Memories of Childhood Summers in Lahore
It was a hot day in Lahore. The kind of day when the Loo wind blows in from the Cholistan Desert, as the sun casts its tungsten-white glow on the people of the city. The canal’s water a dirty brown, small children leaping in one by one, to cool themselves off in the 40C heat. The willow trees lining the bank, drooped and in prostration, praying for the monsoons to come.
Arriving from the airport, our car heaved and trudged down the Canal Bank Road, laden with a boot full of our suitcases. Filled with several jelly sandals in shades of grape, cotton candy pink and cloud-white; a shoe for every outfit. Sundresses for my sister and I, with ribbons which you tie in a pert bow at the tip of each shoulder; cool linen skirts and soft t-shirts. Gifts for everyone, including cashmere cardigans from Selfridge‘s for my maternal grandmother, Nani Ami. And in our hand luggage, bars of Dairy Milk, Fruit & Nut and rolls of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles.
As the car entered the gates of my maternal grandparents’ home, I peered out at the brick driveway, stained grape-purple from the bruised and fallen jamun fruit from the slender trees above.
Every summer, Nani Ami would have the gardener pick a basket of jamun for me. She would place it in the fridge the day before our arrival so I could have the sweet, acidic, tangy jamuns as the heatwave devoured the city outside our cool, shaded home. The jamun would dye my tongue shades of indigo. I would douse the olive-shaped fruit with chaat masala; a hot and tart spice mixture of dried mango powder, black salt, chili pepper and other spices. For my Ami, there would be a jug of opaque, cold lassi, made by Nani Ami with her homemade yoghurt. As she drank it, the ice cubes would clink against the walls of her glass. Sometimes she would add a dash of 7Up, to sweeten it, enjoying the bubbles on her tongue.
Nani Ami and I would have a siesta in her room, the air-conditioner turned on, the bamboo chicks outside every room’s window rolled down to block the sunrays out. Cold air pouncing all over the dark room as the ceiling fan whirled round and round.
For supper, Nani Ami would prepare my favourite chicken broth made from the organic chicken she bought in Lahore’s historic Tollinton Market.
Perfumed with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and other spices, she would use the remainder of the chicken broth to make a spiced pilaf; yakhni pulao. Each grain of rice perfectly separated, flavours intensified with homemade broth. Slippery ribbons of caramelised onions in every mouthful.
This was one of many dinners that a spoiled eldest grandchild would be treated to. I remember having the plush, unctuous, meaty, yakhni pulao with nothing but Nani Ami’s creamy, homemade yoghurt.
Yakhni pulao in the pan when the lid is removed; the onions and spices at the surface:
During Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims prepare red meat-based dishes. I prepared this for my family back in November with a side of borani bademjan; smokey aubergine caviar whipped with yoghurt. I learnt Nani Ami’s yakhni pulao from my Khala, my mother’s sister.
This post is for Nani Ami, who is no longer with us. But whenever I see a roll of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles or Dairy Milk, I know whom that would have been for…
Photocredit jamun and Tollington Market: Wikipedia
2 cups Basmati rice, soaked for 1 hour, minimum, (maximum 24 hours);
2 lb goat meat, veal or mutton. Ask butcher for meat with bone-in;
4 black cardamom pods;
6 green cardamom pods;
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp black cumin (kala zeera). This is not nigella sativa, but bunium persicum. White cumin may be substituted;
1 tsp whole coriander seeds;
1 large stick cinnamon;
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried;
2 tsp black pepper berries;
2 tsp salt (rule of thumb: 1tsp salt / 1 cup uncooked rice);
1 medium-sized onion, peeled, root left in tact, marked with an ‘X’ on top’ + 1 medium-sized onion sliced thin;
1 thumb fresh ginger;
6-8 cloves garlic;
6 cups water;
3-4 tbsp canola oil
Step1: Prepare the yakhni (stock)
*In a large pot, (I use a 6 qt stockpot), add goat meat, black and green cardamom pods, cloves, black cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, black pepper berries, salt, whole onion marked with an ‘X’, ginger, garlic and water.
*You may wrap the spices in a muslin cloth (like you would a bouquet garni) and secure before placing in the stockpot, however, I don’t bother with this, and neither did my grandmum, as the spices clinging to the meat did not bother her.
*Place stockpot on low-medium heat and let it simmer till the meat is tender. Keep checking the meat every 20 minutes; you want the meat to be tender, but not falling off the bone, otherwise it will not endure the cooking time in Step 2 below, and will become like pâté.
*To tenderise, the meat will take approximately 1-1 1/2 hour. The meat I use takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to tenderise.
*The garlic cloves will soften up as they cook; incoporate them into the stock with the back of a spatula.
*When the meat is tender, in a fine sieve, drain the stock. Discard onion and ginger. Remove the spices from the meat by hand, the black cardamom and other large pieces. The rest of the spices will stick to the meat, do not worry about that and please don’t wash it off, or you’ll lose the flavour of the meat.
*Set the meat aside.
*You should have approximately 4-5 cups of stock.
Step 2: Prepare the pulao, (pilaf)
*In a heavy-bottomed pan, add oil, and sliced onions. On medium heat, fry the onions till caramelised, this will take about 10-15 minutes. The onions will darken considerably, don’t worry, this gives the pilaf it’s unique golden colour.
*Turn the heat to low.
*Add three and a half cups of stock, the soaked rice and the reserved meat.
*Cover pot with a teacloth (or kitchen paper towel) and place lid on top. Allow rice to cook for 20 minutes.
*As much as you may be tempted, please don’t open the lid during the steaming process, you’ll lose all the steam and end up with an undercooked, almost raw grain.
*Turn the heat off and allow the rice to settle and rest for 15-20 minutes.
*Decant with a wide-rimmed spatula or a teacup saucer- as we do in our home.
*Serve with plain yoghurt or a raita.