If you are in New Delhi, or in the company of North Indians, you can’t help but hear frequent mentions of the Mughlai cuisine. The name rings a bell, as it is directly derived from the word ‘Mughal’, referring to the Central Asian conquerors who arrived in India in the 16th century, and made the country their home. The influences of their food still hold sway in the Northern plains of India, and have given rise to what is now known as the Mughlai cuisine.
Not A Daily Meal
If you try to imagine what the Asian emperors of old might have eaten, what will probably come to your mind is rich curries, roasted meats, expensive rice preparations, elaborate breads and fragrant desserts. Mughlai food does full justice to your imagination. Resultantly, it is not daily fare in any Indian household. Weight watchers, middle class budgets and generally health conscious people can hardly afford such rich preparations everyday! Mughlai food is generally eaten as a family meal in restaurants, or prepared for special occasions at home.
Rich and Creamy Curries
The most distinct aspect of the Mughlai cuisine is its thick and creamy curries. Fresh cream, tomato puree, onion paste, ginger and garlic, dried fruits and nuts, and whole and ground spices are indispensable ingredients. Cashews, almonds and raisins are used extensively, and the curried dishes can either be prepared mild or spicy, depending on taste. The use of freshly ground spices gives Mughlai food a very strong and tempting aroma. In fact, the fragrance travels quite a distance in the neighborhood, so rest assured your neighbors will know something’s up!
Some people believe that a Mughlai meal is incomplete without meats. That is not true, however. Vegetarians can enjoy this cuisine without apprehension, as long as they can procure paneer or Indian cottage cheese. It is the most important main vegetarian ingredient in a Mughlai meal. Apart from paneer, lentils, cauliflower, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, carrots and brinjal may all figure in a vegetarian Mughlai meal. Navratan Korma, a thick Mughlai main dish that consists of nine different vegetables, is a very popular preparation.
A vegetarian Mughlai meal begins with starters roasted over a charcoal grill or in a tandoor (Indian clay oven) and served dry. Paneer tikka, hara kabab, tandoori aloo, and tandoori gobhi are a few examples of vegetarian starters. In all, these starters consist of a diverse range of vegetarian items including paneer, potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, spinach, peas, onion and cauliflower, all seasoned with spices, grilled and then served dry.
The main course that follows consists of a dal (lentil) preparation and two or more different vegetarian main dishes. Generally people serve both curried and dry dishes, and a range of local breads with these. Dal makhani, a rich preparation of black dal that involves both cream and butter, is a very popular Mughlai dish. Additionally, there are 15-20 different paneer preparations to choose from, as well as preparations in several other vegetables mentioned above.
Mughlai breads have become popular all over the world. There is immense variety in doughs, and preparation and cooking styles. Some breads such as tandoori roti and roomali roti are dry, light and neutral in their tastes, whereas naans, kulchas and paranthas are heavier, more flavorful and generally consist of different kinds of stuffing and seasoning, as well as a good deal of oil or butter. Mughlai breads are typically cooked in the tandoor.
A Mughlai meal is never complete without dessert. Most of the desserts are made from milk-products, and rose water, saffron cardamom seeds and dry fruits are the most common ingredients used to add flavor and aroma. Phirni, Rabri, Kulfi (local ice-cream) and Sevian (sweet vermicelli) are all popular Mughlai desserts.
At the end of the day, A Mughlai meal is an experience that will leave you feeling full and satisfied; perhaps even too full! However, it is not something you will have on a daily basis, so you might as well relish it without guilt!
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