700’s, and features an overweight nawab ruler of the Awadh region (modern day Uttar Pradesh, up in the central northeast of the Subcontinent, around the city of Lucknow) by the name of Nawab Nazir Asaf Ud-Dowlah. He was either toothless or becoming toothless, and couldn’t chew meat, so he commissioned a special chef to come up with a recipe using the most tender cuts of water buffalo and goat, minced very finely, with “heavenly spices”; in effect, a soft meat patty that could be eaten with no teeth. Supposedly he ate it for the rest of his life, and the dish remains popular today all around the region. We made it with lamb leg that we double-ground ourselves, adding the requisite raw papaya paste, spices and seasonings, and the toasted chana daal. To call it mushy wouldn’t do the texture justice, it does melt in the mouth, but more like a wad of baby food with a thin meat crust. It’s not something either of us relished, no matter how much chutney we piled on it. Maybe it’s a cultural thing based on the toughness of most standard meat; whatever its popularity, the reasoning remains elusive to me.
Much better was the Bhuni Salmon Maachhi, a recipe that we based on a dish done at Zaafran Indian Restaurant in Sydney (they do it as rolls stuffed with prawn paste). It features strips of salmon marinated in yogurt with garlic, ginger, fresh green chiles, garam masala, cayenne, fenugreek, lemon, and a little mustard oil. We just sautéed it to get the flavor profile, but it was spectacularly delicious, moist, and spicy. I could eat this stuff every day, and I don’t really like salmon that much.
The beverage of choice was a couple of Thums Up Colas, made in India by Coca Cola. After Coke left India in 1977 to avoid a forced sale of the majority of their interests and Pepsi was basically granted a monopoly, the Parle Brothers released Thums Up Cola. Coke snuck back in later and was going to buy out and eliminate Thums Up but realized that would benefit Pepsi, so they marketed the hell out of it, and today it’s the biggest selling cola in India. It has a slight aftertaste that you can’t quite put your finger on, which the literature explains is reminiscent of the essence of betel nut. I could go either way on it, but Indians outside of the country go all nostalgic and misty-eyed at the sight of a Thums Up bottle. I prefer Mexican Coke myownself.
Another one we did was a lamb cube kebab from Rajasthan, the famous Boti Kebab. Kebabs from this region usually involve a double marinating procedure, the first using a raw papaya paste as a tenderizer, with ginger, garlic, chile paste, malt vinegar, and oil. The second marinade involves yogurt, more garlic, ginger, and chile paste, a complex garam masala spice mixture, fenugreek, lemon, and mustard oil. Again, we were testing for flavor and just sautéed it rather than skewering and grilling, but this is a fantastic preparation; tender lamb bursting with huge flavor and spice.
Art whipped up a batch of fantastic naan flatbreads, and I mixed up a dynamite spicy-sweet mango chutney (from our cookbook The Appetizer Atlas), a fresh mint chutney with chiles, garlic, and tamarind (disappointing because the mint we were using from the Indian market didn’t really taste very minty). We made a drop dead delicious tomato and green chile chutney with mustard seeds, and a cucumber-mint raita. Round two of testing is coming up this weekend; more on that later.
Mick Vann ©