U.P is most famous for Banarasi paan, Agra ka petha, Lucknow’s galawat ke kabab, Lakhnawi biryani, Mathura ke pede to name a few. The state largely offers delicacies of Awadh and Mughlai dishes which form two predominant cuisines of the state. Awadhi food is best enjoyed in Lucknow and offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes which have a Mughal signature. It was the bawarchis and rakabdars of Awadh who founded the ‘dum pukht’ style of cooking or the art of cooking over a slow fire, which has become synonymous with Lucknow today. Their spread consisted of elaborate dishes like kebabs, kormas, biryani, kaliya, nahari, sheermal, zarda, naan’s, roomali rotis, and warqi parathas. Mughlai cuisine was more like a style of cooking developed in the India by the imperial kitchens of the Mughal Empire. Mughlai food is made with exotic spices, dried fruit and nuts and different cooking methods as compared to Awadhi food. The dishes are prepared with rich ingredients like milk and cream with spices to make the dishes both delicious and spicy. The cuisine is strongly influenced by the Persian cuisine of Iran and is rich and fragrant. The flavours of Mughlai cuisine vary from extremely mild to spicy and are often associated with a distinctive aroma and the taste of ground and whole spices.
Common spices/seasonings used in U.P. cuisine:
- Saffron: though considered a spice, saffron is more of a flavour and fragrance. Derived from the flower of Crocus Sativus, saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices. Since U.P. cuisine had a lot of imperial influence, saffron was used liberally for both is rich sunny colour, deep fragrance and healing properties.
- Turmeric: belonging to the ginger family, turmeric has healing properties that are all identified in Ayurveda. Used as a natural colouring agent, it does not have a strong flavour but adds to the usage of other spices as a combination.
- Cardamom: the health benefits of this peppery, citrusy spice are well known and cardamom is one spice used in both sweet and savoury foods. Both Awadhi and Mughlai cuisines being the foods of the kings, liberal use of such spices is common in the dishes of U.P.
- Cinnamon: obtained from the bark of a tree, this fragrant spice is again used in both sweet and savoury preparations and like most Indian spices, it had tremendous medicinal properties. Used to add aroma to biryanis and kormas, cinnamon has a warm, sweet flavour that cuts the spice in most dishes.
- Black Cardamom: commonly used in pulaos and to add aroma and health benefits to a cup of tea, black cardamom is the more potent version of the green cardamom with a distinctive sweetish flavour and a lot of fragrance.
Common vegetables used in U.P. cuisine:
- Potato: from the filling in a samosa to a parantha, the versatile potato is a favourite in this state. Mainly because of its various uses, it is also used in sweets. A lot of vegetarian koftas and kebabs use potatoes as binding and once fried they add to the crispy texture of the dish!
- Spinach: a favourite in ‘saag’ preparations, this leafy, green vegetable is again versatile and full of health properties. Spinach is also used to make chaat, by frying the leaves coated with batter, chaat is a typical food of U.P. Spinach is also added to pakoras and lentils for colour, flavour and substance.
- Fenugreek: used much like spinach, ‘methi’ is pungent and rich in flavour. It is most commonly used to make dry dishes with potatoes or in the dough for rotis and paranthas. Methi is also considered to have health properties that are ideal to battle the cold winters in the state of U.P.
- Turnip: this particular root vegetable has a distinctive pungent flavour and is a winter vegetable. Added to Indian style curries and stews, turnips adds to the overall flavour of the dish. It is most commonly used with meats in Mughlai cuisine.
- Lady Finger/Okra: stuffed, fried, sautéed, okra is a favourite in this state, since it is available through long summer months. Highly fibrous it is a favourite in Awadhi and Mughlai feasts and served deep fried and crunchy, usually coated with gram flour for extra flavour.
- Nemona: This is an easy vegetarian dish made with mashed and at times whole peas. Cauliflower and potatoes are added to the dish along with spices like turmeric, red chillies, garam masala and tomatoes as a souring agent.
- Kachori: This a round flattened ball made of flour filled with a stuffing of a mixture of yellow moong dal or Urad Dal, besan and spices like red chili powder, salt. This is then deep fried and served with a potato curry.
- Kofta: These can be vegetarian or non vegetarian. Vegetables are grated or boiled to make a mixture with gram flour which is then formed into balls, fried and added to a curry or in the non vegetarian version, mince meat is used to form balls and add to a gravy.
- Samosa: This is a fried savoury snack usually filled with spiced potatoes, onions, peas or minced meat or chicken. It is usually shaped like a triangle, folded closed and deep fried. Samosas are often accompanied by chutney.
- Palak Paneer: Boiled and pureed spinach is spiced with a selection of masala’s. Cubes of paneer or cottage cheese are added to this thick preparation and served with hot Indian breads.
- As wheat is the staple food of the state, breads are a very important part of the meal, they are generally leavened, flat breads. The breads may be made of different types of flour and can be made in various ways. Popular breads include:
- Naan: This is a leavened bread made with white flour dough. It is cooked in a ‘tandoor’ on a coal fire and served with curries and gravies.
- Taftan: This is a leavened flour bread lightly flavoured with saffron and cardamom powder and clay oven baked like a naan.
- Sheermal: This too is a saffron flavoured traditional flatbread. It is mildly sweetened and leavened with yeast, the sweetness adds to the spicy curries it is served with. In some recipes it is sweetened with milk and sugar. This is clay oven baked as well.
- Laccha Parantha: This is a layered flatbread, it can be clay oven baked or prepared on a ‘tava’ or girdle. It is usually made with wheat flour. It is rolled out, made into a spiral and roll again to create the layers.
- Poori: Usually made with whole wheat flour, this is sometimes flavoured with ‘ajwain’ seeds. It is rolled into smaller rounds than ‘roti’s’ and deep fried in oil. It is served with vegetarian curries and is a part of a ‘thali’ service too.
- Kheer: This is a rice pudding made by boiling rice with milk and sugar, and flavoured with cardamom, raisins, saffron, cashewnuts, pistachios or almonds. It is typically served during a meal or also consumed alone as a dessert. It can be served cold or warm.
- Kulfi: is the Indian version of ice cream except that it is not emulsified in the same way. This frozen dairy dessert is made with traditional flavours like pista, saffron (kesar), cardamom and malai (cream), it is now available in fruit and other variants too like mango and paan.
- Gond Ke Laddoo: Gond is an edible gum extracted from the bark of a tree. It is a ‘heaty’ ingredient and is added to these laddoo’s which are mainly made for the chilling winters in UP. The laddoo is made with wholewheat flour.
- Sheer Korma: This is again a sweet dish with a Mughlai influence. It is vermicelli first fried lightly in ‘ghee’ then cooked in milk and dates (sweetening agent) then flavoured with saffron and dry fruits. It is usually served at festivals.
- Sharbat: These are fruit and flower extracts that are diluted with water and enjoyed in summer months, made with traditional and exotic ingredients like Khus (vetiver), rose, lemon and even Hibiscus (Gurahl).
- Chhaas: This is made with milk, cream or yoghurt which is blended manually in a pot with an instrument called ‘madhani’. If using milk or cream, the butter which comes on top is filtered with a piece of cloth, and the remaining milk-based liquid which is left is known as chhaas or buttermilk.
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