As Ramzan Id draws near, explore an untapped cuisine in Husna Rahaman’s title, Spice Sorcery that offers fascinating insight into the culture and lesser-known recipes of the Kutchi Memon community. Excerpts from an interview with the author
Q. Why did you decide to choose such a format for a book about food — where the storyline and recipes complement each other seamlessly?
A. I wanted readers to taste our culture as much as our food, besides wanting to have fun writing it. I am an architect and interior designer, and a very visual person. I see things in my mind pictorially; images in different medium, creating mental images all the time. Also, I wanted to trace the journey of Razia (the protagonist in the book) who somehow is a part of everyone. Or should be. She uses food inadvertently as a means of magic to cast spells on the people in her life. You simply must have magic! Life is much too dull without it.
Q. What were some of the immediate challenges that you encountered during this journey of chronicling your community’s food?
A. Challenges would be not to mention the names of some of the uncles and aunts who make their way as characters in the book. I wrote it with their names and then changed them a day before the manuscript was sent off. I decided I was too old to be scolded. Or worse still, left out of fabulous family dinners.
Q. Some recipes have curious names: Rangoon Curry (a delicate broth), Chor Puecy (pee-u-cee; a baked coconut dessert) — how did these originate?
A. Rangoon Curry is recipe from my in-laws. They lived in Rangoon during World War II. They call it Rangoon Curry, probably because it reminds them of home. Chor Puecy is what my grandmother and all her octogenarian friends call it because their mothers did. Quirky. I am pretty sure it has no profound meaning.
Q. Could you tell our readers about the Memon Survival Kit, and do the elements vary from families in one region to another?
A. If you are going to a foreign land and the elegant food makes you weep after the seventh day, carry small boxes of garlic and ginger paste, fried onions in a zip-lock bag and a handful of green chillies. Buy a protein of your choice. Make it lamb. Throw the onions in warm oil; add the pungent and the scintillating chillies. A touch of cumin and tomatoes and you’re home while being a million miles away. That’s survival at its best.
Q. Kutchi Memons come across as a meat-loving community. Which is your personal favourite: Fish, mutton, lamb, or chicken? Why?
A. My personal favourite is lamb. Why? It tastes like nirvana on a plate.
Sara Masala Ka Roast (Dry Spiced Lamb)
>> 1 kg lamb cut into pieces
>> 6 two-inch sticks of cinnamon
>> 6 cardamom pods
>> 5 cloves
>> 4 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
>> 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
>> 2 tsp finely chopped ginger
>> 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
>> 12 whole red chillies, dry roasted and coarsely ground
>> 2 tsp black peppercorns
>> Salt to taste
>> 9 tbsp oil
>> In a pot, heat the oil and perfume it by adding cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and cloves. Wait for cardamom to split. Now add the slice onions. When they turn pink and just before they turn brown, add the finely chopped garlic and ginger
>> Stir away for 3 minutes, enjoying the integration of the bold and sweet aromas. Add the whole cumin and whole black peppercorns.
>> Dry roast the whole dried red chillies and grind them coarsely. Add the bold red flakes into the pot along with the salt and stir with small amounts of water for 3 minutes.
>> Now add the meat and fry the whole herbs and spices for 10 minutes, stirring all the while, prodding the meat to release its juices and accept the masala into its bone
>> Toss the ingredients of the pot into the pressure cooker. Add a cup of water and cook until tender. Five whistles is usually what it takes. Now, on a low flame, reduce the gravy until the water evaporates and chill flakes cloak the meat and cling to it.
Extracted with permission from Spice Sorcery, Husna Rahaman, HarperCollins India