Hajra Mohammed's Recipes of Life, for Life attempts to expel the myth associated with Muslim cuisine and brings to table some delectable recipes of the Cutchi Memon community
She is all of 85, but her ears perk up, eyes glint and she grins from ear to ear when she hears about her favourite topic — cooking. To her, cooking is about bringing that smile on people's faces after a mouthful of something sumptuous.
Meet Hajra Mohammed, whose culinary journey began with aloo gosht ka korma and minced meat curry, just six months before her marriage in 1947, and is still going strong. She brings to the table the legendary Cutchi Memon Muslim recipes, which she has enjoyed cooking for her family over the years in her book “Hajra's Recipes of Life, for Life” (Westland, Rs. 350).
Sitting pretty in a chair at her artistically done-up home, Hajra says: “I was into music, reading, and playing sitar. It was my sister-in-law who insisted that I learn cooking before I got married,”
The book is unique as it gives access to some delectable recipes of the Cutchi Memon community.As her grand-daughter Husna Rahaman puts it: “We are very secretive about recipes, we never share them. We just want people to feast. We are a community of foodies where the men go to the market every Sunday to pick up the plump baingans, ripe tomatoes and fresh slices of meat. To us, food is about touching, feeling and experiencing the smells.”
The book also attempts to expel the myth associated with Muslim food, the generic definition of it being spicy and oily.
“We use fresh ingredients, ginger-garlic, cinnamon, cardamom and lots of meat (lamb and chicken). We cut down on garam masala, oil and avoid cream completely, ingredients that are used in Mughlai cuisines,” says the home-maker, a regular at cookery classes. “The recipes are from our daily meals. By sharing it, I want everyone to enjoy the experience.”
Husna defines Memon Muslim food as light, less greasy, wholesome, smart and tasty. “It is food, that is cooked without too much fat or too much effort. It completely satiates the palate without killing the body.”
The book is a thanksgiving and a tribute from the family to Hajra who has spent her lifetime cooking and feeding them. It is divided into powders and pastes, daily menus (a combination of vegetarian, non-vegetarian delicacies and desserts), biryanis and other accompaniments, brunch, tea-time snacks, from the sigdi, one dish wonders (such as mutkulai-dumplings in a meat and vegetable broth) and pickles. From the sea food platter, you have recipes of machi ka khatta (classic fish curry) and also prawn biryani.
Husna says Russell Market is like a second home for her naani who hand picks her ingredients, right from Kashmiri chillies to cinnamon to cardamom to vegetables and meat.
The book has a total of 70 recipes, which are easy on the table and not too long. All you need is 40 minutes to cook up a meal. Biryani is the family's favourite, so is turai aur ande ki bhurji (scrambled eggs with ridged gourd), khatti dal gosht (tangy lentil with mutton) and hara masala gosht (green spiced chops).
Among vegetables, baingans, shimla mirchi, bhindi and potatoes (combined with meat in korma and also in mutton biryani) figure in the cuisine.
Hajra mentions sabudana aur lauki ki kheer (sago and bottle gourd dessert) and dum rote (bottle gourd and semolina dessert) prepared with lots of khova and almonds as healthy and good for the stomach. “I don't find anything difficult to cook,” says the octogenarian who learnt cooking from her mother, a Hyderabadi.
“We had a verandah behind our house and my mom used to cook on a sigdi and her food had so much taste,” she reminisces.
A member of the Bangalore Club for 30 years, Hajra's cookery classes at the club is a big hit. Even now, she eagerly reads cook books and catches all the cookery shows on TV. Her favourite tea-time snack is warqi samosa, a melt-in mouth snack filled with minced meat and rote cake (semolina dessert), which is unique to the Cutchi Memons.
“When the children from the family are travelling we fill big empty ghee tins with these snacks,” the grandmother says. She says Eid is special for the family and a time when everyone gets together to make the mouth-watering biriyani, and sheer korma to be distributed to friends. Hajra fondly talks about her pile of notebooks with recipes handwritten by her over the years.
“Anything about food interests her. Though she doesn't cook these days, she sits in the kitchen to make sure that the food is prepared the way it should be,” smiles Husna.
The book will be launched on May 7 at The Ballroom, Taj West End, 8 p.m.K. JESHI