Moghlai Culinary Terms and Techniques

Moghlai Culinary Terms and Techniques

Ghee Durust Karna

This is a vital step in cooking almost any Moghlai food. It is essentially the tempering or seasoning of the cooking medium and flavouring it with kewra water and cardamoms. The method is as follows: Heat half a kilogram of ghee or oil to a smoking point, then reduce the heat and sprinkle one tablespoon of kewra water. Add six green cardamoms, stir till the water evaporates and the ghee gives off a pleasant aroma. Remove from heat, strain through a muslin cloth and keep for future use. Tempered ghee is used for all the recipes except for baghar, dhungar and deep-frying.


This is quick smoke procedure used to flavour a meat dish, dals or even raita. The smoke very effectively permeates every grain of the ingredients and imparts a subtle aroma, which enhances the quality of the dish. The procedure may be carried out either at the intermediate or the final stage of cooking. This is a common technique employed while making kababs.

The method is as follows:

In a shallow utensil or a lagan in which the meat or mince has been marinated, a small bay is made in the centre and a katori or onion skin or even a betel leaf (depending on the dish) is placed. In it a piece of live coal is placed and hot ghee, sometimes mixed with aromatic herbs or spices, is poured over it and covered immediately with a lid to prevent the smoke from escaping. The coal is then removed from the utensil and the meat put through further cooking processes.

Dum dena

This is a method used frequently in Moghlai cooking. ‘Dum’ literally means ‘breath’ and the process involves placing the semi-cooked ingredients in a pot or deg, sealing the utensil with flour dough and applying very slow charcoal fire from the top, by placing some live charcoal on the lid, and some below. The Persian influence is most evident in this method though in India it has acquired its own distinct character. The magic of ‘dum’ is the excellent aroma, flavour and texture which results from slow cooking. This method is followed for a number of delicacies such as the Shabdeg, Pilau and Biryani. Any dish cooked by this method is ‘Dum Pukht’ or ‘Dum Bakht’.


Refers to the use of softening agents such as papain (from raw papaya) or kalmi shora to tenderize meat.


This is a method of tempering a dish with hot oil or ghee and spices. It may be done either at the beginning of the cooking as in curries, or at the end as for pulses. In the former, the fat is heated in a vessel to a smoking point and after reducing the flame, spices are added to it. When they begin to crackle, the other ingredients are added. The same process is carried out in a ladle which is immersed in the cooked dish and immediately covered with a lid, so that the essence and the aroma of the spices, drawn out by hot ghee are retained in the dish giving it their flavour.

Gile Hikmat

Talking of Persian influence on Moghlai cuisine one cannot ignore this interesting method adopted for cooking. ‘Gil’ in Persian is earth or mud and ‘Hikmat’ implies the procedure of the hakims. This method is generally followed to prepare ‘Kushtas’ which are the ash-like residue of substances, which cannot be consumed in their natural form as they are toxic, for instance, gems or metals. But when adopted for cooking purposes the method is as follows:

The meat or vegetables to be cooked are generally taken whole and stuffed with nuts and spices. They are then wrapped in a banana leaf or cloth and covered completely with clay or multani mitti (Fuller’s Earth) so as to seal it. Thereafter buried about four to six inches deep. A slow fire is then placed on top for six to eight hours after which the food is dug out and is ready to be served!


Turrcurri or curry is essentially a stew with plenty of light, delicate, or pungent sauce, this being the great attraction of the dish. The sauce, which is more like a delicious, spiced soup has as much flavour, if not more than the meat. Almost any meat or vegetable can be curried, but the long, slow cooking is best suited to mature meats like mutton. Vegetables can be included in meat or poultry curries; the most usual ones are peas and potatoes. No cream, yogurt or marinade is ever used.

Curries vary in colour from light gold to dark red depending on how well the onions and meat are browned and how much spice powder is used. Often a light flavour and colour is wanted, and the yellow of turmeric, which is always used in curry combines with the other aromatics to produce a dark gold. Colour is no guide to taste: the so-called Madras curry no darker than the standard north Indian curry, yet it uses hotter seasonings and many more spices.


Korma is meat or vegetable braised with water or stock, yogurt or creams (sometimes all) to produce a rich, substantial dish. There are many styles of korma each with a different taste and texture. Some are cooked until a thick sauce is formed; in others the liquid is reduced to a glaze, or the sauce reduced to a delicious flaky crust. The korma is made with finest quality, young meat only. Some kormas are finished by steaming in which case a special technique called baghar is used to give food of superb quality.

The do pyaza is a variation of korma where two lots of onions are used: ‘do’ meaning two or twice, and ‘pyaza’, onions. There should be roughly two parts of onion to every part of meat. Half the onions are first browned, then the meat added. It is cooked with aromatics and then braised. When the meat is nearly done, the second half of the onions, grated or pulverized, is added. Sometimes the onions are cooked with the aromatics, then pounded and blended, to be added at a later stage with more raw onions.


There are three styles under this heading:

Sukha Bhoona is a simple saut√©, using thinnest fillets of best quality meat. It is lightly seasoned with spice powder and salt or may have green herbs made to a paste and rubbed into the meat.

Dum Bhoona is a pot roast. The meat may be marinated or rubbed with aromatics; it is then seared, moistened and cooked in a tightly closed vessel in the oven, or over charcoal with more charcoal placed on the lid.

Ard Bhoona is a dry pot roast employing butter only and no liquid or marinade. The meat is first seared, then placed in a heavy casserole and drenched with butter. The lid is closed tightly and cooking completed in the oven. More butter is added during cooking. The ard bhoona is best with white meats.


Talna means food that is deep-fried. Properly cooked, this food should be crisp, light and truly clean in taste and appearance. Whole or pureed vegetables, small pieces of meat, kababs, shellfish and filleted fish are some of the foods which can be deep-fried. Most food requires a batter or coating of crumbs before deep-frying.


Now we come to the spitted foods: small or large pieces of food threaded on to a spit and roasted, baked or grilled.

Tandoori is food cooked on the spit in a clay oven. Indian spitted foods require frequent basting, for the meat is never larded.

Seekh kababs are minced meat croquettes shaped with the hand over an iron skewer, or seekh, to the thickness of a pencil. The layer of meat is thin, and a fierce heat usually a charcoal or wood fire cooks these kababs in one minute or so.

Boti kababs are also made on the skewer. Small pieces of very tender meat are marinated for several hours and then cooked under intense heat, basted with butter. The marinade forms a glaze on the surface.

Kofta is minced meat shaped into small balls then braised in korma style, curried, or even spitted on small skewers. Some koftas are formed over sweet-sour plums, or a paste of minced dried apricots and herbs; some are moulded on eggs and these are called nargisi (narcissus). The meat itself is ground very fine, then blended or pounded to forcemeat. Herbs, seasonings and spices are added, and sometimes cream or yogurt; an egg is used to bind.


This is a term, which refers to the final stage in cooking, ghee rises to the surface, giving the dish a finished appearance. This occurs mostly when slow cooking of gravy dishes is involved.


It is shortening of dough. In this process fat is rubbed into the flour and made into a dough for kachoris, puris or paranthas. This makes the product crisp, flaky and crumbly.

Yakhni cuts

The cuts for Yakhni are generally bony pieces with flesh on them. These cuts are usually taken from the joints and the ribs of the animal. The basic purpose of meat in preparing Yakhni is to derive the juice and flavour and hence the shape of the meat does not count much.

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