A certain kind of craving kicks in during weekends in winter; a craving for the familiar bhuna mutton or soul-satisfying potato-mutton curry, followed by a food-coma-induced nap. A meal that takes you back to childhood and the Sunday ritual of food and family, a yearning for a time when life was slower and could be savoured. It finds an echo on social media, in Mumbai-based cookbook author Saee Koranne Khandekar’s Instagram post of a simple recipe of a thin mutton curry. Or, Tamil Nadu’s Village Cooking Channel video of paniyarams stuffed with mince mutton.
“The Sindhi mutton dish on my menu is our family special,” says Mumbai-based chef Vicky Ratnani, whose home food venture, The Speakeasy Kitchen, is just a month old. It is a classic mutton curry slow-cooked with tomato and onion, spiced with red chilli and coriander powders and a generous addition of cumin. It acquires depth in taste and colour with the Sindhi garam masala’s distinct flavours of black pepper and cinnamon.
Ratnani, who earned his stripes as a chef by specialising in Western cuisines, is known for his creative cooking shows on channels such as NDTV Good Times and Zee Zest. His no-holds-barred approach to food is evident in the menu of The Speakeasy Kitchen’s weekly menu, which offers a selection of breads, burgers and salads. But he was keen on introducing Sindhi food and there is a segment dedicated to aloo tuk, dal pakwan and, of course, the braised Sindhi mutton curry served with the sweetish bhugga chawal.
Winter is mutton season around the country. In Delhi, the executive chef of ITC Maurya, Rajdeep Kapoor, recalls: “Growing up in a Punjabi family of enthusiastic foodies, mutton was a weekend speciality cooked by my father for lunch. His idea was to bring the family together.”
Kapoor is not the only one whose father would take to the kitchen on Sundays to prepare mutton. Hop over to Monkey Bar and you will find Chandraji’s mutton curry, a dish credited to Manu Chandra’s father. When Chandra, chef-partner of the Olive group of restaurants that runs Monkey Bar, was growing up in the India of the 1980s-90s, it wasn’t unusual for the head of the family to cook their “special” mutton curry on a Sunday. It was a time when people did what they were supposed to do on a weekend: spend time with family. It was a way to bond and relax over a satisfying, familiar ritual, keep the children engaged, satiate their restless energy with good food and lull them into a long siesta.
In some homes, mutton is cooked with vegetables. Potatoes make way for fresh winter produce that offers the dish a distinct seasonal flavour. Kapoor suggests cooking mutton with cauliflowers. “To bring out the flavours and aromas, prepare this dish in ghee or mustard oil with a sprinkling of garam masala,” he says, and recommends pairing it with hot parathas. In Kashmir, turnips are used in mutton dishes. In Kashmiri Brahmin homes, the comforting gogji syun (mutton cooked with turnips) is a highlight. “In summer, my mother would make mutton with Kashmiri greens and bottle gourd. Apart from the meat with vegetables preparations, she would make mutton kofta gravies with mincemeat hand-rolled into sausage-shaped balls,” says Shirali Raina, a doctor in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. She notes the wide variety of mutton dishes in Kashmiri cuisine, from roganjosh to yakhni, koftas and vegetables-infused delicacies. “Even the koftas would have slight variations as the mincemeat would be mixed with grounded almonds or bread crumbs,” she reminisces.
In the 1990s, Raina shifted from Kashmir to Noida and the practice of toiling in the kitchen on weekends was replaced by the convenience of takeaway meals or dining out with friends. “When I got this call from you, I had to rewind to a time almost 30 years ago,” she says. The slow disappearance of a weekend delicacy made from scratch at home resonates with Ratnani too. But the desire to try food that reminds one of home remains, auguring well for his new food venture.
Mutton with potato chunks binds the Sunday food ritual in Odia, Bengali and Assamese homes. Mangsha Tarkari in Odia, Mangshor Jhol in Bengali and Mangsor Jool in Assamese— the recipe is similar. It is cooked in mustard oil, simmered in a ginger-garlic-based gravy, topped with green chillies and fresh coriander, and finished off with steamed rice.
Mutton dishes are not restricted to lunch. In Kerala, appams with stew is considered bona-fide Sunday breakfast. Chef Regi Mathew, co-owner and culinary director of Kappa Chakka Kandhari in Chennai and Bengaluru, grew up in Kottayam. “Sundays means appam with mutton ishtew,” he says. The meat calls for a particular day or occasion since it is expensive, and enjoys a special status. Mathew shares a recipe of lightly spiced mutton stew cooked in coconut milk. It doesn’t require hours of elbow grease, and if appam isn’t available, can be paired with rice. Eat with relish, burp in satisfaction and melt into a long afternoon nap.
500g mutton cubes
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp ginger, shredded
3 green chillies, slit
1 strip curry leaves
1 potato, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
1 litre coconut milk, second extract
1 cup coconut milk, first extract
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp pepper powder
Half tsp cardamom powder
2 cinnamon sticks, half-inch each
Salt to taste
Heat coconut oil in a cooking pot and crackle the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves. Fry for a minute. Add shredded ginger, slit green chillis, sliced onions and curry leaves and sauté. When the onions turn opaque (don’t let them brown), add the mutton cubes and fry well till the mutton is nicely seared on all sides. Add the second extract of coconut milk and salt. Cover and cook till the mutton is half done. Add potato and carrot cubes and simmer.
When the mutton is fully cooked, add the first extract of coconut milk, cardamom and pepper powders. Check the seasoning, serve hot with appams.
(Note: To extract coconut milk, place the grated coconut in a strainer. Pour one cup warm water and squeeze over a bowl. It yields about one and one-third cups. It’s the first extract. Repeat the process for the second extract.)