Khatri Tapelu (Slow-cooked Lamb Stew)

[I’d written this several months ago, in an attempt to send it to some websites that publish content around food-writing. Mostly just to try my luck at this. Nobody wrote back. And that’s why I’m finally posting it on the blog.

The friends I sent this to, though, were all praises for the piece. Either I have a bunch of utterly nice (yet idiotic) friends. Or then, let’s face it, my writing skill suck (as do my photography skills).]


As a kid with roots in Surat, I grew up spending summers in the city, often tagging along with my mum on social visits to homes of extended family and their friends. Rati Kaka’s home was one such. My grandfather and Rati Kaka were what we’d call “chaddi buddies”. Even today, if you ask my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s and Dementia, where he grew up, he brightens up a little and quips “Sagrampara, Jundasheri”. My visits to Rati Kaka’s often meant I got utterly bored, but returned with Rs 51/- or Rs 101/- as token blessings. My mum, however, came back with lots of gossip, and the odd recipe.

She finally got around to making one such recipe when we were visiting her a few days ago. It’s called “tapelu” which literally means large pot – paatela in Marathi, pateelaa in Hindi, tapelu in Gujarati and is basically just chunks of lamb stewed with onions and spices. The Kadiwala family, from whom my mother got the recipe, has lived in Surat since the late 1900s and belong to the Khatri community that represents the ‘kha’ from the ka-kha-ga-gha social strata in Surat.

Ka for Kanbi – the farming community, Kha for Khatri – the working class, or the business community, Ga for Gola and Gha for Ghaanchi, who, I’m told, comprised folk from lower castes.

The Khatri community in Surat were a bunch of folk who worked under the Desais (the surname is derived from Sanskrit words deśa meaning ‘land’ and pati meaning ‘lord’) and eventually worked their way to being rich enough to purchase property across all of Surat, the Sagrampura area in particular. Sagrampura is an area cluttered with narrow parallel streets that house large homes. Almost all of these homes have a glorious living room entrance, a smaller seating arrangement and a backyard with the washrooms, kitchen and “chowk” (where you’d wash clothes, do the dishes and such). Bedrooms are usually up a flight of stairs on the first floor, often overlooking these chowks that neighbouring families sometimes even shared.

My grandfather grew up in one of the many lanes that make up all of Sagrampura, Surat – Jundasheri (pronounced junedashayree, there was a flag, jhanda, at the start of the street) and Rati Kaka’s forefathers had moved into the house next door, after ousting a lazy and broke Desai family, I would presume.

While Khatris in northern India belong to the warrior caste (Khatri being a variant of the word Kshatriya), most Khatris switched to mercantile (Vaishya) occupations during the British Raj. Surati Khatris enjoy eating meat and drinking, both men and women, unlike the vegetarian, non-drinking Gujarati stereotype we’re used to.

And the tapelu is a Khatri staple, made especially on good occasions. The name comes from the fact that it is always prepared by slow cooking lamb in large pots, in humongous quantities – 50 kilos or 80 kilos being fairly normal. My mum says that folk eat this in a communal fashion, at weddings, for instance – sitting in groups of 10 or 12, circled around a tapelu with several fried puris.

There are enough stores in and around Surat that sell “Tapelano masalo”, the spice mix that is added to the lamb. The recipe below, however, gives you details on how you can make the masala yourself. The original recipe my mum had at hand used 10 kilos of lamb. I’ve scaled the recipe down to feed about 4-6 people.

 

This is a "tapelu". Quite literally, it means large pot in Gujarati, what you'd call a paatela in Marathi or a pateelaa in Hindi. It's a mutton stew, loosely speaking, cooked with equal parts of meat and onion, and some home-ground spices. Also, it is called so because the Khatri community in Surat, who make this, do so in kilos (think 100kg tapelus and such). My mum made this for her son-in-law on Wednesday evening. And I can vouch for how much he enjoyed himself that evening. There's a piece I'm writing (and I hope to get around to finishing it soon) on the cultural significance of the tapelu and a little bit of a history lesson on Surat. Say aye, and I'll email it to you. It'd be nice to hear from people what they think about my writing (and of course, utterly depressing to be told I suck at it, but I promise I'll take this in my stride).

