As the editor of food and wine magazine Upper Crust, Farzana Contractor’s life revolves around food. But she likes to cook only when she has company. On the Sunday we meet at her home in Malabar Hill, Mumbai, her sister Shahina Kara is there with her husband and two children to help lighten the load on the table.
It’s the month of Ramzan, and there’s faluda, phirni, chana, ragda, cucumber salad, chutneys made from guava, kokum and mint, lamb chops, fruits and sweets, besides the lamb kebabs and moong dal pakoras that are being prepared.
Photo: Fawzan Hussain / Mint
Contractor is making Shikhampuri Kebab, a recipe that was given to her by the legendary chef Imtiaz Qureshi, who is credited with reviving dum pukht cooking. Contractor likes to keep it light during her fast and skips heavy biryanis and curries in favour of fruits and kebabs. Along with the traditional dishes is a bowl of pomelo and Californian prune salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Contractor likes to work the old-fashioned way, so preparing the kebabs is a labour-intensive task. The kitchen help grinds the masalas and the chutneys on a silbatta or grinding stone. “A food processor just kills the flavours,” says Contractor.
Her kitchen has a homey, old-world feel. There are no fancy appliances or steel counters. The pots and mugs (collected from around the world) provide the colour, and the pans and wine glasses hanging overhead add to the decor. The shelves are packed with jars of food ingredients. “Every ingredient that one will ever need for Indian cooking is in this kitchen,” she says.
The texture and taste of the Shikhampuri Kebab is unusual since whole pieces of lamb are pressure-cooked and then beaten with a rounded spoon for about an hour, making the meat thready rather than pasty or minced.
From this mix, Contractor and her sister mould the kebabs, shaping them into round pieces with their palms. While Contractor puts a dollop of home-made ghee on the flat non-stick pan to shallow fry the kebabs, Kara pours groundnut oil in another pan to fry the dal pakoras.
Since she’s fasting, Contractor can’t taste the pakora batter or the meat for salt and is hoping that they taste fine. “I work on andaaza. I never measure the ingredients when I cook,” she says. Sure enough, fingers are used to add the masalas and slide the pakoras into the bubbling oil. Yet, all the pakoras and kebabs are of the same size, and as we try some, they taste perfect.
Head of the table: Contractor loves cooking and eating lamb dishes; the Iftar spread at her home has about 10 dishes. Fawzan Hussain / Mint
Kara suggests decorating the platter of kebabs with coriander leaves to add to the look. But the purist that Contractor is, she won’t have it. “It’s not supposed to have coriander. I like honesty, even in my food,” she says.
Contractor has memories of her mother going out of her way to make all her children happy with their favourite dishes during Ramzan. Now, in her second year of fasting for the whole month, as she watches the setting sun from her sea-facing apartment, she knows, even without hearing the azaan, that it’s time to break her fast, pray and taste for herself if the salt in the food is fine.
1kg boneless mutton (thigh portion)
1tsp garlic paste
1tbsp ginger paste
1tsp red chilli powder
¼ tsp turmeric
20 strands of zaffran (saffron)
1 large onion
½ tsp garam masala
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1tbsp chopped mint leaves
150g chana dal
½ cup ghee
Salt to taste
Fry onions in ghee till they turn brown. While frying, add the ginger-garlic paste while the onions are still pink. Put the fried onions, meat, chilli powder, salt, turmeric and yoghurt in a pressure cooker and cook on high flame for two whistles. Then simmer and let the meat cook for 20 minutes more. Soak the chana dal for an hour or two and par boil it separately. After the meat is cooked, add the dal to the mixture. On a slow flame, stir the meat continuously with a rounded spoon till all the moisture evaporates and the soft meat dissolves and becomes thready. The texture should not be pasty. To this, add the garam masala and stir. Now make round kebabs with your palms. Add a little ghee to a non-stick pan, shallow fry the kebabs and serve.