Last Sunday, I enjoyed an amazing ensemble of rustic and earthy food from the North West Frontier Province at Le Meriden, Gurgaon. Celebrity Chef, Osama Jalali and his wife Nazia Jalali had curated a special menu from the province for a ten-day food festival. I managed to go on the last day and repented this delay. I got to sample Chef’s Special spread comprising, Chapli Kebab, Namak Boti , Chandan Kebab, and Tikka Boti as part of Starters, followed by Balochi Kadhai, Koyla Murg, Chinioti Kunna Gosht, Chhole Murg and Chargah Pulao. What all does this mean ?
Explaining the background of the food festival and the food from our neighborhood, the North West Frontier Province, Osama Jalali told me that he had recently spent almost one and a half months in Pakistan and traveled extensively in the interiors. He had gone there for a family wedding and then traveled by the local buses in the interiors sampling local food and understanding recipes. “I talked to the Shadiwala Khansamas, the local cooks, the street food vendors and many household chefs to understand the dishes and the recipes”, told Osama Jalali.
He said the entire province is all about meat and its flavours. The taste of the dish is normally led by the flavours of meat with very little and basic spices. There is no concept of finesse in it. The meat is not finely minced. Even the tomatoes are used in cooking as whole (never chopped). Once done, the skin is taken out with Tongs. Similarly, Black Cardamom Powder is used which has a distinct flavor. He said, he tried his best to get it here but couldn’t find it either online or in any shop. He then made it himself here to bring that flavor in the dishes.
Back in India, the Jalali Couple thought of bringing alive those authentic flavours and this is how the NWFP Food Festival was conceptualized. So, my Sunday Brunch was a lavish spread with some meat, some more, and more, and more….
Having given me the background, Chef whispered something in the Cell Phone and told me the food was on its way and we shall begin with the starters. He invited me to have a look at the buffet spread in the meanwhile. I was surprised to see his wife Nazia on the live counter doing Chapli Kebabs. I asked her permission to click which she shyly agreed. I was happy that they were being done for me and soon I would be able to taste those impressive kebabs.
Once back on my table, the first one to land was the Namak Boti. The cuts of lamb meat having wheatish hues served in steel plate emitted an amazing aroma. A quick bite and the meat was super soft and succulent. The meat had a thin crispy crust with a flavor juicy meat inside. A perfect start. It is a traditional local dish of Peshawar where the meat is cooked in a Kadhai (wok) with its fat and just the salt. Hence the name Namak Boti. It is also called Namak Mandi Gosht, a place there ( I had earlier written about it and you can read it here).
When these four pieces of Seekh Kebabs sitting pretty in a plate landed, I was curious why this regular dish. Chef explained me that this was Chandan Kebab. “Is there Chandan Powder in it”, was my quick question. Chef smiled and told me that the Seekh Kebabs had an equal quantity of Lamb and Chicken Minced Meat. Instead of regular onions, normally green onions are used along with some basis spices. This sounded quite interesting. Yes, once again, the looks were great. The first bite told me it was super soft and juicy. The mix of lamb and chicken meat was amazingly flavourful. Once couldn’t decipher whether it was dominated by lamb or the chicken meat. Both put together gave a wonderful taste.
Next was this dish of Goldenish-Brown Meat Morsels sitting in a plate emitting an aroma of burra done in fat. The meat had a glaze on it. The first bite and it was a bit crispy outside encasing a juicy and succulent meat. The meat was so soft that the firm looking morsel would disintegrate with a slight pressure of the fork. It had that charred flavor of the tandoor and yet appeared shallow fried. I was told that the meat was first done in tandoor and then finished on a griddle. Once again a great dish.
This was much awaited as was special for me as was being done by the lady herself. These two big sized meat patties, with a glazed surface, laid in a plate along with onion rings was a delight to look at. The bite was full of flavourful meat which was coarsely minced. There was apt amount of moistness in the Kebab which had rustic flavours. Had mild spices, some coriander powder with a hint of green chilli. Having squeezed a few drops of lemon juice on it, the taste enhanced to the next level. It is again a local dish from Peshawar, simple and flavourful.
The Main Course
Despite the exciting starters, I had yet saved my appetite for the mains for I knew from the trailer that the movie would be much more delightful. And I was right. One by one, I was introduced to the dishes.
Chinioti Kunna Gosht
This was a old time rustic Mutton Curry from the region. Had Lamb Shanks and Trotters in a slightly runny curry. The meat was super soft and the bones easily came out without disturbing the meat. One could even easily suck out the tasty bone marrow without any effort. I was told that this is slow cooked for a few hours over slow heat. The meat was quite tasty and so was the gravy. I could have had my whole meal with it. But then, there were other beauties in the waiting.
The name gives it all. It was dish made with Kabuli Chana and Chicken. This was a basic Punjabi Style Curry which took me to my roots. The nuttiness of the big sized Punjabi Chhole, coupled with the succulent chicken meat done with the basic spices and a hint of garam masala was a deadly combo. It was a difficult puzzle to solve, whether it was the Chhole or the Chicken which was better. Again, one could have the entire meal with it, but then there were more dishes to be enjoyed.
This was a dark Mutton Curry which had oil atop. The dish gave an aroma of that rustic Mutton you get at local dhabas with a slightly runny gravy. The meat, once again was super soft and succulent. Each morsel gave you the flavours of meat engrossed in rustic spices. The large slices of Green Chilly gave great aroma to the dish than adding the heat. The dish had a hint of tanginess in it which reminded me the way tomatoes would have been used in making this. This too was a great dish to savor with a Lachha Parantha.
Next in line was, once again, a Chicken Curry. Don’t get confused with the name. Neither the dish had the dark colour of the Coal, nor it had hint of meat charred to coal in the gravy. This was a light coloured chicken curry with lots of visible Green Chilly. The first spoonful told you it had the aroma of charred coal in it. The meat was soft and succulent done in mild spices and green chillies. Chef told me that while the recipe was basic from that country, there it is cooked on coal only. So, here in hotel too, he used only coal, not even wood, to slow cook the dish. That explained the coaly aroma of the earthy dish.
Chargah Pulao / Biryani
This was another specialty from the Lahore. Sitting in an earthen bowl, the long grained rice seemed playing hide a seek with Chicken. The Chargah Pulao was full of aromatic rice which were cooked along with spices and dry fruits including Cashew Nuts, Almonds, Raisins, Figs etc. Each grain was coated with flavours and yet no spice was in the sight. There was no oil visible and yet the pulao was moist enough. The seemingly braised Chicken, which had a glaze of frying over it, was juicy, soft and full of aroma of spices. The blend of spices with the nuttiness and sweetness of dry fruits gave it a unique taste. I didn’t need anything to go with this Pulao. One could even call this Biryani as it could pass all the tests of a perfect Biryani.
This unique experience of a hearty meal was wrapped with an array of local desserts ( Indian) such as Phirni, Rasmalai and Shahi Tukra from the Buffet spread.
The very talented and equally humble Chef Osama Jalali and family, has done a great service to the cuisine of the neighboring region by recreating the magic here in India for us to savor. He had earlier done a food festival on Rampuri Cuisine which was equally enjoyable. My blogpost on that could be read here:
I look forward to more of such experiences which I am able to share with my audience. Till then…
Bon Appetite !!