There’s a Punjabi saying that goes, “Jine lahore nahin dekhya wo te jamiya hi nahi“. What this basically means is that whosoever hasn’t seen Lahore, hasn’t lived (more literally hasn’t been born). Lahore is a historic place, with strong Mughal heritage. It is the second largest city in Pakistan, and the capital of its largest province: Punjab. In the 12th century, it was capital of the Ghaznavids empire. Which I mention only because I am a Ghaznavi.
There’s so much I can tell you about Lahore. It’s a unique place and the cultural capital of Pakistan. The sights, smells, colors, everything about it is alive and vibrant. It’s perfect chaos, and the food is nothing like the subpar quality of Pakistani food you have here in the United States.
I’d like to share with you my quick and dirty Lahori Charga (chicken) recipe. My mom of course can make this from scratch. But let’s be serious, I don’t always have time for that. This is what she offered me when I was whining about the hard labor involved in cooking:
Here’s the alternate spices if you don’t have Shaan Lahori Charga Masala and want to make this from scratch – not really a big deal, I just like to complain.
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the chicken thoroughly, and make 2 cuts in the chicken breast so that the masala will penetrate beyond the surface. Cover the whole chicken with the juice of one whole lemon or lime. Sprinkle entire chicken with Lahori Charga Masala. Let marinate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best.
Pan grill the chicken covered on medium heat without oil. Make sure to turn the chicken on all sides and watch that the heat isn’t so high that it is burning.
Once you feel the chicken is cooked (turns white), take it out. Rinse out the pot if you are using it for deep frying.
Squeeze another lemon or lime on the chicken, re-sprinkle with Lahori Charga Masala (dry rubbing).
Deep fry the chicken.
If you don’t have a deep fryer, just turn the chicken until all sides have had a chance to fry in oil.
Serve immediately. You should put the remaining Masala and lemons/limes for guests to add onto their prepared chicken as desired.
Posted in: Cooking | Tags: Fried Lahori Chicken, Lahori Charga Masala, Lahori chicken, Lahori chicken masala, Lahori chicken spices, Lahori food, Pakistani food, Pakistani Punjabi food, Shaan Lahori Charga Masala
Ramadan Mubarak to all our readers!
I started fasting for Ramadan when I was eleven or twelve years old. I’d have to do a fact check on the exact age with my mom since she remembers it better than I do. The first few days were the hardest. It would get easier along the way, until the week or so after Ramadan when every time I ate during the day I felt like I was making a mistake or doing something wrong. It’s interesting how a month can make or break a habit.
We fast from sunrise to sunset each day during Ramadan. It is especially challenging during the summer months when the days are longer and the weather is hot. The highlight of the day is definitely after the call for maghrib salat (prayer after sunset) when it’s time to break the fast.
Muslims host iftar parties for relatives, friends, and/or the community to share in the breaking of fast together. Breaking fast with someone is considered a blessing even if you aren’t fasting. It is also a good deed to feed those who are fasting during the month of Ramadan. And God knows we can all use those extra brownie points.
This year I hosted my second ever iftar party. Last year, I had a dozen or so guests and I was just starting out learning to cook. This year I have some experience under my belt and of course, the rest is left to God to make my food delicious or not. I hosted 33 guests on the 14th of August which is also Pakistan Independence Day, so obviously it was themed accordingly!
I set the menu as follows:
It is traditional in my culture to have an iftari which is more snacks based (see appetizers list) and follow it with a dinner later in the evening. This was the largest dinner party I have thrown. It was definitely a lot of work to cook for that many guests. Of course, I had my mom on video chat and on the phone guiding me, but it also took a lot of planning and coordinated execution.
First I thought of my theme. I am a proud Pakistani American and saw the opportunity to combine the celebration of Ramadan iftar with the celebration of Pakistani Independence day – 8.14.10. That set my color scheme: Green. I sent out a custom evite to all my guests 6 weeks in advance. Reserving the first weekend in Ramadan is very difficult because there will be many competing parties. I bought green glasses, white silverware and of course it helps that proud Pakistanis have lots of souvenirs, flags and symbols to scatter around the house. I got my holiday lights out and put them up, I used a giant Pakistani flag as a table cover, put out village souvenirs near the cupcakes at first and then near the drinks when we needed the freezer.
