Lemon pickle, Rose sherbet, ‘Surahi’, a pitcher used for storing water, ’Sil-batta’, Homemade strawberry jam, Brown onions, ‘Kachri’ powder, Turnip pickle, Poppy seeds, White peppercorns, Saffron, ‘Kewra’ from Karachi, Raw turmeric preserved in fruit vinegar, Spice blends. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Lemon pickle, Rose sherbet, ‘Surahi’, a pitcher used for storing water, ’Sil-batta’, Homemade strawberry jam, Brown onions, ‘Kachri’ powder, Turnip pickle, Poppy seeds, White peppercorns, Saffron, ‘Kewra’ from Karachi, Raw turmeric preserved in fruit vinegar, Spice blends. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Into the pantry with author and journalist Sadia Dehlvi, Delhi

Sadia Dehlvi's pantry is a bouquet of old Delhi traditions, hand blended spices and fresh produce

Avisit to Sadia Dehlvi’s kitchen is a feast for the senses. As she opens jar after jar, the aromas of whole spices—sweet, woody, floral—fill the air. In one corner, the pungent smells of pickle emanate from earthen jars—there’s shalgam ka achaar, grated turmeric in fruit vinegar, and red chilli with garlic paste. Everything in her kitchen is made from scratch, from salad dressings, relishes and jams to chutneys. In her recent book, Jasmine & Jinns: Memories And Recipes Of My Delhi, Dehlvi relates anecdotes about her mother, who used to sit in the veranda, supervising the grinding of spices in the imam dasta, a mortar and pestle, or the sil-batta, a large slab with a grinding stone. Tha latter still occupies pride of place in Dehlvi’s kitchen.

There are some pantry staples she simply can’t do without like the brown onions as well as white peppercorns. She also uses the dry ginger, or sonth, extensively in the nihari. Some of the more unusual ingredients in her kitchen feature a crushed kachri powder—a wild vegetable that resembles a small melon—that works as a good marinating agent. For sweets and pulaos, Dehlvi uses kewra (pandanus flower extract), saffron, pistachios and silver varq (edible silver leaf), while charmagaz (melon seed) is a staple in chutneys.

Provenance is of utmost importance to Dehlvi, and she has been visiting some handpicked vendors and shops for decades. For instance, she gets fruit from Bhogal, vegetables from Barapullah, meat from Indian Traders in Gole Market and spices from the 100-year-old Mehar Chand and Sons, a shop in Khari Baoli in Chandni Chowk. Her kewra is a special blend from Karachi. Fresh veggies play a huge role in the mix of Dilli dastarkhwan (a great spread) and continental fare that is prepared in her kitchen. “The idea in my house is to eat healthy and diversify," she says.

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