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,
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
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.
When they are nice and golden and crispy, you know they are ready.
Fry the ribs, a few at a time, ensuring you don’t overcrowd the pan
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!!