The Cuisines of India - The Moghul Influence by Liz Canham

The Great Moghul emperors ruled India for two centuries from 1526, when Babur captured Delhi until the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. In between were Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan (famous for building the Taj Mahal) and afterwards some lesser rulers, who came to plunder the treasury and works of art, the last of whom was finally sent packing by the British in 1858.

The Moghuls were Persian princes descended from Genghis Khan and their lifestyles were, to say the least, lavish. They built fantastic palaces, mosques and tombs, many of which remain as national monuments in India today.

Despite being Muslim, the Moghuls were tolerant of the local religions and customs which they supported enthusiastically.

In accordance with their sumptuous lifestyle, their food was rich and plentiful, incorporating large quantities of meat, cream, yoghurt, clarified butter (ghee), nuts and raisins, in the Persian style, into the local Hindu dishes as well as additional spices. The Moghuls were also responsible for the introduction of Kulfi (rich ice cream with almonds and pistachio nuts) and jilebi (fried pastry soaked in sugar syrup) as well as other sweet dishes.

Some examples of Moghul or Mughlai cuisine would be:

Quail, spatchcocked and marinaded in curd cheese or thick Greek yogurt, ghee, cracked black peppercorns, chilli powder, ground green cardamom, turmeric, salt, grated ginger, crushed garlic and grated onion then barbequed or grilled for 4 minutes or so until done.

Chicken cooked very slowly in ghee to which soaked, seeded dried red chillies and salt have been added. Fifteen minutes before the cooking time is complete, a generous amount of crushed garlic is added then the finished dish sprinkled with garam masala and served with roti (Indian bread).

Lamb Korma, but not as we in the West know it - that rather bland but sweet pale yellow curry. Here, while it is not particularly spicy hot, having only a little chilli powder, it is rich with pistachios, almonds, prunes and raisins added to the dish as well as other flavourings, including saffron.

Kakori Kebab is a very finely minced lamb kebab mixed with various spices, onion paste and fried gram flour. This is then moulded onto large skewers and stroked up and down until almost paper thin. The kebabs are then basted with saffron milk while cooking on a barbeque or under a hot grill. Serve with raw onion rings and lemon wedges.

Other recipes are:

Pot Roast Spiced Lamb

Add 10 split green cardamoms, 6 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaves and 10 black peppercorns to 250g heated ghee or oil. When the spices start to pop, add salt to taste and 3 finely chopped red onions and fry until golden. Then add 2 tbsp ground coriander, ½ tsp turmeric and 2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste) mixed to a paste with a little water. Stir well.

Stir in 6 finely crushed garlic cloves and 4cm finely grated fresh ginger then add 1kg of lamb slices piece by piece to keep the temperature up and stir until all the lamb is coated in the spices. Add 250g diced tomatoes and 300ml of lamb stock and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lamb is tender.

In the TV program in which I saw this dish being prepared, the chef "smoked" the dish by heating a piece of charcoal, pouring hot ghee over it and sealing it (in its own dish) in with the lamb for 10 minutes for a smoky flavour. However, in my experience, this isn't really necessary and a sprinkling of chopped fresh coriander is sufficient garnish.

Creamy Chicken Curry with Almonds

This may seem rather similar to a korma, but it actually has somewhat different ingredients.

Joint a small chicken into about 8 pieces and remove the skin.

Soak 4 finely shredded blanched almonds in a small amount of water.

Heat 85ml of oil and fry a small grated onion for 3-4 minutes, then add 1 tsp grated ginger and 1 tbsp garlic puree and fry for 2-3 minutes before adding 2 green chillies, ground to a paste with 1 tsp water and cooking for a further 30 seconds.

Add the chicken with 1 tbsp each of ground cumin and coriander and salt to taste. Fry until the chicken is browned on all sides then add 250ml natural yogurt very gradually, stirring continuously until the chicken is almost cooked. Add 375ml water, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and remove the chicken pieces from the pan.

Blitz the almonds and soaking water to a fine paste. Strain the sauce back into the pan and put on medium heat. Return the chicken to the pan with the almond paste and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes.

Add 125ml double cream, 1 tsp ground black cardamom and 1 tsp lemon juice, simmer for another 2 minutes before serving sprinkled with almond slivers and (if you wish) silver leaf.

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About The Author, Liz Canham