Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great was a mere thirteen years of age when he ascended the throne. While still a relatively young Emperor, he commissioned the construction of a new capital, known as Fatehpur Sikri. The buildings, a fusion of Islamic, Hindu and Jain architecture, reflect the Great Emperor’s beliefs of universal religious tolerance. It was under his rule that the Islamic jizya tax was revoked for non-Muslims and a new faith called the Din-i-Ilahi (Faith of the Divine) was created by him in an attempt to bring the diverse religions of the Mughal Empire together. To this day, only 18 people are said to have belonged to this faith, but one cannot help but admire Emperor Akbar for trying to unify his peoples.
A view of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, with the Hindu deity Hanuman in the foreground is just the sort of religious co-existence Emperor Akbar must have envisioned for his peoples.
Despite being a Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great practiced austerity when it came to food. During his reign, the Mughal kitchen produced saffron and rosewater flavoured biryanis with nuts and dried fruits brought in from Persia and Turkey, and murgh mussalam; chicken bathed in cinnamon, cloves and cardamom then roasted over coal embers. However,towards the end of his life, Emperor Akbar completely refrained from eating meat, subsisting mostly on rice, lentils and vegetables.
Majority of the vegetarian dishes from Pakistan are braised for a long period. Personally, floppy carrots which can be smooshed with your fork just put me off and remind me of the canteen in school in Nairobi. I like my carrots crisp, just barely glazed with a spiced oil, their sweetness exaggerated.
This is a dish which my Ami makes almost as one would a stir-fry. The carrots are gently glazed with a black mustard seed infused oil, with a few pinches of salt, turmeric and chili. A few stirs, steamed in its own juice for a few minutes, the carrots come out al dente.
Perfect for scooping up with a chapati with some raita; fresh-mint infused yoghurt.
The spiced oil and cooling effect of the yoghurt make this dish very moreish.
Hanuman and Badshahi Mosque photo courtesy of Ali Ahsan.
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side.
You will need a large wok or frying pan of 10in (25cm) diameter and a lid (the lid need not fit over the wok perfectly, it is needed for covering the carrots so they can steam in their own juices for 3-5 minutes at the end of the process).
* 2tbsp corn oil, or any other neutral oil
* 1lb / 450g carrots (julienned weight)
* 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds; known as rai in Urdu
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/2 – 1 tsp chili powder, depending on the amount of heat you prefer. (Start with 1/2 tsp)
* 1/8 tsp turmeric powder, known as haldi in Urdu. Available in Pakistani or Indian grocery stores.
* Julienne carrots or you can dice them if you so like.
* Place a wok or a frying pan on medium heat.
* Add oil and allow to heat for 2 minutes.
* Add mustard seeds and as soon as they start to sputter, remove from the flame (don’t turn the flame off) and add the julienned carrots. The reason for removing from the flame is because you don’t want the seeds to burn and become bitter.
* Stir-fry for a minute and place back on heat.
* Add turmeric, salt and chili powder and give it a whirl.
* Cover with a lid for 3-5 minutes- you don’t want to overcook the carrots, they should be semi-crisp by the end of this process.
* Remove lid, turn off the flame and serve with chapati (a Pakistani wholewheat flatbread) and some raita or have as a side with a whole roast chicken.