It was in Nizami courts that Afghan, Persian and Turkish aristocrats came, bearing a wide variety of culinary influences. Naturally, Nizami food is where cultures met: the cuisine as it has come down to us, is a blend of Persian, Arabic, Mughlai and Turkish with traditional South Indian influences (Safedmirchi ka salan, for instance, is prepared using dry coconut and is the Hyderabadi biryani's loyal sidekick). Intrigued by the various, seemingly disparate strands sewn together, I turned to The Jewels of Nizam: Recipes from the khansamas of Hyderabad, a book on rich, courtly Nizami food by Geeta Devi. Geeta Devi is a food consultant, instrumental in relaunching the Hyderabadi speciality restaurant named Jewel of Nizam and "hails from the Malwala family of the late Raja Dharam Karan of Hyderabad, who came to the city with Nizam ul Mulk, the founder of the state."
Haleem is not the only dish made of grain and meat. There is also chakoli, made of wheat flour and meat blended in a gravy made of curd. The addition of wheat flour in the dish cannily does away with the need for accompanying rotis. The Nizams have also been credited with the birth of the kheema khichdi, made from lamb mince, Basmati rice and masoor dal, (although some don’t add the lentils at all). The mince is spiced and cooked with the dal and chawal in a sealed pot. The khichdi is usually served with tamarind chutney on the side, papad and pickle. I remember reading about a Nizami khichdi that was once prepared by Chef Arun Sundararaj of Taj Hotels. It was a royal dish, apparently made of 30 ingredients including partridge, almond paste, lamb and chicken. But this was rare. Most kheema khichdis are made at home with far fewer ingredients.In Geeta Devi's book, many of the recipes are goat dishes, the flavour of the meat embellished with a blend of nuts and dry fruits such as in magzeyti dulme. You will find mutton pickle, fish pickle and prawn pickle; she has also included several tongue, brain and kidney dishes, including a biryani made from goat's kidneys. But I was especially drawn to the aamras ke kofte, which I am going to make once mango season comes around. The kofte are prepared from a blend of mincemeat, Bengal gram and mango pulp, then cooked on a slow flame until silk-soft, a fascinating dish that "speaks of the ingenuity of the khansamas, the cooks of the Mughal royalty."
Naturally, there is plenty more to but I'll end now on a sweet note. Khubani ka meetha and shahi tukde take pride of place in the Nizami pudding lexicon, but Devi also offers the recipes for anokhi kheer, prepared with white onions and gilai firdaus, a sweet made by cooking grated pumpkin in milk, with sugar and elaichi. Badam ki jali is another sweetmeat made with khoya and almonds and the quaint ashrafi is modelled on coins from the erstwhile Nizami era. It is a coin-shaped sweet stamped with the Nizam's seal, a sweet throwback to times gone by. About the author: Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food and travel. Formerly with BBC Good Food India, she loves anime, animals and artsy things but also comics, technology and death metal.
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