It’s been a busy week at work with sadly little time for cooking. I did manage a trip to London to see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing, which somewhat made up for missing his Hamlet. (I had a ticket, procured after much pathetic begging from my Hollywood contacts, and then he went and hurt his back. Bah!) This time all went well, the play was hilarious and David was gorgeous in a white naval uniform. Check out my fellow theatre-goer Thrifty Gal’s post for photographic evidence. And, since no trip to London is complete without Asian food, I even managed a quick trip to C&R Café for a Singapore laksa and a Malaysian tea before the show.

But a girl can’t live on hot men in uniform alone (sadly) and come the end of the week I was ready for a different type of sensual pleasure. My friends JD and M gave me a lovely Moghul cookbook for my last birthday, and I’ve been meaning to test out some of its more complex dishes. It’s not a style of cooking I know a lot about: Moghul cuisine is associated with royalty, richness and opulence, and I’m more drawn to peasant food that draws deep flavour out of not a lot. That said, I need to learn a lot more about regional Indian cuisines and I am very interested in the connections between Moghul India and Persian foodways. So, in at the deep end, I decided to try out Shahi Rojan Josh, or royal red meat, a luxurious dish that uses 14 different spices just in its masala. It begins by soaking quite a lot of saffron in warm milk and this decadent opening gambit really sets the tone for the dish. Despite the complex masala, the saffron taste comes through as a sultry back note almost like a shaving of truffle in pasta. It wasn’t terribly red despite the name, and I wonder if it needed more dried chilies. Next time I will play around with the proportions, although I wouldn’t want to overwhelm the sweet perfume of saffron or throw off the delicate masala. The refinement of Moghul cuisine is certainly a challenge to the novice, but for now I am more than happy to appreciate some of its beauties.

Shahi Rojan Rosh

For marinade:

  • 2 cups yoghurt
  • 1 tsp saffron, soaked in a little hot milk for 15 mins
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • small handful of cilantro
  • 3 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 hing / asafoetida
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2lbs of cubed lamb

For the masala:

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2″ cinnamon stick, cut up small
  • 8 cloves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds (the seeds inside, not the husks)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp mace
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar

To finish:

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 3 tomatoes, pureed
  • another small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp garam masala

First, heat a little milk and add the saffron to steep. Isn’t the colour beautiful? Your kitchen will already smell amazing at this point.

Now blend the other marinade ingredients (except the meat and yoghurt) to a smooth paste. In a big bowl, stir yoghurt, spice paste and saffron together till well combined. Add the meat and leave to marinade for several hours.

When you’re ready to start cooking, begin with the masala. Blend onion, garlic and 1 tbsp of water to a paste. Set aside, wash out your mini-prep (or use a spice grinder) and grind cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, poppy seeds, cardamom seeds and cumin seeds to a powder. Put in a small bowl and mix with the powdered spices, vinegar, and remaining water.

Now you have everything prepared. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan (I used my big Le Creuset, but then I use that for practically everything…) and sauté the sliced onion till turning brown at the edges. Add the onion, ginger and garlic mix and fry for a couple more minutes, till it doesn’t smell raw any more. Add the masala, lower the heat right down and cook for another couple of minutes, being careful the spices don’t burn. Next add the tomatoes, cilantro and cup of water. Simmer for a few minutes.

Now you want to add the meat and marinade. I find yoghurt splits really easily when hot, so I do this as a multi-stage process. Add a tsp of sauce into the cold yoghurt marinade and mix well. Now add a tbsp and do the same, then another. Finally, start adding the yoghurt mixture back into the pot, a little bit at a time, stirring carefully to mix throughout. You might have a better way of ensuring the yoghurt doesn’t split, which I’d love to hear about, but this is my paranoid way of doing it and it definitely works. Once it’s all in, turn the heat up a bit, stir to coat all of the meat well, and then turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for an hour. A few minutes before you’re ready to serve, add the garam masala and mix well.

Serves 4-6

Adapted from Joyce Westrip, Moghul Cooking.