two hundred years ago in the early 18th century, Kashmiri families came
down the mountain valley to seek fame and fortune in the rich plains
below. Those were the days of the decline of the Mughal Empire, and it was
not surprising that the glory of Awadh pulled them towards Lucknow. A
number of Kashmiris came to settle in the capital of Awadh. They brought
with them the scent of saffron, the cups of kahwa and their celestial
cuisine. Truly, the cooking of “Shab-Deg” in winter for Nawab in Awadh,
became not only a celebration of Winter, but a reminder of the bond with
that land which is oft referred to as heaven on earth;
firdaus bar ru-yi-zamin ast,
u hamin ast, u hamin ast.’
earth be an Eden of bliss,
this, it is this, none but this.
to this day, the fondness for the Kashmiri cuisine has not waned. Ask any
old native of Awadh Shab Deg and you will see his eyes brim with
nostalgia, and he laments the dying of the art of cooking this sublime
dish. ‘Shab Deg’ is a beautiful blend of whole turnips, kashmiri ver,
mutton balls and spices cooked in a ‘deg’ through the night or ‘shub’.
The treatment of turnips with saffron, the special Kashmiri vers brought
all the way from Kashmir with the distinctive aroma of saffron and
Kashmiri onions and the koftas cooked on the slow fire in a sealed deg
till the break of dawn, lend this dish its distinguished status. The
culinary skill of a cook in preparing this dish lies in the deftness with
which all the koftas (mutton balls) and turnips are made to look
like one another and that they are cooked to the perfect texture. Apart
from the carefully crafted ingredients, pieces of mutton or game birds are
also cooked in the gravy.
Roast the turnips in a tandoor till the skin can be easily removed. Peel and prick all over with a fork. Grind the garlic to a paste. Apply one part of this paste, turmeric, salt and half of the saffron dissolved in kewra jal on the turnips and keep aside for 15 minutes. Then in the ghee fry the turnips to a golden brown colour. Remove and keep. In the same fat fry finely sliced onions till golden brown and crisp. Keep aside. Grind the ginger to a paste and divide in three parts. Grind clove, cinnamon to a paste. To prepare the yakhni in a pan put half of the fried onions, second part of garlic paste, one part of ginger paste, half of clove, cinnamon and cardamom paste, half of the mutton pieces and enough water to cook the meatto a very soft texture so that it can be strained to obtain the yakhni. When the meat is done, mash the pulp and extract the bones, then strain through a sieve or a muslin cloth. Keep the yakhni aside. Then mix the minced meat, papaya paste, second part of ginger, third part of garlic paste and remaining clove-cinnamon-green cardamom paste and ˝ tsp. Garam masala powder. Keep aside for 30 minutes. Shape into balls or koftas approximately the size of the turnips. Deep fry in the ghee and keep aside.
Then in the hot ghee add the remainder of the mutton pieces, fried onions, ginger-garlic paste, cumin, shahi jeera powder, chilli powder and the garam masala and fry till the meat is brown. Add beaten curd, yakhni, beaten balai, almond paste, fried turnips, mutton koftas and lime juice. Stir gently. Add sufficient water for a thick gravy and to cook the meat. Crumble and stir the Kashmiri ver seal the lid on the deg with a flour dough and put on dum by placing some live coal on the lid and some below the deg. Let it cook through the night. In the morning, when you open the deg the ghee would be floating on the top. Now, add the remainder of the saffron dissolved in kewra jal and serve hot with sheermal or bakarkhani for breakfast.