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’Tis the season to be jolly and fire up the oven

  • Wine meets the oven in this Christmas-appropriate recipe of mutton roast
  • Despite a world going to—in the writer’s estimation—pieces, it is a season to welcome some cheer

Roast mutton with home-made wine.
Roast mutton with home-made wine. (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)

These days my nine-year old frequently weaves through the house on her waveboard, threading her way dangerously past—what she considers—obstacles, narrowly missing the other occupants. She ignores their reprimands and the anarchy she causes as she single-mindedly sings carol after carol.

It is, clearly, Christmas time.

Practise she must because her choir is singing at a mall, at the airport, in a local park, and going door to door carol-singing in the neighbourhood. Outside, Richards Town, Bengaluru, is in the midst of the busy season. The newspapers, WhatsApp groups and flyers at local stores are full of announcements about Christmas performances by bands, trios, choirs and other combinations of singers. One of the joys of living in this city is experiencing how it bursts into song at this time every year. Music, of course, is one part of Christmas in Bengaluru. The other is food.

Everyone and their aunt appear to be making cakes, kulkuls (sugar curls), shortbread, rum pops, cookies and wine. The shelves of local stores are overloaded, and the kitchens of home chefs, friends and neighbours are running full tilt. One of them, a home baker, announces a batch of cakes with no alcohol. “A Muslim friend, whose family loves plum cake, has become a major fan of what he calls my ‘halal’ cake," writes Charmaine Saldanha on the local WhatsApp group. Indeed, Christmas involves every religion. I have written previously about how Eid and Diwali are inter-community celebrations in Richards Town. So, too, with Christmas, with the great unifying factor, as always, being food.

We are usually invited to a pre-Christmas dinner by my daughter’s friend’s family down the road, timed to be convenient for those who leave town for the holidays. There isn’t much idle talk at the Fernandes’ because they start singing and won’t stop until the party pretty much runs its course. There is excellent Mangalurean pork and beef and laughter, wine and warmth.

Our other Christmas ritual is at another Fernandes home—lunch on Christmas Day hosted by my friend Naresh Fernandes’ parents in Bandra, Mumbai. They are not as much the singing types, but that’s replaced by great conversation, presents, that familiar warmth and East Indian/Goan pork and lots of feni.

The Christmas season also prompts me to cook more than I usually do. That may have something to do with the extra cheer and goodwill I feel towards all women, men and my family. So I have lately been in the kitchen more than usual, and I love it.

I love spending cool December mornings poking around supermarket aisles. I love bringing home herbs and ingredients I do not normally buy. I love the prep and chaos in my kitchen, the wife’s ceaseless efforts to keep the house neat and clean, and the nine-year-old’s equally ceaseless efforts to keep her busy. And I love the labours of our love, as they metamorphose into a hearty, brand-new, booze-filled lunch (always convenient for older folk).

I use a lot of wine during Christmas season cooking, and, as you may have guessed, consume it as well—a happy situation that gives me a buzz and galvanizes me to keep the home fires burning. This week I used that wine in roast mutton, in this case sweet home-made grape wine made by a neighbour. After the particularly successful roast, which you can read about below, I concluded—after sipping the home-made wine before and after using it—that it may not have been a fancy merlot or a pinot noir, but it certainly packed a decent kick.

So, I settled down that evening to the local brew. As the level fell, I smiled more, cracked bad jokes and felt particularly merry, despite a world going to—in my estimation—pieces. ’Twas, as they say, the season to be jolly.


Serves 6


1kg mutton, shoulder with few bones

1 tbsp oil (sunflower or olive)

2 onions, chopped

1-inch piece cinnamon

2 tsp ginger-garlic paste

4 cloves

2 black cardamom pods

5 green cardamom pods

2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red-chilli powder

2 tsp garam masala

1 cup home-made or other red wine

1 tbsp dried thyme

Salt to taste


Heat oil gently in a pressure cooker and drop in cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. When they begin to pop, add chopped onion and sauté until translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a minute. Add coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala and red-chilli powder. Sauté for a minute and add the mutton. Add salt and two cups of water. Mix and bring to a boil. Reduce flame and simmer for 10 minutes.

Fix lid of cooker and pressure-cook for five whistles. When steam is released, transfer to an oven-proof dish. Stir in the wine and dried thyme. Roast in the oven for 1 hour at 170 degrees Celsius, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces and thickens.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

Twitter - @samar11

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