The food of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is intertwined as the cross-cultural ties of the region far outdate the borders between them. Among the many commonalities are the spices, spicy food and slow cooking techniques that all four swear by, whether it is the Afghani naan, Bangladeshi qorma, nihari from Pakistan, or India’s ubiquitous biryani. To mark Independence Day, I collect four unique recipes from families with roots across the region, who pass their food traditions down to every generation.
Mother-daughter artist duo Arfa and Wajiha Naqvi from Karachi have a family recipe for a unique fried chicken from Kashgar, a city in modern-day Xinjiang, China, which borders Pakistan. They were generous enough to share it with me. Wajiha’s grandfather’s uncle married a Muslim girl from Xinjiang, who brought the recipe to the Naqvi family, which made a few changes. Bangladeshi food writer Dina Begum shared her chicken qorma with panchphoran, the five-spice blend commonly used in Bengal too as a flavouring agent.
Jahidaa, who moved to India from Afghanistan 20 years back, brought with her a family recipe for pacha, lamb trotters’ soup, which we know as paya in India in a slightly different form. Her family eats it every Sunday morning with Afghani naan. And from my own family’s cookbook, I share the recipe of a unique goolar kebab that’s been passed from my grandmother to mother, mother to me. Try these recipes and cook up a feast that celebrates a borderless world.
Goolar Ke Kebab (Kebabs with fig-like texture)
200 gm Split Bengal gram (chana dal), soaked for two hours
3-4 cups water
1⁄2 kg boneless mutton, cut into one-inch pieces
8-10 red chilies, whole
1.5 tbsp ginger garlic paste
Salt to taste
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roasted and crushed
1 tbsp, cumin seeds, roasted and crushed
One-fourth cup coriander leaves
One-fourth cup mint leaves
2-3 green chilies
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp yogurt
Oil for frying
2.5 tbsp posto dana (poppy seeds)
4 tbsp soaked raisins
4 tbsp roasted and chopped cashew
Half cup fried onions
One-and-a-half tsp sugar
Salt to taste
1. Drain the water from the Bengal gram.
2. In a large cooker, add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the Bengal gram and mutton. Roast for 5-8 minutes.
3. Add water and all the dry spices in the pot. Let them boil once.
4. Cover the pot with the lid. Cook until tender or for 6-8 whistles.
5. Remove the lid and cook on high flame to reduce water and let it cool. Or, drain out the water.
6. In a large mixer or food processor, grind coriander leaves, mint leaves and green chilies.
7. In the same mixer container, add the mutton and Bengal gram preparation, garam masala, yogurt and egg. Mix until well combined.
8. Mixture should be dry and not runny.
9. Wet your hands with water/oil, and, make small patties. In the middle of the patty, make a dent for the stuffing.
10. For the stuffing, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and keep it aside.
11. Put the stuffing and roll into balls.
12. Shallow fry them in a non-stick skillet. Fry until kebabs turn golden brown from both the sides.
13. Serve with coriander chutney.
Anda Chicken by Arfa & Wajiha Naqvi, Karachi, Pakistan
500 gms chicken (on bone, medium size)
200 gms potato (medium, divided into fours)
4 tbsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
Oil to fry
Wash and pat chicken and potatoes dry.
Whip eggs with salt and chili till foamy.
Heat oil in a kadhai, dip chicken pieces in egg and fry till they are half done.
Repeat the process with potatoes
In the same kadhai, place the fried chicken and layer with potatoes, pour the leftover whisked egg on top.
Cover with a lid and keep cooking on slow flame till the oil evaporates and the chicken becomes fork tender.
Serce with paratha or tomato ketchup.
Chicken Korma by Dina Begum
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
5 cm piece ginger, roughly chopped
100 ml oil
2 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon panchphoron
3 medium onions, finely sliced
1½ teaspoons salt
3 dried red chillies
2 bay leaves
8 cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 1/3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/3 tablespoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
800 g skinless chicken breast and thigh meat, chopped into bite-size pieces
300 g Greek yoghurt
6 whole green chillies
Crush the garlic and ginger together in a mortar and pestle. Heat the oil and ghee in a large pan on medium-high heat and add the garlic, ginger and panchphoron. After a minute add the onions, salt, dried red chillies, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and star anise and sauté until golden (around ten minutes). Add 200ml water, cover and simmer on low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, until the onions have broken up and the oil has separated.
Keep checking regularly and if the mixture gets too dry or sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a bit of water and continue cooking.
At this point, stir in the cumin, coriander, chilli powder and turmeric and turn up the heat to medium. Cook for two to three minutes until the spices are fragrant and have separated from the oil. If the mixture gets too dry, add a little water so the spices don’t burn. Cover and cook for a few minutes.
Add the chicken pieces to the pan. Stir for a couple of minutes to seal the meat, then cover and cook for ten minutes, checking now and then to make sure nothing’s burning. Towards the end of the ten minutes, you’ll notice the chicken releasing moisture which indicates that it’s almost fully cooked.
Take the pan off the heat, wait for a minute and then gradually add the yoghurt, a little at a time so it doesn’t curdle. Finally, toss in the green chillies, return the pan to very low heat and simmer for eight to ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender and the gravy is thick and silky. Serve with pulao.
Kalah wa pacha by Jahidaa (Lamb Trotter Soup)
1 kg of lamb (cleaned feet and head)
1 bowl chickpeas, soaked overnight
5-6 cloves of garlic
2-3 tbsp red chili powder
50 gm black pepper
Salt to taste
Wash the meat thoroughly and roast the parts that still have fur in them to ensure that it is sanitised for cooking.
In a slow cooker, add the meat, chickpeas, garlic, black pepper, a spoonful of chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil.
Leave it to simmer for about 3 hours or till the meat is extremely tender. Add more water if required.
Serve with Afghani naan.
Sadaf Hussain is a chef and author of the book Daastan-E-Dastarkhan. @hussainsadaf1