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Recipe:
Ingredients:
½ kg lamb (we used a mix of rib and shoulder)
½ kg onions, roughly sliced
3-4 green chillies
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp gms ginger
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala powder (ingredients below)
2 tsp red chilly powder (more, if required)
Oil, as required
Salt, to taste

Whole garam masala (each ingredient roasted individually):
100 g Dhaniya (Coriander) Seeds

30g Black Peppercorn
30g Jeera (Cumin) Seeds

10g Aniseed
10g Bay Leaves
10g Black Cardamom
10g Green Cardamom
10g Cinnamon
10g Cloves
10g Dagad Phool (Stone Flower, shebat al ajooz or ishna in the Middle East, Parmotrema perlatum botanical name)
10g Khuskhus (poppy seeds)
10g Javitri (Mace)
10g Naagkesar(Ceylon Ironwood, naagsampige in Kannada, Mesua ferrea botanical name)
10g Shahi Jeera (Black Cumin)
10g Star Anise
10g Tirphal (Sichuan Pepper)

A pinch of grated nutmeg

Method:

  1. Grind the green chillies, ginger, garlic & turmeric into a fine paste.
  2. Slice onions into large chunks, so that the layers separate easily when cooking.
  3. Heat some oil in a large, shallow bottomed vessel and sauté lamb for a 8-10 minutes, until tender.
  4. Once the lamb is tender, layer the onions on top of it.
  5. Add the paste to the lamb & onion, cover the vessel and let the meat cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, until the lamb has cooked all the way through and falls off the bone.
  6. Grind all the spices that comprise the whole garam masala to a fine powder. This recipe needs only about a tablespoon or so, so you can save the masala for later. It is perfectly good to use as a substitute for regular garam masala in any other Indian recipe that calls for some.
  7. Heat some oil in another vessel and add the garam masala powder and the red chilly powder to this.
  8. Pour this into the mutton mix and give the meat a good stir.
  9. Finally, add in some salt, to taste.

Note: The onions should have melted into a gravy at this point. There isn’t very much oil in the recipe, really, because the meat cooks in its own fat.

A good tapela/u should have the sweetness of the onions that have been slow cooked and caramelized, the warmth and heat of all the spices from the garam masala and, of course, juicy chunks of lamb.

Khatris usually eat the lamb with puris, the dough of which is fermented with yeast. It makes for a great combination with regular chapatis or rice all the same.

And for anybody who thought Gujarati food was fafdas and khakhras, theplas and undhiyu or khichdi kadhi, there’s a non-vegetarian’s paradise in some bylane of Surat or Ahmedabad, I’m sure. All you need to do is ask.

Up Next: Maamnaa (another Khatri favourite – meatballs made with lamb mince and grilled on skewers)

 

Ep2 : Chinese and Thai 400: Delicious Recipes for Healthy Living

Saturday evening, a handful of us got together for our second potluck dinner. The usual suspects and some new faces. The menu, when Sahil posted it to his Instagram, was drool worthy. The end products, pretty good. But far from the gloriousness that that Instagram picture had promised.

Sahil did a great job of posting several updates to his Instagram and Facebook accounts on the day of the potluck. Here are some pictures:

The second cookbook club dinner is going to be amaze.

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Aromatic Pork with Basil. Died getting all the ingredients. Turned out okay, thankfully. I think.

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Beef stew with a chicken broth, by @kalaraju1 at last night's dinner.

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All in all, it was a successful potluck. But I did a lot of thinking after everyone left that night. And I think this blog post is going to be more about that. Along with the recipes we cooked, of course!

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As a host, what does an event like this entail?

  • How do you make sure you have enough dinner ware?
    • I knew what everyone was bringing. But I’d only seen my own recipe. So I had the requisite number of plates, one bowl each, a fork, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks for every person in attendance. I also had a handful of spoons and forks handy. The bowl was for dessert – a tapioca & taro pudding that Raunaq Gupta was bringing in. What I missed was that Kala Raju was bringing in a beef stew and that might need soup bowls. So, when it was time to serve dessert, I had to bring out mismatched bowls and scramble for spoons. Lesson learnt.
  • Do you want uniform serving bowls for pretty pictures? Or are you okay with serving your food in the bowls and containers that participants brought their food in? Does this also include certain dishes being served in a certain kind of vessel?
    • I cooked and served my claypot rice in a, well, clay pot, for instance. Asking participants what they might need to serve their food in might come handy in the future.
  • Is there a quick way you can heat the food, especially when you have 4 appetizers that need heating all at the same time?
    • Maybe you even need something to stay warm through the course of sitting around and eating. Crab cakes gone cold or pork gone a tad chewy because it’s now at room temperature and not nice and warm can be a downer. I guess I’m going to keep my stove top free of things and my kitchen counter better organized to manage this more efficiently next time onwards.
  • Is there enough drinking water? Well, yes. But is all of it cold? Or enough of it cold?
  • What’re the odds you’re going to run out of ice?
  • Is there enough room in your fridge to put any food that might need refrigeration?

