If I lived in NY, I would eat here every single day, at least until I expired from heart disease.
Being in the restaurant was essentially like a euphoric waking dream for me, as the menu included almost every variety of Muslim-style kebab and bread; this time I settled for chicken tikka and a keema naan; hardly adventurous, but a good measure of a restaurant is of course how they do the simple stuff. Both were excellent and came hot-and-hot, the ovens being only a hand-full away from the counter and creating a quite authentic micro-atmosphere inside the shop. Being in America, I of course had to have a Cola drink with them.
There was simply too much on offer in the restaurant to eat in one sitting; next time I swear the first dish to try will be the tava kuta-kut – made with offal and brain – and their menu, photographed for posterity, included nihari, haleem, paya, khulcha, gola kebab, a variety of biryanis and chicken/goat karhai. With a paan-walla (more on this later) in easy walking distance, there is little more I could wish for, except perhaps for a place nearby that would serve me some pre-meal chota pegs, and I suspect when I next visit New York my most likely first port of call will be Kababish, Jackson Heights.
With a number of Indian stores nearby, I managed to stock up on some of the more esoteric items that I can’t get here in Tokyo: kewra extract, neem, Triphala (for the innards, post-eating), Naga chillies, kala jeera and South Indian tamarind. Ratanjot (alkanet) unfortunately eluded me despite much searching, although it is quite unusual and I only ever use for one dish (liver-kidney kebabs). There is always next time.
Made some Indian dishes for guests last weekend. I strive to produce new and unusual dishes each time I have guests, and although the Hyderabadi pullao was a little under-cooked, the brain-nihari went down very well, as well as the fish kebabs and cucumber-garlic-mint-yoghurt.
Tarka daal; Sindhi-style lady’s fingers; basmati rice.
Hot hot karhai chicken, tarka dahl, plain basmati rice.
just to let you know I am still alive. Still no internets at home, hopefully this will be sorted out this weekend; I have a long post about my recent trip to the hot spring at Heda coming up, but for the time being here are pictures of some of the dishes at a meal I made recently for guests.
Chappli kabab – reshmi kabab – burani - lamb biryani
These were suitably accompanied by walnut-mint chutney (a superb dish, with extra flavour from crushed anardana seeds and hot raw green chillies) and a stack of flatbreads. The biryani was an unusual one, made from uncooked meat layered with parboiled rice (usually the meat is cooked first separately) and flavoured with milk, apricots, almonds, saffron and rosewater: a real Mughal treat. I didn’t have a suitable le Creuset-style crockpot to bake it in, but my trusty Japanese stone donabe did the job admirably and it came out fairly well, considering this was my first attempt at this recipe.
After nearly a week of eating cod and flounder, I had a hankering for some spicy and/or meat dishes. With a typhoon over our heads in Tokyo and me being pretty fagged out from my Iwate trip, I stayed in and made kebabs. Not the rather sordid variety you find in the lower sort of fast food restaurant back home in the UK, but one of my favourites of all time: chappli kebab. I also had some cream leftover from my cod cooking so I bought some chicken and made reshmi tikka chicken kebabs also, which provided a suitable accompaniment. One rarely finds the chappli kebab on offer in restaurants in the West, and my particular variety is as tasty as it is simple to make. Containing plentiful green chillies, anardana seed, tomato and cheaper cuts of beef I minced myself by hand, they came out quite spectacular. The secret is of course, not to grind the coriander or cumin seeds too finely, to leave a nice texture, and to use browned besan flour rather than egg to bind them. A real chappli kebab should be deep-fried in the lard rendered from the dhumba fat-tailed sheep, and be enriched with plenty of beef bone marrow, but I could not reproduce either of these conditions at home for obvious reasons; instead I shallow-fried the kebabs in ghee and used a cheap cut of stewing beef for a bit of extra fat and connective tissue. Otherwise they came out quite authentic and probably not very different from the kebabs eaten today on the northwest frontier, since antiquity. I ate mine with unleavened flatbreads, straight off the fire, and with copious lashings of hot walnut-mint chutney (if you haven’t tried this, do, as it is incomparable) on the side.
With no fishing these last two weeks due to the poor weather, I had another bash at making nihari (transliteration of South Asian languages into Roman script is always difficult; you may also see it written as nehari or neyari). Thanks to the really nice folk at Kobe Halal Foods I obtained some beef shank, this time with no bone so the nihari would have to be without nilla. I don’t think I have ever seen this dish on offer in restaurants back home in the UK, despite the profusion of north-west Indian dishes (or at least, inspired or bastardised derivatives of them) and the fact I am sure it would be very popular. Curiously enough, the cut of meat is rather similar to what the Japanese butcher would refer to as suji or ‘lines’. Like nihari it is often considered a poor man’s dish (usually served up in cheap izakaya bars) and the meat is braised for eight hours or blasted in a pressure cooker, seasoned with soy sauce and mixed with potatoes, onions and konnyaku.
I finally got round to attempting to make nihari. Sadly I was lacking some of the main ingredients to make it truly authentic; I used cheap cuts of boned leg rather than shank, I had no mace, no chunks of bone with delicious marrow in it, and no brain. I looked forward to making some hot naan or other bread to go with it, only to find that whilst I was in Okinawa, my bag of atta had become infested most thoroughly with weevils of some variety and I threw the whole thing out and had my nihari with rice. It was however, blazing hot and the meat very tender and delicious; it made a quite excellent breakfast that also removed the requirement for eating lunch. I have now found a halal butchers here that will sell me shank on the bone and sheep brain, and a short trip to Ojima will provide me with mace, so the next time I make it it will be even better (and probably, hotter).
As the basis of my nihari, I used a recipe from one of Madhur Jaffrey’s excellent cookbooks. The first Indian cookbook I ever read – “borrowed” from my mother who never used it – was by her, and she is by far my favourite. In addition to the wide variety of recipes she describes, many of them come with a short introduction about the origins of the dish or how she first encountered it. Her knowledge of Indian history, culinary and colonial, is great and her anecdotes relating her early life in a well-to-do Delhi family (she makes no attempt to hide her privileged upbringing) are wonderful reading.
Hopefully next year I will be able to eat real nihari for myself. I definitely want to fish the Arabian Sea and by starting or ending my trip in Lahore, I can have the real thing (in addition to trying a host of other local specialties). In the meantime, I can continue experimenting here in Tokyo.