Mughlai cuisine consists of dishes developed in Medieval India at the centres of the Mughal Empire. It represents a combination of the cooking style and recipes of Central Asia and North India. The Mughlai cooking styles is used in the traditional cuisine of north India (especially Agra and Delhi), Hyderabad, Dhaka and the Karachi. The cuisine is strongly influenced by Central Asian cuisine, the region where the Turco-Mongol Mughal rulers originally hailed from, and it has in turn strongly influenced the regional cuisines of modern north India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
After 1526 – when emperor Babur occupied Agra – the city slowly and steadily became the Mughal capital for generations to come. It’s no surprise then that the Mughals also influenced cuisine with the same splendour and magnificence. Although emperor Babur didn’t live long enough to express his desire for the type of foods he devoured, he did set a trend by hiring Hindu cooks to prepare Persian-style dishes with Indian ingredients. It was during the reign of his successor, emperor Humayun, that dried fruits and nuts were incorporated into recipes for sweets, sauces and rice. The emperor sympathised with the Hindus under his rule and completely shunned the consumption of beef, which was typically replaced by the meat of goat, fowl and venison.
But it was during emperor Akbar’s era that Mughal cuisine reached new heights. Employing over 400 cooks, Akbar’s feasts would more often than not span 100 different dishes. These cooks fused their rich style of cooking Indian dishes with Persian flavours, creating an altogether different kind of cuisine. It was then that one of the most delicious and elaborate meals was created in the Mughal kitchens. When Shah Jahan came into rule, the invention of Mughlai food was at its peak – think lamb kebabs marinated in Indian spices, rice pilaf ramped up a notch into the newly developed biryani, and silver and gold edible foils used to enhance the appearance of foods.
The tastes 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. It has over time remained one of the most popular and favourite cuisines among foodies across India. Some of its signature dishes include Biriyani, Mughlai Paratha, Murg Musallam, Kebabs, Malai Kofta, Pasanda and Rezala that are bound to entice the gastronomic enthusiasts to crave for more. It also includes some exotic sweet dishes like Sheer Korma, Shahi Tukra, Kheer, Kulfi and Firni.
This rich and elaborate history behind the Mughlai cuisines truly depicts that this food is an outcome of extensive expertise and a cuisine inspired from culture and traditions.
One of the signature delicacies from the royal Mughal kitchen is Pasanday, the name of which is probably derived from the Urdu word ‘pasande’ which means favourite. It is traditionally a rich lamb curry made of lamb legs that are flattened into strips; marinated with ingredients like chilli powder, yogurt and a combination of spices for hours and then cooked in fragrant gravy.
Getting pasanda cut meat is not easy everywhere. If its not available at your friendly neighbourhood butcher shop you can get large boneless chunks of Raan (hind leg) meat and try carving out thin slices with a sharp knife. I normally do the cut myself.
I have tried to keep this dish classic Mughlai, following the tradition of using the typical Pasanda cut meat, dry fruits (almonds in this case), dry spices, milk, yoghurt and ghee. Hope you will enjoy it.