[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]
Date: Friday, July 20th, 2018
Jaspreet Nirula had a degree in hotel management and had worked with multiple F&B chains before switching to a role in sales and retail. However, his heart was always in food. Chandrika, on the other hand, was already baking professionally and had a strong clientele through her Facebook page. When they moved to Pune a few years ago, they were disappointed with what restaurants passed off as Punjabi fare and decided to start a home-run catering business that specialized in North Indian cuisines. Today, they’re best known for their range of non-vegetarian pickles, their authentic flavours and the charm and joy with which they run their business.
From catering for IT companies to creating birthday boxes for children’s parties, Jaspreet and Chandrika have it all figured out – the division between running errands, doing the dishes, cooking and deliveries is all handled seamlessly between them, without any additional help. With Jaspreet’s knowledge of quantities and time management from his work in the F&B industry, and Chandrika’s expertise in traditional North Indian recipes, together they started running their catering business from their home well before the term “home chefs” and aggregator platforms like Authenticook and MealTango became cool.
“Our portions are Punjabi size,” says Chandrika, who fondly goes by Chiya, “If you love food and you love feeding people, you’ll never scrimp on quantities or quality. It’s something I learnt from my mother. And her, from my nani.”
The couple believes in cooking fresh and manages the orders they take accordingly. There are times when they need a couple of days notice if they’re expected to cater for large parties and at other times, they’ve found themselves politely turning down order requests because they fear they may not be able to meet the demand and deadlines. “We’ve has strangers call up to tell us how much they enjoyed their food. Knowing that you can touch someone so deeply with authentic recipes and home-cooked goodness is what makes this worthwhile,” she says. From time to time, however, they do get customers who are needlessly nitpicky because their idea of a biryani, for instance, is different from the biryani the Nirula’s make. “There are 36 kinds of biryani in Hyderabad alone! So it’s difficult to master something which can mean something different to different sets of people. That’s why over time we’ve learnt our lesson and decided to restrict our menu to what we know our customers enjoy eating and what THEY think we’re good at.”
Chandrika’s grandfather moved from modern-day Pakistan to Haryana after the partition in 1947. Haryana, back in the 1940s and 50s was dense with forests, where Chandrika’s grandfather would occasionally hunt for a hobby. He’d return with rabbit or boar which her grandmother would then cook. While game like rabbit could be consumed over a family meal, her grandmother began using larger animals like boar, or junglee maas, in several ways – some part of it was portioned into curry for home and the rest of it was made into a pickle which was then distributed around the village or gifted to guests who were visiting.
While junglee maas may be hard to come by nowadays, one of Chandrika’s favourite recipes is a slow-cooked curry that uses lamb instead. “Bhunna meat, as they call it in Punjab, refers to cooking the meat on a low flame and stirring continuously, for hours together,” she explains. Since the recipe uses a fair quantity of sarson ka tel (mustard oil) and very little water, it allows the cooked meat to stay without spoiling for several days. “In fact, it’s half-way between a pickle and a curry. When I was younger, we used to take 3-day long train journeys from Orissa to Karnal, with our dabbas packed with bhunna meat!”
Punjabis use a lot of sarson ka tel (mustard oil) in their recipes not only because mustard is a staple crop in Punjab but also because the benefits of using smoked sarson ka tel in cooking are likened to those of ghee. The trick to cooking Punjabi style food with mustard oil is to heat the oil to smoking point first. Once it cools down, it can be stored for later use. Burning the oil adds more flavour to the curries and the pickles it is used in. This is distinctly different from how Banglas use mustard oil and mustard paste in cooking, which results in the two cuisines being so different from one another, even though at the core, both heavily rely on the use of mustard oil.
“My mother was handed down a diary filled with handwritten recipes, all in Urdu and Punjabi, from her grandmother. She got my nani to translate the Urdu recipes and I’ve gotten her to translate the Punjabi ones.” With cooking being such an integral part of the family’s heritage, it was only obvious that the cooking bug bit Chandrika early on and she found herself cooking her way into people’s hearts.
Chandrika suggests asking your local butcher for ‘gol’ meat – a cut of lamb that is fattier and has less bones, for this recipe because “Very often the grain of meat (the direction in which it is cut) alters the texture of the finished dish greatly, so ensuring that you use the right cut is essential.”
Bhunna Gosht Masala –
- Roast the coriander and cumin seeds.
- Grind all the ingredients for the paste and keep aside.
- Heat the mustard oil and bring it to a smoking point. Let it cool for a few minutes.
- Heat the oil again and add sliced onions and fry until golden brown.
- Now add mutton pieces and bhunno for 9-10 minutes.
- Add the spice paste and salt and stir to mix well. Bhunno this on medium heat for at least 20 minutes stirring continuously (add very little water at regular intervals as and when required).
- Let the liquid evaporate and bhunno till the oil separates from the masala.
- Now add ½ cup of water, lower the heat, cover and cook until meat is tender. Keep stirring on regular intervals (add water if necessary so that the masala doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan).
- Once the meat is tender and it is coated with masala, adjust the seasoning, add garam masala powder, chopped green coriander and mix well. Serve hot.
- Use cuts from the hind leg of goat for this recipe.
- Since this recipe involves bhunnoing as the main process of cooking, you should use a heavy bottomed pan. It will help in the meat and masala cook well.
- Use Kashmiri Whole Red chillies as they have lesser spice quotient. However, if you want it to be spicier then you can use the chillies accordingly.