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Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk about what cooking for a larger number of people was this time around. I’ve had guests over several times. I’ve fed parties of 15 and 20 people and things have been great. But a cookbook potluck puts a different kind of pressure on you, as it turns out.

  • All of us seemed eager to please and had some performance pressure riding on us.
    • One of us re-did her dish. Another freaked out about his pork not defrosting in time. One bailed out altogether. And another brought in only 1 dish, instead of the two he originally thought he’d bring.
    • And all of us scuttled around from grocery store to grocery store hunting for that one ingredient we thought our dish just couldn’t do without.
    • The key is to not over-promise, then, I guess.
    • And plan better, perhaps? Know what you’ll need for the cook and where you can procure it from, fresh/frozen/however, at least 6 hours before hand?
    • Make sure you’re done cooking at least 2 hours before the time you’re scheduled to meet and plan backwards accordingly?
  • What quantity should one cook?
    • Most recipes are made with 1 lb of meat or 450-500g of meat. For a potluck where 6-8 dishes are being brought in, using anything more than a half kilo of meat might leave you with leftovers. We discussed on Whatsapp, about quantities we should bring in and we decided 500-750g of the core ingredient would suffice. And we had A LOT of leftovers.
    • While all starters and the stew were devoured, a considerable amount of the mains were left.
  • What accompaniments are needed with your dishes? Mains are typically served with rice or bread (Indian or otherwise) and most curry recipes end with suggestions for what to eat these curries with. Is the the responsibility of the participant making the curry to make the rice/roti as well? Or should the host ensure someone takes this up voluntarily?
    • We had two curries and no rice on our original menu, so Ana volunteered to do a simple chicken fried rice and I made some claypot chicken rice. While I only had enough to make sure my husband had his fair share of the rice as leftovers, Ana was left with about 2/3rds of her chicken fried rice uneaten. That’s just disappointing. It takes effort to cook, more so if it’s an extra dish you volunteered to make. I’m sure it hurts.
  • Does guesstimating when you’re using a cookbook help? Or must you follow recipes to the tee?
    • The recipe for the crab cakes asked that they be cooked for 3-4 minutes on each side. And my crab cakes ended up with charred tops. I was wary of straying away from the recipe because I’d had a tender coconut pudding disaster during the first pot luck, and didn’t want to screw up again. Oh well! I guess this is another recipe I’m going to have to re-do and post with perfect results.
    • A recipe might call for a broth to simmer 20 minutes until the meat is just done. And 20 minutes in, you don’t think it feels quite right. So you push it by another 10 minutes, at 3 minute intervals. And bam! That last minute probably just overcooks the meat? Or those 10 minutes extra were the right thing to do.
    • A baking recipe, on the other hand, might need you to follow instructions and measurements without any deviation.

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Next. The most important part of the event. The book.

  • You MUST take a picture of the book you cooked from! But that makes me wonder whether we need to have things done in such an organized fashion. The evening/meal is about meeting new, like-minded people and having a good time over some interesting and fun recipes, right?
  • Every book has a story. And everyone attending needs to know it. 🙂
    • Did you buy it on the streets second-hand?
    • Or did your grandmum give it to your mum when she got married and was moving to a new family? (Following which you stole it shamelessly because it looked so amazing!)
    • Did a friend send it to you from another country where he lives and because he knows you’d appreciate something like this?
    • Or did you pick it up on a whim when you were travelling?
    • Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave it to you.
    • Maybe you borrowed it from someone and never returned it (you horrible, you!)
  • What book will we cook from next?
    • Bring a book along. Three, if you really want to. Show it/them to everyone around. Ask them what they think.
    • Have a handful of books around that evening. If you can’t arrive at a conclusive decision then, at least you’ve started a conversation about it. And thrown some ideas around. It should only get simpler.
    • We might cook from Jerusalem: A Cookbook (by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi) next time… if we can’t find a great book filled with all things mango, that is.

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Pictures of the food?