I rearranged all the furniture in the house to comfortably seat guests. I went for an open floor plan, removed all tables from the center, and created a large oval. I threw floor cushions in various spaces so people could sit on the carpet with comfort. I put small tables near chairs so people could rest their glasses. I developed an icebreaker so people would be forced to be creative, come out of their comfort zone and engage with the wider crowd.
Then I thought about my menu for about 10 days. I finally settled on the above mentioned menu. I bought green food coloring for my cupcakes as well as green icing to decorate them. I asked everyone to either wear green or South Asian clothes. My guest-list consisted of mixed races and faiths so it was great to have people join in the theme even when they were not Pakistani or Muslim.
My biggest concern was whether the quantity of food would be enough. At least a dozen of the guests were not fasting. The rest were so they had neither drank or eaten anything all day. Having many items is actually a plus because everyone will take a little of everything and then the dish can go a long way. I knew the main dish was the biryani.
I had to make as much of that as I could. Knowing my nature and tendencies to do things big, I have pots that will cook large quantities. I made 8 cups of uncooked basmati rice for the party. I began by creating the chicken masala for the biryani. I then boiled my rice with salt, bay leaves and black cardamom. Once the rice had boiled I strained it and divided it into two halves. I layered one half of the rice on the bottom of the large pot and put in all of the chicken masala on top, then I layered the rest of the rice on top. I added the yellow food coloring and put the entire pot in the oven at 180⁰F to keep warm until the guests arrived two hours later.
I served all the appetizers first. I fried the samosas and pakoras right before the breaking of the fast so they would be fresh and hot. In the meantime, I kept all the entrees warm. Fifteen minutes after everyone had a chance to eat the appetizers I reviewed the table, removed what was finished and set up the entrees.
After dinner, I facilitated the ice breaker, served dessert and chai.
All in all it was really memorable for me and I am glad I did it. I definitely think it was crazy to cook for so many people, but now that I have this under my belt it won’t be as overwhelming the next time around.
Posted in: Food Culture | Tags: Aloo samosas, Breaking fast Ramadan, Chaana chaat, Chicken Jalfrezie, iftar parties, Iftari Appetizers, Iftari biryani, Iftari dish, Iftari food, Iftari snacks, Kajoor, Keema samosas, Lamb Korma, maghrib salat iftar, Pakistani chicken biryani, Pakistani food, Pineapple cupcakes, Ramadan Iftar food, Roofza, Roofza with milk, Rooh Afza, Zucchini Pakora
My grandmother is Kashmiri. Her family lived in Lahore before partition and would visit Srinagar to escape the summer heat of Lahore. Later her trips to Srinagar were replaced by trips to New York, when her five children had made the United States their home. Nano, as I call her, was an excellent cook. She doesn’t cook much anymore due to her age and health, but I am so happy that her recipes are still alive in the family.
I called my aunt a few weeks ago (mom wasn’t available) and she gave me a recipe passed onto her from Nano. The story behind this recipe is that when Nano visited New York (from Pakistan), she didn’t quite understand how to bake things in the oven, so she invented this chicken recipe for the family. I made it for my American girlfriends the other day for the first time. In case you want to experiment with South Asian American cooking, here is the simplest thing I’ve made yet:
Marinate Chicken: (2 pieces per person recommended) doesn’t need to marinate for long, can be seasoned and cooked immediately:
Cook over medium heat in saucepan:
Steam potatoes in microwave. Each potato needs 4 minutes (2 mins on each side). Cut potatoes into halves or fourths.
Posted in: Cooking | Tags: grandmom's chicken, Kashmiri chicken, Pakistani American chicken, Pakistani food, South Asian American chicken, Srinagar chicken
Perfect kabob = flavorful grilled marinated (or spiced) meat cooked succulent but tender enough to melt in your mouth. The major disappointment for kabob is a dry and chewy kabob. Generally, kabob is served with leavened flat-bread (often known as naan), rice and vegetables/salad.
There are four categories of kabobs;
Shish kabob or souvlaki or satay or sekuwa: marinated chunk of usually cubed boneless meat grilled over open charcoal. Shish kabobs are usually grilled with skewers. Shish kabobs need the highest quality meat because there is no processing of meat before cooking except marination. Since shish kabobs are cooked with just radiant heat, it can be most succulent and juicy kabob if cooked right.
