I grew up enjoying this dish prepared by my grandmother, and then my mother. It was a dish cooked on special occasions, and you will see why below, and one the family always looked forward to. The lovely creamy curry with chunks of meat, potatoes, shallots and fresh tomatoes was greedily sopped up with naan or sheermal until we were stuffed.
This is a dish with history and a long journey with the original dish being adapted along the way. The origins of this dish are thought to be in the Uzbek/Iranian region of the world where meat was plentiful along with milk and lentils. It arrived in the Northern states of India, Kashmir and Pakistan where spices and chillies were added. It travelled south into India with most probably the Mughals and Nawabi kitchens to their palaces across India and took on further adaptations along the way based on the availability of ingredients and local palates. However, the core of the dish remains intact, it is a royal dish packed with flavours and fit for any celebration.
The Khoja community is a sect of Shiite Muslims of the Nizari Isma'illi people originating in Gujarat, India. They converted to Islam from the Hindu Baniya community under the tutelage of Islamic pirs, or priests from Persia. The term Khoja term is derived from the word "Khwaja" which is an honorific title. Today the khojas are spread in many parts of India, including Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, but also internationally in East Africa, North America, Europe and Pakistan. This dish is packed with subtle flavours. the meat is fall off the bone tender and infused with green chilli and cilantro. The curry is loaded with soft potatoes and shallots, and bright cherry tomatoes. This curry is no longer cooked in milk, but coconut milk is substituted, that along with the purèed lentils gives the sauce a silky creaminess. The spices are a combination of delicate Mughal spices, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and more that are accentuated with cilantro and green chillies. This is a dish to gorge on, to fall in love with and one to be enjoyed often. For more recipes from Zafar, click here.
1/2 cup split chana dal, soaked in water overnight
4 cups water
Salt, to taste
8-10 green chillies, or to taste
1 generous handful of cilantro leaves and tender stems
3-4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons oil
2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon sticks
5-6 whole cloves
5-6 green cardamom pods
12-15 black peppercorns
10-12 curry leaves
1 large onion, finely diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons of ginger paste
1 lb mutton with bone
3 cups of water or meat stock
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
Salt, to taste
2 potatoes, peeled and chunked
20 shallots, peeled and left whole
15 cherry tomatoes
Cilantro, minced, for garnish
Rinse out the split chickpeas and bring to a boil in the water with salt till they are cooked through but still retain a bite, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the chickpeas saving the cooking liquids. Take 1/3 of the chickpeas and purée to a smooth paste with some of the cooking liquids. Set the purée, cooked chickpeas and remaining cooking liquids aside.
Grind the green chillies and the cilantro to a smooth paste with just enough water. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pot and add the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns and fry for 30 seconds till the cardamom pods turn a light golden. Add the curry leaves and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the onions, turn down the heat to low and sauté till the onions are soft and translucent.
Add the ginger and garlic and cook till the ginger is no longer smelling raw about 30 seconds. Add the meat and mix with the spices. Cook till the meat is sealed on all sides, tossing the pieces frequently. Be careful not to cook on high heat and colour the onions.
Add the green chilli-cilantro paste and cook on medium for an additional 8-10 minutes till all the water is evaporated and the green paste is well-fried and very aromatic.
Add 3 cups water, or stock if you have it, the coconut milk and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer with the lid tightly sealed for 90 minutes till the meat is very tender and falling off the bone. Add the potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the shallots, cooked chickpeas, chickpea paste, and chickpea cooking water, and shallots in and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust.
Serve hot garnished with cherry tomatoes and cilantro and with rice, a leavened bread like sheermal or other.