  • While I’m all for live-tweeting or putting up an Instagram story and taking pictures during the event, how much is too much?
    • As the host, I’m often too caught up to take pictures. Besides, I have this silly habit, where if I’m having a good time, I couldn’t care less to know where my phone is (so that throws tweets and phone camera pictures out of the window altogther)
  • When everybody comes in, get all the food together, mains, desserts everything and take one grand photo, possibly even with a good camera, perhaps?
  • A designated social-media person in the group can keep taking pictures and posting them through the event/evening?
    • No brainers, in our case, it’ll just always be Sahil.

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Just one last thing before I share the recipes with you. Feedback. Constructive criticism. I really need some ideas and suggestions on how to go about doing this. How does one do this exactly?

  • Take turns critiquing every dish?
  • Allow anonymous feedback forms after everyone’s gone home?
  • Make a little suggestion box and get everyone to write their thoughts out, if they’re not comfortable sharing their views up front?

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And finally, the recipes.

(The Chicken in Lemon Sauce recipe is missing, but I promise to put that in when I get my hands on it. In the meanwhile, I will graciously accept anything you wish to send my way – feedback, suggestions, rotten tomatoes, enthu cutlets for the 3rd cook, a new cookbook…)

Bon Appétit!

Ep1 : The Suriani Kitchen

Ana Mathew, Sahil Khan (Instagram, Twitter), Suraj Menon (my husband) and I (Instagram, Twitter) met at our apartment on Saturday evening for our very first cookbook potluck.

This was a first for most folk present and nobody had ever met anybody, except Sahil and I (we’ve known each other for a few years now, and we had to start *somewhere*, right?). Okay, I’ve known my husband for a while too, of course. Heh.

Why we picked The Suriani Kitchen? It just seemed liked something homely, yet out of our comfort zones. When I met Sahil over coffee sometime last week to discuss the idea, I took along with me a bag full of books that he could pick from. Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, while being something of everyone’s dreams, wasn’t quite going to get our confidence levels with this cookbook club idea anywhere, so we kept that away after a few page flips and a photograph. The other book in contention was Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, but we wanted to have at least one dinner or lunch at short notice to get this thing going; and curing or pickling wasn’t quite our smartest bet.

Sahil put out a tweet and also put a story up on Instagram. We had several people from Bombay enquiring, and some obvious trolls. But Ana saw his story on Instagram and asked him, just like that, out of the blue, if she could attend. That’s how the whole thing happened.

We agreed on a BYOB scene and decided on who’d cook what. And before we knew it, it was Saturday evening. I’d put out a calendar event for the blog and scheduled it for 8 pm to 11 pm. What started at 8:30 pm that evening ended at 2 am and I think that’s enough reason to believe it went well.

Sahil brought in a Keema and Potato Fry, while Ana got some Kerala Chicken Curry. Suraj made a Chicken with Green Herbs and I made some Mussels Pickle and some Tender Coconut Pudding.

We devoured the Keema and Potato Fry with Budhani Wafers, it was so so so scrumptiously good! Dinner was pretty good too. Though Suraj’s green chicken was a little dry that evening, we managed to fix it the following morning, and get it to a thick gravy like consistency, thanks to some domestic skills. Needless to say it tasted far better at lunchtime on Sunday. Ana’s chicken curry was so homely and comforting, it just put a big smile on your face. My mussels pickle turned out pretty good too, and I must add, it should have because I waited an hour at our local fishmonger’s to get my hands on that afternoon’s fresh stock of mussels. All that, with loads of white rice and store bought idiyappams.

We spoke about everything – food events that Ana has organized and more that she has lined up, Old Monk tetra paks, beer snobbery, anecdotes from when we were little, how kittens compare to human babies and why my tender coconut pudding bombed.

While Sahil’s keema and potato fry was hands down the winner of the evening, in my book, my tender coconut pudding was a complete bummer (more on that in a separate blog post when I’ve fixed the booboo).

All the recipes from the book are in the slideshow below (click on any image to enlarge and then use the forward and backward arrows to navigate).

 

I’m mighty excited about the possibilities of a second meet up, new people perhaps, another great book to cook out of and more good times.

And here’s what we posted through Sunday, possibly hungover on the alcohol and the surprisingly fun evening we’d had.

