Nostalgia is wonderful and a robust element of nostalgia is food, the very focus of this column. Food builds bonds around people, creates memories that come rushing to our minds when our tastebuds find the same flavours and textures that we enjoyed earlier with friends, family or on a solo venture.
An immigrant dreams to go back home, to the far country, where the parents are alive and well, the childhood family home is bustling with activity and the aroma of freshly-cooked food emanates from the lively kitchen. However, many from amongst us go back to a home where the parents are no more and the family kitchen is no more a hustle bustle of activity, the way we left it many years ago. Yes, it wasn’t frozen in time, but as I learnt on my two recent trips to Pakistan, if we are lucky and blessed enough to have a loving extended family in Pakistan, willing to shower us with tender loving care (i.e. home-made food), we feel fulfilled and loved, and leave Pakistan with the warmth that comes with visiting ‘home’.
I am most happy to say that my sweet aunt cooked the most delicious food for me. Upon landing in Karachi, my siblings and I, with our respective spouses, were invited for a lavish meal of biryani, shami kebab and mutton qorma, accompanied by many other side dishes. And the conversation around the table was as lively as it could have been. We chatted up a storm, feeling at home, because of the warmth of our wonderful hosts and the home-made feast they laid out for us.
Food nourishes our soul and fosters a sense of belonging
The biryani at the table was of a unique kind. It was as elegant as pulao, and as delicious as the best biryani you’ve ever had. I will be sharing that recipe with you soon, as soon as I acquire it. Leaving the home of our hosts, and on returning to my family home, I felt fulfilled, appreciating the bonds that food enables to flourish.
The next few days that I was in Karachi, my dearest aunt sent me home-made food every day. The menu was impeccable, the cooking mother-perfect and the feeling indescribable — from tehrri to chicken curry, karrhi to qeema karalay, parathay to kebab. Degchis (pots) of hot food found its way to our house and, in the process, left me with the sweetest feeling of belonging.
We belong to our parents, country, siblings, family and friends because we break bread together. We feast together, and the mothers who cook for us (may they be ours or someone else’s) leave us feeling nourished. They remind us that food creates the sweetest bonds, and that childhood kitchen smells are still waiting for all immigrants. Thank you mothers and motherland, for always embracing us.
INGREDIENTS (SERVES 6 TO 8)
6 to 8 oz oil
3 lbs mutton or chicken
1 tsp heaped finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp heaped finely chopped fresh garlic
3 medium sized onions (finely sliced)
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 or 3 black cardamoms
14 to 16 green cardamoms, split
4 bay leaves
2 tbs kewra water (pandanus water)
2 to 3 tbs almonds (optional)
Salt to taste
2 tsp red chilli powder
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp garam masala powder
1 ½ tsp cumin powder
12 oz yoghurt
56 to 64 oz water if cooking mutton; 40 to 48 oz water if cooking chicken
Heat oil, fry onions until golden brown, drain onions and set aside. In the same oil fry whole garam masalas and green cardamom for a couple of minutes, and then add meat. Maintaining high heat, fry the meat, and add ginger garlic, yoghurt, powdered masalas, salt and fried onions. Braise meat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Bring water to boil and add to meat, letting the korma boil for a few minutes and lowering the heat to medium. Let cook, adding bay leaves and kewra water. Once the curry thickens, and the meat becomes tender and oil separates your qorma is ready to be served.
1½ cup basamati rice
2 green chillies
1 tsp fresh ginger-garlic
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder to taste
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 large potato, cut in small cubes
½ cup to ¾ cup chopped cauliflower
½ cup peas or carrots (optional)
1 black cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf (each)
4 to 6 black pepper corns
Oil to taste
Heat oil, brown sliced onions, add tomato, green chilli, ginger-garlic, salt, cumin, turmeric, red chilli, cook on high heat for a few minutes, adding potatoes, cauliflower, pea or carrots. Cook for a couple of minutes, add three and a quarter cups of hot water and add whole garam masala. Pour washed rice, cook on high heat until rice somewhat absorbs vegetable stock and appears parboiled. Seal shut to initiate dum cooking on low heat. Once rice plumps, serve with chutney, salad and raita.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of Feast With a Taste of Amir Khusro
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 6th, 2018