He gently intermingled at the Indian Food Festival party last November. So polite, so humble giving great honor to those he spoke with. I knew him as an artist in my adolescent years starring as a lead in some of Bollywood’s blockbuster hits. His name is Chandrachur Singh, actor and grandson of the Maharaja of Orissa.
Growing-up in his royal household in Rajasthan, Chandrachur shared with me how the royal families all over India distinguished themselves from one another through art, music and food. Particularly where food is concerned, royal men and women were passionate and hands-on with the ins and outs of kitchen life.
Chandrachur is from Rajasthan , a state known as ‘the land of the kings’ and a pop-up card of palaces and forts. Growing up in his 200 year old Haveli – their stately home, his greatest moments were built around the kitchen. Or rather, kitchens. Most royal homes had at least 2 kitchens, one equipped with modern amenities used for international cuisine and the other, known as ‘rasoi’ and fitted with mud stoves that are fuelled by cow dung (a renewable source of energy and antiseptic).
The men in his family had strong culinary skills, but the true custodian of family recipes was his grandmother. When it came to her family, she would prepare food from her own hands that were filled with love and blessings. The family would eat in the kitchen from a very large communal plate housing rotis (bread) and making their introduction like ventilated disks. Lentil soups and locally grown vegetables filled little bowls and an afternoon of hunting was shown-off in the form of roasted or curried game.
Whilst royal customs and traditions have been fading fast over the years, Chandrachur reinstates the richness of India’s history through his new T.V. show, Royal Rasoi. He takes the viewer to royal courts all over India to experience more than 600 years of culinary tradition. As we talked about typical dishes, it became clear that royal dishes were not lofty ordeals. Some of his favorites include chickpea curry and smoked-mashed eggplant, an entree that is eaten by the nobility and common folk alike.
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Of course I cornered him for a recipe so here it is: Laal Maans – Lamb pieces (adapted from mutton)cooked in a tangy sauce of onions and yoghurt. Unlike many other Indian meat dishes, this recipe uses a conservative number of ingredients as the royals typically make it when they are out in the wilderness hunting. This recipe calls for a chili weathered palate, so if heat is not your thing, reduce the chili powder to ¼ tsp.
2 lbs. lamb, neck and shoulder
8 tbsp. garlic paste
8 tbsp. ginger paste
3 medium-sized onions, sliced thin
2 tsp. salt
½ tbsp. turmeric
1 tsp. chili powder
half a cup yoghurt
¼ cup of oil
1) Heat the oil and toast the cloves for 20 seconds until there is a light aroma
2) Add onions and cook until golden brown. Add ginger and garlic and cook until oil separates. Add lamb and cook
3) Add the salt, turmeric, chili and lamb and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the yoghurt and cook until lamb is tender
Saira Malhotra, is of British–Indian descent and is a chef, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York City. Raised in Hounslow, U.K, or rather ‘Little India’, where the air is aromatic with roasted spices, little did Saira know these moments would follow her from being a student in France and Italy to residing in NYC with her husband and kids and parlay themselves unexpectedly in to a culinary career. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York City. Come visit her at her food blog: www.passportpantry.com where she shares approachable and international recipes