Last Night was a tantalising mix of high spirits(Pun intended), new amazing people, quirky conversations, moody cats and incredible food!
@cookynomster & @sahilk88 came up with this amazing concept of a potluck-dinner. So the idea would be to pick a Cookbook, choose a Recipe that you'd cook, show up with your Food, have real-ass Conversations over food and leave enlightened. And boy did that happen! I'd say last night was a success 💜. So the lovely Meha aka @cookynomster and Suraj, were our gracious hosts for the evening.
The menu Kerala Chicken curry(Kozhi Karri)
Ground Lamb & Potato Fry(Kotiyerachiyum Kezhangu Olathiathu)
Pickled Fresh Mussels
Prawn Pickle
Tender Coconut Pudding
Chicken in green herbs (Thengayum malli ella Chertha Kozhi)
Iddiappam
White rice All the recipes were adapted from Lathika George's The Suriani Kitchen. We started off with Lamb and Potato Fry. Digging into every bite felt like a symphony playing in your mouth. The potatoes, simmered along with the ground Lamb and HAND-GROUND spices, were spot on. Dinner was Chicken cooked in Green Herbs. The fresh Mint & Coconut used as a base for the Chicken was refreshing, clean on the palate and had the right amount of heat from the chilly. The Kerala Chicken Curry was a Mild coconut based curry make with fresh spices and Chicken and finished off with a coconut oil, curry leaves, garlic and onion Tadka.
The pickled Mussels were make out of fresh mussels💚💚 We finished off dinner with a sweet and mellow, Tender Coconut Pudding made from scratch. Perfect way to end dinner!
Can't wait till the next POTLUCK! #dinner #potluck #cookbook #surian #kitchendiaries #kerala #mallu #food #chicken #curry #green #coconut #pudding #lamb #potatoes #pune #india

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Made some pickle with mussels yesterday – a Syrian Christian recipe called Kallumekka Achaar from Lathika George's The Suriani Kitchen. I also made a shrimp pickle but that wasn't half as good. And a tender coconut pudding where I did a big booboo – I heated coconut water to melt some gelatin. Yay for awkward tasting, not-quite-there-yet toddy. And a terrible after taste on the pudding. Bummer. 😦 I'm going to try and put all of this up on my blog soon enough. My first attempt at organizing a "Cookbook Club" in Pune. There was a delish chicken curry that @ana.bawarchi made and an insane keema and potato fry that @sahilk88 did. Suraj made a half decent chicken in green herbs. All in all a lovely dinner. A lot more fun than I'd thought it would be. Hopefully there will be more. And hopefully my food will not let me down.

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My go-to Mutton Curry

It’s been a little over 2 years since I moved to Bangalore. And for the longest time, I couldn’t seem to get my mutton curry right. It was ALWAYS chewy. I bought curry cuts of lamb. I bought curry cuts of goat. I bought just a lamb shank. And I just couldn’t get it right.

New Year’s Eve this time, I decided to give it another shot – probably in one of those do-or-die situations. Or the #AchievementUnlocked2014 spirit. It was originally meant to be a mutton sukka recipe based on something I saw on the internet. But I added a little bit of this and a litte bit of that and made it a curry. I’ve made it thrice since. So, yes. This is what my go-to mutton curry is.

IMG_20150125_210350

Ingredients:
500g of curry cuts of lamb (or goat, we’re flexible like that… though I will admit, I prefer lamb)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 bay leaves, broken into halves
Salt, to taste
A handful of grated coconut
Juice of half a lime
10-15 curry leaves
4-6 dried red chillies
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves
An inch of ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
Water, to cook
Oil, to cook (I use just about a teaspoon of oil and rely on the fat of the lamb for most of the flavour)
1-2 sliced green chillies, optional

Method:
1. In a pressure cooker, put the mutton, bay leaves, salt and turmeric powder. Fill the cooker up with water until the mutton pieces are just covered. Pressure cook the meat on low flame for about 30 minutes.
2. Grind the onions, garlic, ginger and red chillies to a fine paste.
3. Heat some oil in a vessel. Add the curry leaves and green chillies and let them cook for a minute or so, until they begin to splutter.
4. Add the ginger-garlic-onion-chilli paste and cook until it is translucent.
5. Add the grated coconut and the garam masala and cook for a few more minutes.
6. Now add the mutton, along with the water and cook on high flame for 8-10 minutes. The meat should be cooked tender by now. If you think the meat needs more cooking, cook on a low flame, with the vessel covered, checking every 7-10 mins whether the meat is cooked or not. Over-cooked lamb tastes awful and you really don’t want to ruin a cook curry.
7. If you think the curry is too watery, set the mutton pieces aside, and boil the curry on high, until it reduces to a thick gravy. Add the lamb pieces back into the curry, when you’re done.
8. Serve with chapatis or steamed rice.

IMG_20150125_210356