Pakistani Food

Some useful tips

Cooking Equipment

Very few special utensils are needed for cooking Pakistani food. Pots and pans found in most western homes are quite adequate. Even so, it is always exciting to know about and, if you wish, to cook with specialized Pakistani equipment.

Tawa: Breads such as chappatis, rotis and parathas are all made on this heavy cast-iron sheet which looks similar to the griddle used for making cones. Any ordinary heavy frying pan makes a good alternative.

Karahi: This is used mainly for deep frying. It looks like a Chinese wok but is heavier (usually made of cast-iron) and deeper. A wok or deep-fat fryer makes a good substitute. Meats cooked in Karahi is one of the very famous dish from Punjab.

Other equipment: I find an electric spice grinder or an ordinary pestle and mortar are invaluable for grinding small quantities of spices. Food processors or electric blenders save many hours - and tears - when it comes to chopping up the mixture of onions, ginger and garlic which is often called for.

How to make Ghee
Take 1 lb / 450g of the best quality unsalted butter that you can
find. Put it in a heavy, smallish pot and let it melt over a low
flame. Soon it will begin to simmer. Let it simmer on low heat
for 10-45 minutes (timing really depends upon the amount of water
in the butter), or until the milky solids turn brownish and either
cling to the sides of the pot or else fall to the bottom. Because
you have to boil all the water away without letting the butter
brown, you must watch it, especially toward the end of the cooking
time. Now strain the ghee through a quadrupled layer of cheesecloth.
Homemade ghee is best stored covered in the refrigerator. Unlike
butter, it will not spoil.

Cooking Techniques

Because the sub-continent is so vast, methods of cooking differ from region t region. Let us start off with the preparation of spices.
Whole spices are often dry-roasted in a frying pan or fried in a small quantity of oil or ghee prior to being used whole, crushed or ground up for use in a recipe. They vary in thickness and hardness. Mustard seeds or fenugreek, for example, take longer than either cumin or coriander, so fry this type first and add the softer spices after them.

To dry roast spices: Heat the pan until you can feel the heat if you hold your palm just above the surface. Add the hardest spices first, and stirring constantly, begin to cook them over medium heat. Once they start turning color, add remaining spices and still stirring constantly, roast them all to an even brown. This is where your skill and judgment come into play: the spices should not be too light (still raw) nor too dar (burnt), but should have taken on just the right degree of color. Practice will help you judge this. The spices are then removed from the pan and allowed to cool slightly before being crushed or ground for use in a recipe.

To fry spices: If a recipe calls for spices to be lightly fried, the same principle applies. The oil or ghee must always be fairly hot before the spices are added, or they will remain totally tasteless and become brittle. Butt if the fat is too hot the spices will burn before you have time to rescue them, and will ruin the dish. The important thing to remember is that the spices should sizzle, pop and splutter in the hot fat almost at once. The pan should then be taken off the heat and the spices removed at once to avoid the risk of burning. Always add the toughest spices and any dals that may be called for as flavorings first.

To grind or cush spices: You can use a coffee or spice mill, a pepper mill or a pestle and mortar. If you have none of these, place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the roasted spices and then crush them with a rolling pin. This will prevent them from sticking to the rolling pin, or making it smell.

Boohoo: (Frying) This is a very slow, gradual process in which a 'wet' mixture such as onion, ginger and garlic (or one or other of these) or a 'dry' mixture of spices, is gently fried (and constantly watched over and stirred) until it turns golden. It cannot be left or it will stick to the pan and burn. It is important to keep stirring at this stage to prevent the ingredients form sticking to the bottom of the pan (you could also add a little water, if ground onions are used). Very soon, the vegetables will begin to release the oil or ghee that was absorbed during the initial frying. This is an indication that the mixture as reached the bhoona stage. Whole spices are now added and cooked until they release their flavor and aroma and finally, the main ingredient (meat, chicken, fish or vegetables) is added and stir-fried until it, too, loses its raw taste and takes on a glossy sheen.

Korma: (braising) This technique is used in cooking all over the country and is especially important in non-vegetarian dishes. Meat and poultry is often first marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked very slowly in the marinade.

Dum: Pot roasting The essential equipment for this ancient method of cooking meat, poultry or rice dishes is a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. Traditionally, once the ingredients have reached a stage where they can be left to cook, the lid is sealed to the pan with a dough paste which prevents and steam from escaping. The pan is then placed over high heat for a few minutes to build up enough steam inside, then the heat is reduced to low and the contents of the pan left to cook in their own juices. Traditionally, live charcoal or hot water is placed on the concave lid of the pan so food is effectively heated from the top and bottom. A delicious way of keeping in the flavor and aroma.

Tandoori cooking: An ancient method of cooking food which is still also in use today in the Middle and Far East. A tandoor is an unglazed clay oven heated by charcoal. Spiced, marinated meat, chicken, fish or other food is threaded on long metal skewers and then lowered into the blazing hot tender and left to bake. Nan, flat bread, is also slapped straight onto the hot side walls of the oven and bakes within a few minutes.

Marinating: Natural yogurt, lemon juice and ground, unripe green papaya (which contains papain, a natural enzyme which is widely used in commercial tenderizing agents) are the main ingredients used for a marinade to tenderize meat, fish, poultry or game and also infuse the ingredients with the flavor and aroma of the spices.

Baghar or Turka: This is the final garnish or seasoning which is added to the dish (usually lentils) just before serving. Spices such as cumin, mustard, asafetida, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon, and chillies are usually used together with crisply fried onions, ginger and green chillies. These are quickly cooked in hot ghee (oil is not used because of its taste, nor butt, which burns easily)