Food and Drink

How Indian Barbecue Goes Way Beyond Tadoori Chicken

Chef Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka shares a recipe for seekh lamb kebab.

Dhamaka
Dhamaka
Dhamaka

Ironically enough, one of the most common forms of Indian barbecue-the tandoori chicken-is not intrinsically Indian afterall. The dish came along with Pakistani immigrant Kundan Lal Gujral, who ended up in India after the partition of 1947 and opened a restaurant in Delhi.

The red, masala-coated pieces of chicken cubes that are charred on embers are the predecessor of the even more famous butter chicken, and continue to be one of the most popular versions of barbecue food in India. But the art of Indian barbecue is multi-faceted and varies wildly depending on region.

Unlike the American-style of barbecue that uses grills for cooking the meat, for tandoori cooking, pre-marinated ingredients (mostly chilli powder, yogurt, and oil) are lined on a skewer and inserted in a charcoal-heated clay oven. The word “tandoor” is the Turkish pronunciation of Persian and Arabic word “tannur,” which means an oven or a portable furnace.

“The founder of Sikhism-Guru Nanak-encouraged the concept of tandoor-led cooking, which led to its popularity in Northern India,” says Chef Amninder Sandhu, who founded an open-fire Indian kitchen called Ammu in Mumbai. “He urged people to build a common oven in the neighbourhood to help get rid of casteism and to encourage them to mingle.” Sandhu traces the origin of this method of cooking to the earliest Indian civilization, in the Harappa Valley, over 4,000 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Amninder Sandhu
Photo courtesy of Amninder Sandhu
Photo courtesy of Amninder Sandhu

Many barbecue dishes come from the northern or central states of India, such as Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. Ingredients are typically barbecues in a tandoor or a sigdi, which is a method similar to African baraai or Brazilian churrasco where ingredients are cooked on a metal grill.

“We marinate the meat and veggies in a combination of green and black cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cumin powder, dried red chilli, and coriander seeds. Then cook it on a bed of hot coal and meat drippings,” says James Beard Award-winning chef Chintan Pandya from Dhamaka.

Dhamaka
Dhamaka
Dhamaka

Even further north, in the state of Kashmir, a very different kind of barbecue prevails. This method is called seekh, and seekh tujji is a common street food made in this style.

“Here, the technique is the same as the sigdi style of barbeque where meat is cooked on a grill,” says Vanika Chaudhary, chef-founder of Mumbai-based restaurant Noon. A Kashmiri herself, Chaudhary works with native ingredients and techniques in her restaurant. “The marinade authentically uses spices such as turmeric, ginger powder, and fennel.”

But what sets it apart from other Indian barbecues is the usage of the local Kashmiri chillies, which are pounded into the base. “Growing up, I saw my mother make this,” Chaudhary remembers. “She would marinate the meat overnight in these spices and cook them the next day. I would see her massaging the mutton for a long time. She would always add cow dung and twigs from our garden to set fire at the bottom of the sigdi along with the charcoal.”

Dhamaka
Dhamaka
Dhamaka

These additions give the Kashmiri seekh a traditional flair. While the other forms of Indian barbeque are often served with condiments such as chilli, mint, and coriander chutney, the Kashmiri barbeque is served with doon chetin, a walnut and yogurt chutney.

In the West of India, in Rajasthan, another style of barbecuing known as “soole” is common and it has its roots in Europe. “The origin of sword-cooking perhaps started with the Greek warriors and that’s how shish kebab came into being-with a major Turkish influence,” says TV chef Ranveer Brar. “In India, it is known as soole, and is believed to have originated among the Indian Rajput clan, a warrior community.”

The warriors hunted meat, skewered it on their swords and cooked them on live fire, along with pickles which they carried from their homes. Today, this wartime cooking technique is still prevalent in this region. While traditionally a simple marinade of chillies and pickle oil was used for game meat, today everything from fish to mutton is marinated in complex spices such as coriander powder, cumin powder, dry mango powder, and turmeric.

From a rustic way of cooking for the early Indians, to a nuanced method of grilling ingredients like tempeh, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, and even cottage cheese using Indian spices and oils, barbecue has evolved over the years in India. But what has stayed intact are the core flavor notes and cooking techniques, which you can try to attempt at home.

Seekh Kebab Recipe by Chintan Pandya

Ingredients:
• 2.25kg boneless lamb pieces
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1½ tablespoons chilli powder
• ¼ teaspoon shahi jeera (royal cumin)
• ½ teaspoon green cardamom powder
• ¼ teaspoon mace powder
• 1½ tablespoons ginger paste
• 1½ tablespoons garlic paste
• 2 teaspoons green chilli paste
• 4 teaspoons garam masala
• 100g processed cheese
• 8 tablespoons green coriander leaves (finely chopped)
• 1 cup lamb fat

Directions:
1. In a bowl, marinate the lamb with all the ingredients except the coriander, overnight.
2. Mince this mixture finely and add the herb. Season and keep aside.
3. Now take a handful of this mince and shape it into elongated kebabs and skewer them on grilling rods.
4. The mince will be sticky enough to spread well on the skewer. You can wet your palms slightly to facilitate this process. Spread each kebab around three inches or less.
5. Grill these rods for 20-25 minutes on a grill, live fire, or a tandoor until well done.
6. Push it out of the skewer and serve hot with mint-coriander chutney.

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Sonal Ved is a Thrillist contributor and the author of Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine. She is the content lead at India Food Network and Tastemade India, and the food editor at Vogue India.

Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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