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Jiggs Kalra at The Leela hotel in 2008. (Hindustan Times)
Jiggs Kalra at The Leela hotel in 2008. (Hindustan Times)

A tribute to Jiggs Kalra’s specials

  • A special menu celebrates the legendary gastronome and food writer’s iconic dishes
  • Put together by his son Zorawar Kalra, this is a celebration of Jiggs Kalra’s life through the food he cooked and loved

The kundan kaliya is an elaborate dish by all standards. This Awadhi delicacy involves slow-cooking lamb chunks in a curry flavoured with cashew nuts, yogurt, saffron, kewra and yellow chilli powder. The gravy is reduced and sieved through a muslin cloth multiple times and served with gold-leaf foil.

It was also one of the late Jiggs Kalra’s favourite dishes. “According to my dad, the kundan kaliya was a prized dish because of the painstaking process in which it was made rather than the fact that it was expensive. As a child, I was mesmerized by the fact that there was edible 24-carat gold leaf on a meat curry," says his son Zorawar, founder and managing director of Massive Restaurants.

It is fitting that a version of the kundan kaliya (with chicken) shows up in the special menu he has designed as a tribute to his father, who died on 4 June at 71.

In his various avatars as a food journalist, cookbook author, culinary consultant and all-round bon vivant, Jiggs Kalra celebrated the rich and diverse traditions of Indian food. He catalogued recipes, discovering rare dishes and following their trail with near-obsessive zeal from home kitchens to street stalls to royal households.

In the introduction to his seminal cookbook, Prashad: Cooking With Indian Masters, Kalra wrote, “To the uninitiated, Indian cooking seems like a jigsaw puzzle incapable of solution…the reason is simple: there is no recorded text for Indian cuisine. Every genre of cooking has innumerable schools, each school more than one style, each style its own Guru. Recipes are handed down from generation to generation but never put on record—only memorized. As a consequence, every recipe is open to interpretation and there is no standard recipe at all."

It was his life’s aim to standardize Indian cooking and record the recipes and traditions for future generations of cooks. And this book, published in 1986, was one of the earliest to do that, becoming a bible for both home cooks and professionals wanting to master the techniques of Indian cooking.

Another of Kalra’s great achievements is introducing the galauti kabab to the world. He took this legendary kebab of the toothless nawabs from the lanes of Aminabad, Lucknow, to the kitchens of the country’s top-ranked hotels, collaborating with chefs and collating dozens of recipes. Kalra spent years understanding the galauti’s texture and researching the perfect blend of the 32 spices, till he found a perfect approximation.

This attention to meticulous detail is what drove all of Kalra’s interactions with Indian cuisine and made him such a doyen of the culinary world. Easy cooking was not his forte and he made no bones about the complex processes that defined the food from different parts of the country. His desire was to create the right balance and dispel notions of Indian food as rich aka “fatty" and spicy aka “chilli hot".

“This menu is a combination of some of the most iconic dishes from his repertoire, things that he enjoyed eating as well as dishes that I have eaten with him," says Zorawar. These include a Rattan Manjusha, which is essentially a spicy gravy of spinach and paneer koftas stuffed with a mixture of three varieties of mushroom—oyster, button and morels. Dessert is a simple and well-made gulab jamun, a homage to Kalra’s love for authenticity.

In the last month, friends, protégés and chefs, young and old, have mourned Jiggs Kalra’s passing. Yet, what better way to celebrate his legacy than a journey through his favourite foods.

The tribute menu will be available at Farzi Café and Masala Library in Mumbai till 16 July.

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