Sunday, February 24, 2019

Mirza Ghalib's haveli and sheermal from Old Delhi

As a child I was a fairly frequent visitor to Ballimaran, all thanks to my father's college friend who lived there. This is long before Delhi Metro made it easy to commute across the city, and food walks in Old Delhi were less heard of. Anyhow, there came a time when I could proudly navigate my way through the labyrinth that is Ballimaran - all the way from Hauz Qazi Chowk where we would park our car, right up the narrow, steep stairway to his house. Why did I visit? Well, the food, of course. The best biryani and the best korma I have ever tasted, was in that household. But my most favourite thing to eat was sheermal, and I have never found one anywhere else that was just as good. 

Over the years, our trips became less frequent, and when uncle moved houses, our visits to Ballimaran stopped entirely. And then last weekend, all thanks to a slight case of FOMO, Len and I made our way to the old city to check out Mirza Ghalib's haveli in the heart of Ballimaran. This is the house where Ghalib spent the last phase of his life from 1860 to 1869. In retrospect I must have passed by that crumbling building many times in my childhood, but there was no museum back then. A small part of the house was converted to a museum in the year 2000, and has been open to the public ever since. 

The museum itself isn't much to write about - two rooms containing a stone bust of the poet, three dusty hand-written manuscripts, and a glass case with some clothes belonging to the great man. The rest of the haveli seems to have been usurped by settlers over the last few decades. 


Inside Mirza Ghalib's museum in Delhi
Relics of the past


Getting there

The closest metro station is Chawri Bazaar, and getting to the haveli is a piece of cake if you can brave the maddening crowd of people, rickshaws, two-wheelers, carts, and what-not! Google Maps showed us a mere 900m from the Hauz Qazi exit to the museum, but the walk seemed very, very long! 

Ballimaran streets

Between checking Google Map on my phone and ensuring I did not get run over by a cycle rickshaw, there was little time to admire the place. But even then the museum was only a part of the bigger picture. The crumbling buildings, the chaos of Lal Kuan bazaar, and the nostalgia of revisiting a place I frequented in my childhood, all added to the charm.

The Hamdard main office is one of the landmarks of the area


Finding food and reliving memories

On the way back, we snuck into a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of a shop to pick up sheermal and tandoori roti. These were priced at Rs.25 an Rs.6 each. The latter we consumed on our way back to the metro station - a bit like a Parisian would have his baguette while heading to the subway :) This made for a delicious lunch. 

The fluffy white tandoori rotis are salted, and will melt in your mouth, while the the rich, sweet flavour of the sheermal is absolutely decadent. We had the sheermal for dinner, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave until they were tender and fragrant. I did miss the korma though - the perfect accompaniment with these flatbreads - but I have saved that for another day. And another adventure.


They say sheermal somewhat resembles a Danish pastry! 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Third time's a charm: Lal maas for dinner

I had a rather annoying start to the day yesterday. Food-wise that is. It started with a failed attempt at making Vietnamese egg coffee at breakfast, followed by a messed up dalia khichri episode during lunch all thanks to a leaky pressure cooker gasket. I was getting a bit jittery by this time. My cousin was coming home for dinner. What if it was one of those days when everything went wrong?! And, I am one of those people, who would kill myself in the kitchen slaving over a complex recipe just to see that OMG WOW expression on the faces of my guests! Ummm, yes, I can be that lame. 

But, it seemed pretty pointless to cry to cry over spilled milk - figuratively speaking, of course (I did not spill milk yesterday!), and so I did what I have done since childhood - when faced with tough decisions and hardships, hit the bed! There's nothing like a satisfying nap to get a fresh start on a problem situation. When I woke up, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I chucked the fancy-smancy 3-course meal ideas I had planned upon, and decided to stick with what I understand best. Curry, of course.

The last time I had made lal maas, I had tried a healthy rendition of the recipe, and realized some recipes you DON'T mess with! You cannot cook a bland, oil-free lal maas!! This was soon after my trip to Jodhpur, where I had tried the dish for the first time. Smack in the middle of the gorgeous Mehrangarh Fort, my meal at Chokelao Mehal restaurant was unforgettable. And, just like that overcast afternoon, I wanted a fiery red curry and no more culinary faux pad for the day. And for me, third time was a charm. Things went as per plan. The lal maas was finger-licking good! Rich, flavourful, and robust. The sweetness from the ghee along with the fiery dried chilly is to die for. Really! It's just that good! Best enjoyed with a plate of steaming hot rice, or freshly made tawa rotis. 


Lal maas

What you need

1 kg mutton, get your choice of cut, but boned is preferable 
3 onions, medium sized, finely chopped 
8-10 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Quarter cup, ghee, or clarified butter
200 gm thick curd
8-10 dried red chilly (or as per taste)
2-3 tsp red chilly powder
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp coriander powder 
1 tsp cumin powder
3 black cardamom 
4 green cardamom 
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder, or a small 1/2 stick 
Coriander leaves, finely chopped to garnish 

Equipment: Use a pot with a tight lid for this recipe. 


How to

Before you start, soak the dry red chilies in a bit of water and allow them to soften. Also mix the dry spices with the curd and keep aside.

Heat ghee in a pot and add whole spices. When they start getting fragrant add the chopped garlic. After a minute or so, add the chopped onion and a bit of salt as you fry it. This will help the onion to soften faster. Fry until they turn to a golden brown colour (and your kitchen starts smelling incredible!)

Add the mutton and fry for a few minutes until you see some colour on the meat.

Add the spiced curd and mix well with the mutton. You might want to turn off the flame as you do it because adding curd to a hot pot can lead to curdling.

Cook this on low to medium heat until all the moisture from the curd has evaporated. The oil will float to the top and edge of the pot at this point. This process should takes around 15 minutes or so. 

Then add warm water and cover the pot tightly with a lid. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. 

When the oil separates and the gravy is thick, turn off the heat.

Add chopped coriander leaves to garnish.