She loves to cook and prefers to eat vegetarian. Geeta Devi belongs to a family that worked closely with the Nizams and thus has access to the royal recipes which are now available in her recipe book.
She is tall and hunched and that she has back pain is evident from the back support she wears. “Backpain is no ailment. It doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is being idle. I cannot sit doing nothing. Since I am comparatively free these days, I have begun to knit something for my grandchildren abroad,” says Geeta Devi.
Geeta Devi is one of the great-grand-daughters-in-law of the man after whom the famous Dharam-Karan road in Ameerpet is named. But that’s not Geeta Devi’s only claim to fame. After various stints as an entrepreneur, Geeta Devi has also made a mark in Hyderabadi cuisine. “Deccani to be precise,” she clarifies.
“I have cooked at various food fests in star hotels all over the country. My cooking is definitely Deccani, but since we belonged to the Mathur family of UP and settled here even before the 1800s, the way we prepare our food preparation is a little tweaked; it is different in the way we use our meat and spices. Otherwise it is the same Deccani cooking which emphasis on slow cooking, use of meat in various dishes and the likes,” she says.
After successfully turning author in 2005 by writing easy ways to cook Deccani food, Geeta Devi has come out with her second book titled, Jewels of Nizam: Recipes From The Khansamas of Hyderabad. The book’s gist says ‘a delectable mix of Arabic, Mughlai and traditional South Indian influences, today’s Hyderabadi cuisine is the legacy of the Nizams of Hyderabad, whose khansamas were skilled in the use of spices to bring distinctive flavours to the table.’
Geeta Devi dug into the 400-year-old history of the royal kitchens of the Nizams to present an array of Hyderabadi recipes. The book has signature dishes like Patthar ka gosht and Paneer Golkonda to Haleem. Then there is the famous Kacche gosht ki biryani and Jhinge ka achaar, Shahi tukde and Anokhi kheer. “This book in many ways reveals the secrets behind a range of delicacies that will surprise gourmands,” she beams. The USP of the book being easy to follow recipes in vegetarian snack to a complex main course of mixed meats.
The finals seeds of writing her book happened when she and her husband were in the US visiting their daughter. After the family would go to sleep, “My husband and I would settle down to write these recipes. We did all this because we were thoroughly motivated by my elder daughter. She in a way forced us to sit and pen down recipes which have been handed down over generations. My husband would write as I would dictate,” she smiles. Geeta Devi is married to Dharam Karan’s great-grandson Ashok Kumar, who retired as a Chief Engineer.
How does Geeta Devi have access to all these recipes and dishes? “As a family that has been closely associated with the Nizams over the years we have also learned the dishes. Dining in their homes allowed our elders to access their food and Nizam’s family loved their food and meat. My family and my husband’s family have been passionate about food. And after getting married, I had access to their recipes as my mother in law was an avid cook. Cooking during that time was mostly subjected to the availability of the raw materials. That’s how there are a variety of wheat dishes and so was the case with meat. To make the best use of the goats and their spare parts the family over the centuries have mastered many recipes, says Geeta Devi.
Doesn’t it bother her to share the recipes? What is wrong in sharing recipes if we share the recipes that stay forever? If we keep them as a secret, they will slowly die with the generation. There is also the fact that no two hands can cook the same.” What Geeta is bothered about is distortion of the recipes by people and presenting it as authentic Hyderabadi food.
That Geeta Devi is passionate about her interest — cooking, is evident from the dishes she prepared for our photo shoot. Besides, biryani, there was achari chicken, gongura mutton, mutton chops and a dessert of custard apple kheer. “It is the season for custard apples and I have been wanting to try them for a long time. My husband cannot resist desserts and we are both diabetic, so I seldom prepare desserts,” says Geeta Devi.
Geeta says the secret to good cooking is using fresh ingredients which she prepares at home. She also has a terrace garden where she grows double beans, a few spices, everyday common leafy vegetables and some vegetables. “The task of watering the plants is my husband’s. It is an extended workout for him after our morning yoga and walk. This is because he needs meat in every meal and I mix mutton for him with all vegetables so that he is a happy man when he sits to dine. And I totally believe the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”