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Sharp cuts from the Rampuri !


Anoothi Vishal  |  New Delhi 

BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is a man of many parts; being a fantastic cook is one of them.
If you ever get invited over to BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's Lodhi Estate home in Delhi, you are urged to accept with alacrity. Not just because Naqvi and his painter wife have a reputation for being superb hosts "" meals at their place are often catered by cooks from Rampur "" but because, if the company is small enough and the mood so takes him, Naqvi may just tell you about his foray into Bollywood, all the film scripts he's written/writing (including for Madhur Bhandarkar's Corporate), not to mention cook you a meal. And that would be splendid, we promise.
As he gets ready to drop a rava-coated filet of Rohu into a karahi full of smoking mustard oil, Naqvi is enthusiastic. "Yes, I often cook on holidays, for friends... not big parties," he says, "chicken or fish...", but confesses that there was a time when he didn't know how to make even tea.
"When I was in college, I went for a picnic with a group of friends. Everyone knew how to cook and as they made their various dishes, they were all praised "" except me. So I decided to learn too."
Since then, Naqvi has been picking up recipes and tricks from ancient cooks in his native town and improvising upon them. One of his recipes, bitter gourd with mutton, he mentions, is "good for diabetes".
And the "Rampuri Fish" he is cooking today is a traditional recipe with a twist. Naqvi adds dried fenugreek and curry leaves to enhance the flavour and tones down the spices.
"Get some salad leaves", he instructs a help, "and some dhania". (If you are wondering from where, that would be the kitchen garden but we'll come back to it in a bit.) The fish is done and Naqvi presents it to us in style, beautifully laid out on some lettuce, garnished with sprigs of coriander and whole green chillies. Picture perfect.
Rampuri food has a distinct identity of its own "" distinct from its Awadhi cousin. And Naqvi rightly pinpoints the generous use of whole spices as one of the distinguishing factors.
Meat cooked in a white (yoghurt- and cream-based) gravy is a high point of the cooking and there are cooks who will still roll out a meter-long roomali. "Where will you get that?" Naqvi asks us rather rhetorically.
There may be a chance of bagging one at one of his own dinners hosted in two specially constructed "huts" in the garden; very quaint and able to seat around 30 Or you could eschew the roomalis and sample more flavourful stuff from the chulha in the courtyard.
Dals and curries are often slow-cooked on this, in earthen pots which impart a heady flavour to the everyday meal. "Except for our daily meals, we never cook on the gas stove in the kitchen," Naqvi says.
Everyday cooking can be revved up if the ingredients are farm-fresh "" from your own "farm" in the backyard. Our host is a keen gardener and spends an hour every morning tending to his greens "" cabbage and potatoes, lettuce, coriander and mint, garlic and spinach and many many more veggies. He hands out a lemon, more fragrant than any you may find at the local shop and sportingly pulls out some carrots for the camera.
There will be a fresh salad, after all, tossed that evening.
Rampuri rava fish
100 g of Rohu, or any other fresh water fish, filet
100 g mustard oil
Turmeric and red chilly powder for the marination, along with salt
Enough semolina (rava) to coat the fish pieces
3 tbsp onions, grated
2 tbsp tomatoes, grated
1 tsp fresh ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp whole garam masala
1 tbsp of dried methi leaves, or kasoori methi
A few curry leaves for garnishing
Salt to taste
Marinate the fish pieces in salt, turmeric and red chilly powder and ginger paste for two hours. Heat the oil in a karahi till it is smoking. Pat the fish on a plate full of rava so that it coats each piece and then deep fry till golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
In the remaining oil, put the whole spices and fry till fragrant. Add the onion paste and ginger, garlic, tomatoes once the onions are brown. Add salt and a pinch of red chilly powder. The masala should be just enough to coat the fish, don't make it into a curry. Put the fish on some salad leaves and put the masala on top. Serve hot.


First Published: Sun, January 07 2007. 00:00 IST