Try a spicy delicacy from Pakistan’s ‘Glass City’
“Hyderabad is Pakistan’s Glass City,” said Dr. Anwer Ali of the city for which he serves as the Toledo Sister Cities International’s trustee. “They are the hub for the glass bangles” — beautiful, colorful bracelets that the town is noted for.
Ohio’s own Glass City has had a formal relationship with the other one since 2011. And Dr. Ali, a native of Karachi, which is about 90 miles from Hyderabad, was “the driving force, the heart, and the passion” behind it, said James Hartung, vice president of the TSCI.
In addition to its glass jewelry, the metropolis is famous for beautiful textiles and exquisite cuisine, particularly for a dish that bears its name: Hyderabadi Biryani. Also called Sindhi Biryani, for the province in which the city is located, this complex, layered dish of meat, rice, potatoes, and spices is reserved for special occasions such as weddings or birthdays, said Dr. Ali. It’s a festive dish for celebrations.
Usually featuring mutton, the biryani can also be prepared with lamb or chicken. But whatever meat is used, “biryani is supposed to be spicy,” said Dr. Ali’s wife, Naureen. “It has to be very spicy and delicious.”
Pakistani food is a rich amalgam of cuisines, including Arab, Telugu, and Turkish. “Moghuls were the food lovers,” said Dr. Ali of the group that ruled in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. That the cooking is heavily dependent upon meat is directly attributable to them. “Beef or chicken or mutton, these are Moghul,” said Dr. Ali.
While there are similarities in the cuisines of Southern India, Northern India, and Pakistan, which became an independent country in 1947, there are also significant distinctions. Some of this is due to geography, while some of it is based in religion.
“Because Pakistan has a Muslim majority,” Dr. Ali said, “we eat more beef,” which Hindus, who predominate in India, will not consume.
There is also remaining influence from the British Empire, which controlled the region from 1858 to 1947. Dr. Ali said that Hyderabad’s Bombay Bakery is famous for making sweets such as coffee cakes that are British holdovers.
One very traditional dish from the Alis’ homeland is paya, which translates to “legs”: the slow-cooked hoof of a cow, often, though goats and sheep can also be served. It’s “very tender,” said Mrs. Ali. “Eat it with naan, put a bit of lemon on it … it’s just delicious,” she said with a smile. Nihari, a long-simmered shank stew that is considered the national dish of Pakistan, is another delicacy the family enjoys. It is said to have been created in Hyderabad.
Having lived here since 2001, “I like Toledo, because you get all four seasons,” Dr. Ali said. “Karachi is just like Florida,” he said, with very mild winters and scorching summers. Mrs. Ali noted that “northern areas,” though, “have all the seasons,” and even get snow.
The weather isn’t the only thing that’s hot in Hyderabad; the cuisine as a whole, not just the biryani, is distinctly spicy.
“It should be flavorful,” said Mrs. Ali, who is an exceptionally good and enthusiastic cook. “That’s what my mom taught me. I follow my mom’s recipes.”
Raitas, yogurt-based condiments with herbs and, sometimes, vegetables such as cucumbers, serve as cooling agents. So do fresh fruits and beverages made from them, such as Aab Shola, a refreshing mango juice drink.
Kulfi, an ice cream-like treat, is made by slowly cooking down milk while stirring constantly to make it thick and sweet, said Dr. Ali. Pistachio, almond, and other flavorings are then added.
As he shared memories of beloved Pakistani dishes, Dr. Ali smiled happily. “There is so much good food there,” he said.
3 medium onions (sliced)
1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons garlic paste
2 teaspoons ginger paste
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
10 to 15 prunes, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons red chili powder
8 green cardamom pods
4 black cardamom pods
10 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 to 1 1/2 pounds cubed lamb
1 cup plain yogurt
1 pound potatoes, cut into large chunks
6 small, thin green chilies, or to taste, minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, minced
5 cups basmati rice (soaked in water for 1/2 hour and drained)
3 teaspoons salt
3 bay leaves
3 cinnamon sticks
2 black cardamom pods
2 drops orange food coloring
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaf
Prepare the lamb: In a large skillet, fry the onions in oil over medium heat until they are light brown. Take out 1/4 of it and set aside.
Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, prunes, salt, red chili powder, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cumin, cinnamon, and bay leaves to the remaining fried onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are cooked and the liquid has evaporated.
Add the lamb, yogurt, and a bit of water to thin the sauce, if desired. Cook on medium heat until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.
Fill a medium saucepan with water and boil the potatoes until they are half-cooked (a fork can penetrate, but they are still firm).
Add the green chillies, mint, cilantro, and the potatoes to the meat and mix. Turn heat to low and simmer while preparing the rice.
Prepare the rice: Prepare the rice according to package directions along with the salt, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom. When half-cooked, strain the rice and discard the remaining water and the spices.
Prepare the biryani: Layer the lamb with the rice in a Dutch oven, alternating layers. Sprinkle with the food color, top with the fried onions, and add the chopped mint on top.
Close the lid tightly, making sure no steam passes out of the pot, and cook over low heat until the rice is done. Gently mix it before serving.
Serve with raita, a condiment of yogurt mixed with cucumber and herbs.
Yield: 20 servings
Source: Adapted from geniuskitchen.com