My Ami’s brother, my eldest Mamoo, always takes me straight to Rahat Bakery after I land at the airport in Lahore in the winter. During my summer visits all one wants to do is go straight home and languish in the air-conditioned room, whilst slicing into the plump flesh of a mango. But in December, when Lahore is in its element and all you need is a mere shawl twirled around your silhouette to keep you warm, we stop for treats at the bakery. Mamoo knows I may want to select my favourite pastry from the display, maybe the lemon tart, which I don’t think is made from real lemon curd at all, but I have been devouring it for so many years that I don’t think it really matters what the ingredients are. Or I may choose the layered rectangular chocolate pastry. I don’t think it is made with fine cocoa, but it is the pastry my Nani Ami, my maternal grandmother and I used to love having together in the evenings sitting in front of the gas heater in the drawing room, sipping our tea.
Rahat also has the best chicken patties in Lahore (my bias, of course), and one must follow a strict method for eating these. Just like there are methods for eating an oreo, there are even stricter methods for eating a chicken patty. First you gently and carefully remove the top crispy layer which reveals the softer, inner layers of puff pastry. Only once you’ve eaten the crackly top can you dip the softer portion into sweet chili sauce and inhale it in one-two-three-bites. My Mamoo and I leave Rahat with 12 chicken patties, encased in a box, with an orange or pink ribbon tied lazily on top in a bow. And just for old times’ sake I will pick up a small box of Shezan’s mango juice, sultry Lahore summers in that cliched box.
I was not able to go home to Lahore this winter, to have the lemon tart or get my fingers greasy by stuffing chicken patties into my mouth. I missed out on all the different citrus fruits which are in bloom in December, the ones we eat every morning, while the BBC news hums in the background. I missed out on spending time with my Mamoos, the youngest one who comes into our room at midnight with his dinner on a tray after a long day at work, “Hi Bruta“, he always quips, to which I respond, “Hi Bruto“, to which he retorts, “Hi Triple Ugly“. And there he sits with us till 2, sometimes 3 in the morning till we set the world right and talk about Sidney Poitier, one of his favourite actors.
I missed out on Siddique our cook’s morning ritual of coming into my Ami’s room asking me what to cook that day. My daily request for lunch, without fail is always dal with chapati. I don’t know if Siddique puts crack in that dal, but I could eat it every day for the rest of my life. And then the hardest part, what to have for dinner. Some days I request a spicy mutton curry with potatoes for my meat & potatoes fix and other days just a simple chicken roast which my Nani Ami taught Siddique to make.
And some days I yearn for kebab-e-dayg, a kebab dish prepared in a large pot; a dayg. A rich tomato sauce is prepared with a fragrant base of caramelised onions and garlic to which kebabs are added and simmered till the sauce has seeped into each tender piece. Mopped up with a light-as-air chapati or drenched over mounds of basmati rice, it is the taste of winters at home in my maternal grandmother, Nani Ami’s home. I still remember the swish-swoosing of her slippers as she would come towards my door every morning to ask me, her spoilt grandchild visiting from abroad, what I wanted for lunch and dinner that day. And some days I used to get miffed because I would want to continue sleeping rather than discussing lunch and supper menus.
How I wish for her to be there with Ami and I every morning. And not once would I get miffed with her question regarding what to prepare for lunch and dinner.
Serves 4 with a side of basmati chapati, or naan.
(You will need green fresh chillies and herbs of your choice for garnishing the dish).
For the tomato base:
*3 tbsp oil
*1 small onion, chopped fine
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*28 oz / 400 ml can chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce (passata) or 4-6 large fresh tomatoes, chopped, skin removed.
*1 tsp cayenne pepper
*salt to taste
For the kebabs:
(You will need parchment paper)
*2 bushels scallions/green onions, (hairy ends cut off)
*1 large red onion (peeled, cut into small chunks)
*1 thumb-size knob of fresh ginger (peeled)
*4 whole cloves garlic (peeled)
*1 lb ground beef (not of the lean variety; we need some fat to help ‘bind’ them)
*2 tbsp besan, heaped (gram flour, found in all Indian or Pakistani grocery stores)
*1 tsp cayenne pepper, heaped
*1 tsp salt (or more to taste, remember, the tomato sauce they are poached in will also be salted)
*1 tsp coriander powder
*1 tsp cumin powder
For the tomato base:
*Place a large pot (at least 8-in diameter) on medium heat.
*Add oil, onions and garlic.
*Sauté till golden brown, then add tomatoes and cayenne pepper.
*Cover pot and turn heat to low. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
*The mixture will have reduced slightly and darkened in colour.
*Add salt to taste and set aside while you form the kebabs.
For the kebabs:
*Place scallions, onion, ginger and garlic in a food processor and pulse till all the ingredients are minced finely.
*Transfer into a mixing bowl.
*To this, add ground beef, gram flour, egg, cayenne pepper, salt, coriander and cumin powders.
*Mix to combine well.
*Form kebabs in your hands by placing a tablespoon and a half of the mixture in your palm and curling your fingers onto them. They should be wide and round in the middle and tapered on both ends.
*Place each kebab on parchment paper as you continue to shape them.
Final Step- poaching kebabs in the sauce:
You will need to keep boiling water handy.
*Place pot with tomato sauce on medium heat, when it starts to bubble, add 1 cup boiling water.
*Gently place each kebab into the tomato sauce with a slotted spoon. Make sure you don’t overcrowd them or they will break. Do not stack them on top of each other. Depending on the size of the pot you are using, you may have some kebabs leftover which will not fit in the pot. You can freeze these.
*Replace the lid and turn the heat to low. Allow the kebabs to poach in the sauce for 30 minutes.
*When the time has elapsed, allow kebabs to rest for ten minutes before serving, otherwise they may crumble.
*Serve with basmati rice, chapati or naan.
*Garnish with green chillies, mint, coriander or any other fresh herb of your choice.