As I write this, I’m paying the price of over-indulgence this last fortnight or so in Karachi and Lahore. My stomach has finally rebelled, and the intestinal bacteria that are supposed to protect me have surrendered to the attacking force of water-borne germs. So I have dosed myself heavily and am lying low, refusing further invitations.
The problem is that when I’m in town, old friends insist on organising dinner parties. This warm hospitality is very enjoyable as I get to meet many old mates, but dinner is not usually served before 11pm. By this time, I am ravenous and eat too much. All this partying has added half an inch to my waist, and I haven’t dared step on the bathroom scale. And while feeling very sorry for myself, I can expect no sympathy from the lady wife when we meet in England soon.
Last night, my old friend Fazal laid out a large number of teetars (partridges); his cook is an expert in their preparation, and my standing request is for one session involving these tasty birds. Ever generous, Fazal has never disappointed. But even as I tucked in, my stomach — already complaining — warned me of a bad night ahead.
And so it was proved true. Groggily, I sent my old pal Agha Imran Hamid, another of Fazal&’s guests, a text message this morning asking for advice on medicines. He promptly sent me a list and I am currently sipping from a glass of ORS.
Speaking of Imran, I watched him prepare karahi gosht at Azhar&’s and Safia&’s fancy kitchen in their new home. The first crisis came when we couldn’t locate a karahi big enough for three kilos of meat. Finally, after a big hunt, one was located. Now Imran, a very gentle soul, is a bit of a tyrant when he&’s in the kitchen. He rapped out instructions to his assistants to cut and chop to his exacting requirements, and had them scurrying around in a flap. I have cooked with him for years, and can tease him about his dictatorial ways, but for the uninitiated he can be a bit intimidating. As he says, there is no democracy in the kitchen.
When the water in the karahi has nearly dried, add a pack and a half of butter, a tablespoon of oil and one of salt, and throw in the chilli paste, tomatoes and coriander. Cover and simmer on a low heat until the meat is done. To make masala or thick gravy, uncover and cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly. Once you have masala, mix in some more coriander and serve. (All the measurements here are based on three kilos of meat, so adjust them if you are using less).
I hadn’t come across his recipe before, so here it is: boil four halved onions and two whole cloves of garlic, peeled and cut across in a large pot of water for about half an hour. Strain the liquid into the karahi containing the meat, bring to a boil, and let it simmer. Remove the scum that rises to the top from time to time. While it is being reduced, grind some red chillies and large Kashmiri chillies; cut and deseed three green chillies, and slice them into rings; finely slice the same quantity of ginger; chop up four large tomatoes and coarsely chop a large handful of coriander.
The meat was tender, and the restaurant must have a special arrangement to get such high quality. Plus, everything is cooked in pure ghee; but hey, when it all tastes so good, who&’s complaining? The pulao was fragrant, and every grain of rice was separate. There was cumin, and intriguingly, star anise. I hadn’t come across this spice in a pulao before, and must remember to try it. The qorma was not over-spiced. The naan with minced meat came in the shape of a pie with a thick layer of meat.
While I have had several other splendid meals on my visit, I must make mention of the food from Khan Baba in Lahore. This venerable restaurant, located at Chaubarjee, is not where the city&’s glitterati gather, but for my money, it serves the best desi food in town. Ijaz ul Hassan, the famous painter I am privileged to call an old friend, had sent off his driver to pick up qorma, pulao and qeema-bhara-naan at my request for lunch.
So can you blame me for over-indulging?
–By Irfan Husain