The quintessence of Lucknowi culture is in its plurality, says writer Sunita Kohli

Writer Sunita Kohli

Writer Sunita Kohli   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

From kebabs and fancy potato recipes to meditations on history and culture Chand Sur and Sunita Kohli’s new book has it all

Sunita Kohli and her mother Chand Sur have put together 150 vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes in The Lucknow Cookbook. The recipes have been sourced from the kitchens of her family and friends.

Sunita says the recipe book is an extension of Lucknow’s famous Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb (culture) which melds different cuisine traditions. “We wanted to showcase the multicultural aspects of Lucknow’s food, which has roots in Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan,” says Sunita at the launch of her book at Atta Galata in Bengaluru recently.

“Sindhi, Parsi, Punjabi, Nawabi, Mughlai and British culture find echoes in Lucknowi cuisine. The quintessence of Lucknowi culture is in its plurality, which is reflected in the easy acceptance of cuisines from different communities that co-existed,” says Sunita.

Sunita and Chand have chosen recipes that travelled with them from different parts of the world. Take for instance the yogurt soup, (dahi ka shorba) that traces its roots to Istanbul, while the use of pomegranates and dried fruit in Lucknow has come from Afghanistan. “The original kebabs though have come from Persia,” says Sunita. The dishes in the cookbook go beyond Lucknow.

When Sunita’s parents, Chand and Inder Prakash, first settled in Lucknow after leaving Lahore following Partition, they brought only the memories of home with them. Chand was born in 1925 in Bahawalpur in undivided Punjab, and brought up in Quetta.

The book has 230 pages with 18 chapters that cover kebabs, soups, biryanis, pulaos and raitas, daals, mutton, chicken and fish dishes, parathas and rotis, desserts, condiments, chutneys, pickles and murabbas, and Lucknowi coffee.

Be it the chaat or the biryanis and pulaos, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, Lucknow had its own distinctive interpretation, says Sunita. The cooking was influenced by the cuisines that travelled down the Silk Road. “The recipes in the book are distilled from this rich culinary heritage,” she says observing in her preface that “the preparation of food is learnt by observation, it is a process of osmosis. With four generations in our family being reasonably good cooks, this book documents recipes we learnt from my mother and other close friends.”

The Lucknow Cookbook goes beyond food to document a family’s journey, an era, a city and a culture where sophistication and urbanity were a way of life. “Cooking and serving was the foremost expression of hospitality and was as nuanced as the art, architecture, jewellery and furniture,” says Sunita while talking about the chapter, Lucknowi Coffee, High Tea, Cocktail Snacks and Cakes.

“High teas and cocktail parties were a regular feature because of the large British presence in Lucknow,” says Sunita. “My mother is a superb baker and has taught three generations of the family to bake her trademark basic sponge cake and chocolate mayonnaise cake with its delicious fudge frosting. She realised that using peanut oil instead of butter made the brownies even gooier.”

The vegetarian section has a whole chapter devoted to the versatile potato with simple recipes for hing jeere ka aloo and dahiwale aloo, just as the 16 dishes in other vegetables such as bharwan karela with masala or the carrot soufflé opens up the world of Lucknowi styles.

Sunita would never miss out on Lucknow’s best contribution to Indian cuisine — biryanis. “One needs to know that pulaos, a single pot dish, usually accompanies a meal, whereas biryanis are the centrepiece of a meal accompanied by various side-dishes,” she explains.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 3:52:43 PM |

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