Some useful tips
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
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.
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)