When you think of Lucknowi food, you almost inevitably think of kebab, qorma and biryani. The city, however, is home to diverse cuisines, cooked every day in its home kitchens. Lucknowi Bawarchi Khane, a new book, showcases some of these traditional recipes.
It’s the outcome of a decade-long journey. When the curators of the annual four-day Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival (MSLF) started the Awadhi Home Cooked Food Festival—a lunch event on the last day of the festival—in 2011, little did they know it would culminate in a book some day. The event, says Madhavi Kuckreja, a founder and curator of MSLF, was an attempt “to bring Lucknow’s real food to its people.”
So, each cook brings a specific dish from their home in a pre-determined quantity to create an entire meal/buffet. In the beginning, recalls Kuckreja, only three-four families agreed to participate; at this year’s event in March, there were 40. Initially, most of them were hesitant to serve their home food in a so-called mela—but it sold out in minutes.
“Over the years, this lunch became so popular that people came in from as far as Hyderabad and Mumbai just for that afternoon, where they could experience the flavours of home-cooked Lucknowi food. The number of participating cooks (decided by a core committee) grew steadily and being a part of the festival is now a matter of pride.”
A corollary benefit: It created such a bond between families that sharing their recipes for a collective enterprise seemed almost a natural extension. Noor Khan and Sufia Kidwai, founding members of the food festival, put together the cookbook, releasing it during the festival. “The book comprises age-old recipes that our contributors have honed over the years and added their personal touch to. They have shared their family heirlooms with a lot of love and without hesitation,” Khan says over the phone.
Khan, who retired as principal of the prestigious Karamat Husain Muslim Girls PG College in Lucknow, adds: “Food is a part of our collective heritage that must be preserved, no matter what. Even after we are gone, our heritage should live in people’s pressure cookers, kadahis, degs and hearts, and this book is a step in that direction.”
The recipes reflect the myriad communities that have lived in Lucknow for centuries—families that migrated from as far as Bengal and Kashmir to make the city their home. Twenty-five people from different walks of life, from educationists to lawyers, social entrepreneurs, artists and homemakers, have contributed. There is a fair mix of meat and vegetarian dishes, a number of them combining the two, a trait typical of Lucknowi cooking.
The recipes go beyond biryanis and qormas to include an exhaustive vegetarian section, with dals, sabzis and even tehri (the quintessential dish of rice, potatoes and peas) and nimona (a winter stew of ground green peas, potatoes, wadis and spices), two Lucknow classics. There are sections on Gosht, or Mutton, recipes; Murgh Aur Machli, or chicken and fish, recipes; and meetha, or dessert recipes. Within these sections, you find Parsi, Kashmiri and Bengali recipes. Kuckreja and Khan maintain these are as Lucknowi as khichda or methi machli, “because they too have been cooked and eaten here for generations”.
Some of the recipes are unique, found only in homes. So, there is sagpaita (black split urad dal cooked with spinach), laal mirch ka keema (a preparation of fiery red winter pepper and lamb mince), namak mirch ki nukhti (a meat dish made only with salt and red chillies) and chane ki dal ka halwa (a rich dessert made of cooked Bengal gram lentil, ghee, sugar and cardamom).
Appropriately enough, perhaps, Lucknowi Bawarchi Khane opens with a foreword by the film-maker Muzaffar Ali. A well-known Lucknowi and gourmand, Ali talks of his days in the city and the joy of home-cooked meals, the skill of cooks, the mehmaanawazi, or generosity of hosts, and the unique dishes he has eaten at friends’ homes.
What is missing, though, is the stories behind each recipe: Where did they originate, how did they evolve, who introduced them to the family? While the detailed introduction to the book talks about cooking styles, unique ingredients like kachnar ki kali (the flower buds of a local tree), cooking methods like dum and dhungar, and even unwritten rules of cooking, like never adding pumpkin or brinjal to meat, it is silent on the aspect of history.
It’s a start, though. Lucknow Bawarchi Khane, says Khan, is a work in progress. “Through this book of home recipes, we hope to reach out to a much wider audience,” she adds. “We are sure that more home chefs will come forward with their family recipes so that we can have newer editions in the future.” We hope so too.
By Sheena Iqbal
1kg of foreleg mutton (dast ka gosht), curry cut
3 medium-sized onions
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
3 tsp dhania (coriander) powder
Half tsp red chilli powder
6 laung (cloves)
4 hari elaichi (green cardamom)
2 tez patta (bay leaf)
6 sabut kali mirch (whole black pepper)
1 tbsp coconut powder
3 tsp khus khus (poppy seeds)
8 badaam (almonds)
150g cooking oil
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pressure cooker, add the sliced onions, fry till golden brown. Remove from oil, keep aside on absorbent paper. In the same oil, add tez patta, laung, hari elaichi, sabut kali mirch and fry for half a minute. Add meat and salt, keep frying till the meat stops sticking to the sides of the pressure cooker. Add ginger and garlic paste, dhania powder, chilli powder and sauté well with the meat.
Add about half a cup of water and close the lid of the pressure cooker.
Once the pressure builds up, reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes till the meat is tender. Wait for the pressure to subside.
Dry-roast the coconut powder, poppy seeds and almonds. Grind them to a fine paste along with the curd and the fried onions.
Open the lid of the cooker, add the curd paste and keep roasting the meat till the oil separates.
Add the required water for the gravy, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat, cover with a lid. The qorma is ready.
Anubhuti Krishna writes on food, travel, culture and design.