Punjabi recipes and Punjabi Cooking is defined by the land, by the people and by history. The Punjab covers a very large area in the North West of India and, since partition, most of it lies in Pakistan. The Indian government have also subdivided the Indian part of the region into the Punjab and Haryana states. We will cover them together here as the cooking styles are similar across the whole region.
By culture, although Haryana is predominantly Hindu (mostly because Delhi, the India capital, is in there), there are a large number of Sikhs. Sikhism originated in the Punjab and Sikhs make up about 60% of the Indian Punjab state. This mix, together with the usual smatterings of Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, makes for a wide diversity of dishes in the region.
The Punjab (which translates as 'Five Rivers') is one of the most fertile regions on earth and is known as the 'Granary of India' as it produces 20% of India's wheat. It also produces rice, maize, barley, millet and sugarcane, and is famed for the quality of its dairy products.
The climate is also extremely variable ranging from -2C in winter to about 45C in summer. The monsoon season is short this far north, just July and August, but with a steady amount of rain for the rest of the year.
And this is the area that the Moghuls invaded and ruled in the 16th century bringing a new set of customs, values and, of course cooking styles bringing a whole new range of Punjabi recipes.
So what does this mean for Punjabi cooking? Well the presence of a mixture of cultures and the availability of so much raw cooking material it means that it is immensely varied.
Both rice and bread are used as staples with bread having a predominance and rice being used mostly for special occasions. Paratha and particularly stuffed paratha are very popular. Roti and naan breads are also widely eaten.
The tandoor was probably brought from Persia and Afghanistan by the Moghuls and tandoori food is now a Punjabi cooking speciality, particularly tandoori chicken and chicken tikka, favourites in Anglo-Indian cuisine.
The Moghuls brought many new culinary ideas and a host of new Punjabi recipes and many are still popular today. Dishes such as Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani), kebabs, dopiaza and many more.
The native Hindus did not abandon their own tastes and of course these traditional dishes survive in Delhi and the rest of region. But many of the Hindus in the area had fled, after partition, from the West Punjab (now in Pakistan) and this reinforced the integration of the culinary styles.
A breakfast is likely to be some sort of stuffed paratha served with curds (or yoghurt) and pickles. This is quick and easy - it's the equivalent of our jam on toast with a pot of yoghurt.
The main meal of the day can be tremendously varied in Punjabi cooking. The Sikhs and Muslims are meat eaters and dishes like Rogan Josh and Bhuna Gosht are very common.
Gosht is a Persian and Urdu word meaning meat or flesh. In practice, since Hindus are forbidden beef and Muslims are forbidden pork, it is most likely to mean mutton, and in India this usually means goat rather than sheep. In the west lamb would normally be used. (This is quite weird. I used to work with a large number of Indian colleagues and where we think mutton is tough and not worth eating, they think lamb is tasteless and not worth eating.)
The tandoor provides dishes like chicken tikka and tandoori chicken, kebabs too are a regular. And of course Biryani, imported by the Moghuls, and made from chicken or lamb is ever popular.
For the vegetarians the choice is also wide with lots of bean and lentil dishes. In the Punjab lentils are soaked, sometimes overnight, and cooked well so that they almost disintegrate and they are often served with cream. The Punjabi recipe of 5 different lentils (Five-Jewel Creamed Lentils) has become well known in the west.
Other vegetables are also common. Potatoes, sweet potato, onions, mooli, okra and tomatoes are used, spiced up with ginger and other spices.Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and cauliflower)
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