Cumin and asafoetida is an appropriate combination, as is onion with garlic. Just don’t go mixing up the two combinations. I was learning how to make the Rajasthani signature Lal Maas (which translates less than felicitously as red meat) from Arvind Singh of Mewar, maharana of Udaipur. Shriji, as he is called affectionately, reportedly keeps a good table. It turned out that he is an excellent teacher to boot. Our classroom was an ornate drawing room, overflowing with gigantic crystal mirrors and gilt furniture, that overlooks Lake Pichola.

The Rajput community may have started cooking this signature dish in the wild, during hunts that used to be held until a generation ago. Like its gravy-less counterpart, khud cooking (where only dry spice and garlic is added to the meat that then cooked in its own juices), this was as far as red-blooded males (including a few blue-blooded ones) would venture into the kitchen. For sweating over a freshly killed animal out in the wilderness and turning it into a delectable feast was not quite the same thing as pottering about a domestic kitchen to create mangodis, chutneys and dals.

Cooking Lal Maas is time-consuming. Anyone can make a thick curry, but the whole point of Lal Maas, Shriji says, is to end up with a thin, flavourful gravy. This is one preparation that is not served in a katori but in a plate with rotis lining it. Making the gravy extra thick is to Punjabi-fy it, and his wince reveals exactly what he thinks of the cuisine of one state sliding inexorably into that of its neighbour’s, till everything loses its character.

My teacher has a few unorthodox methods of teaching. From time to time, to illustrate a point, he calls out to the bunch of equerries standing on the other side of the door, to bring him an ingredient or a utensil that he wants to show me. They dash to the kitchen and return trundling an extra heavy saucepan made of tinned brass or a jar of chilli powder on a silver salver.

Spices are something of a preoccupation with Shriji. Thirty years ago, he says, coriander used to taste the way it should, unlike the more mealy seeds that have invaded the market. He calls for his bottles of chilli powder—there were several, judging by how long it took the troupe of equerries to fetch the correct ones. One jar had powdered chillies from Raipur (Rajasthan) with the seeds; the chillies’ colour drew Shriji’s scorn. Another jar of powder was made from de-seeded Raipur chillies in true Rajput fashion (chilli seeds are believed to upset the stomach) and a third bore the brand name Ramdev.

The next time I meet one of Rajasthan’s royals, I’m going to wrest the recipe for Khud Khargosh; it’s politically incorrect to even admit you know how to make it.

Lal Maas

Serves 4


1kg meat from the leg (please keep the bone on, says Shriji)

2 onions

50g garlic, made into a paste

200g whipped curd

3 tbsp (heaped) red chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

5 tbsp coriander powder


Finely slice the onions and sauté them in a heavy-bottomed pan until they reduce drastically in volume. This process takes the longest time, about 45 minutes, and cannot be hurried. Add the meat and bhuno (brown) on a gentle flame till the meat loses its raw appearance. Add the coriander powder, braise for a few minutes (coriander powder takes relatively long for its raw taste to diminish) and add turmeric, followed quickly by the garlic paste, chilli powder and curd. Don’t let the chilli powder brown or overcook the garlic to preserve its distinct flavour. The curd should be smoothly folded into the mixture. Add hot water and leave to simmer. Experience will tell you how much water to add; you should have a thin gravy. Adding extra water has the effect of giving an uncooked taste to the whole dish. In an ideal world, you would not use a pressure cooker.

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