Tandoor kabob or kathi kabob or bhatti Kabob: marinated chunk of (usually with bones) meat grilled in a high heat clay oven known as tandoor. Temperature in tandoor can go as high as 900°F. Tandoor Kabob is generally a bit dry than shish kabobs because both radiant heat (from fire) and convection heat (hot air) is cooking the kabobs. A famous example of tandoor kabob is the tandoori chicken served in virtually any non-vegetarian Indian restaurants.
Chapli kabob or kakori kabob or Kubideh kabob: spiced ground meat usually cooked over charcoal grill. Since it’s made of ground meat, many inferior meats can be served as this kabob. Basically it’s like grilled burger (with more spice). A burger can be McDry burger or a heavenly delight (see best burgers in DC).
Doner kebab (Turkish) or Turkish kabob (Indian subcontinent and Iran) or shawarma (Arabic) or gyro (Greek) : vertical cone shaped kabob that are sliced to order. The traditional way to make doner kabob is to stack marinated slices of lamb meat on a rotating vertical skewer in the shape of an inverted cone topped with fat, tomatoes, and onion flavoring the meat in bottom with its drippings when heated. However, in west doner kebab is often industrially manufactured with ground meat. The traditional doner kabob is cooked in rotating charcoal or wood cooker. It is sort of old fashioned rotisserie meat.
Spices, marination, sauce, side ingredients and type of meat may change but the above four categories encompass essence of all kabobs. For example, in countries with large Muslim population, kabobs are made from lamb and sometimes with beef, in Indian subcontinent it has curry based spices, in Thailand it may be served with peanut sauce, Greeks make gyro from pork, which is taboo meat in Muslim countries, and serve with yogurt sauce.
For me Kabob is street food or at most a fast food such as oldstyle delis. So, I don’t like the idea of kabobs in a fancy restaurant. A kabob joint should be an unassuming place that serves the quality Kabob with possibly flatbread and should not be heavy on your wallet. My search for perfect kabob took me to these places in and around DC.
In Moby Dick, it is sirloin. Many of Moby Dick’s entrees are very similar to the Persian national dish, Chelow kabob. Chelow kabob consist of steamed saffron basmati rice (Chelow) and kabob. Traditionally, Chelow kabob is served with grilled tomatoes on the side and butter on top of the steamed rice like the way it’s served in Moby Dick. Moby Dick also provides a classic condiments, ground sumac (Somagh), on their tables. You can sprinkle this reddish looking powder on rice to give somewhat of aromatic tart flavor. If you are adventurous enough, Moby Dick also serves the traditional yogurt drink, Doogh, which are often carbonated and flavored with salt and mint. Moby Dick has two varieties; the homemade and the commercial. The homemade is more flavorful while commercial is more carbonated. It reminds me of salty lassi drink people in northern India drink to cool off during hot summer days. Definitely try, if you are a foodie!
The kabobs here have more of Indian subcontinental influence (read; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India) because spice marination of kabob has more curry flavors. However, it also serves kubideh, which is more of Persian style kabob. They also serves chapli kebab or chappal kabob, a spicy beef patty made in Peshawari style, a northwestern part of Pakistan. Lamb kabobs are served with bones as well as without bones. All the kabobs are served with rice, salad and Indian subcontinental style curried vegetables such as spinach potato (palak aloo), chickpeas etc. Beside kabob, Kabob Palace also serves other dishes such as Karahi chicken. One of the best part of Kabob Palace is that you get a free black masala chai (see previous post on chai) while you wait for your kabobs. Both time I went to Kabob Palace, it was snowing and their hot tea made me feel at home.
Ravi Kabob, Kabob Bazaar and others
Kabob Bazar is a kabob between courthouse and clarendon metro. It serves Middle Eastern type kabob, i.e., light on curry spices. It also has other Middle Eastern fare such as falafel, hummus, as well as decent selection of vegetarian and fish kabobs.
There are many other wonderful kabob joints around DC area that I have yet to explore. My suggestion is go and try them out. You may find a hidden jewel hiding in your neighborhood.
In search of Doner Kabob
Posted in: Travel and Food | Tags: bengali food, bhatti Kabob, Chapli kabob, DC Cafe, Doner kebab, Indian food, kabob bazaar, Kabob Palace, kakori kabob, kathi kabob, Kubideh kabob, Middle eastern food, Moby Dick, Pakistani food, Ravi kabob, satay, sekuwa, shawarma, Shish kabob, souvlaki, Tandoor kabob, Turkish kabob, types of kabob