From Railway Mutton curry to hot, assorted pakoras and cutting chai, railway khana was an affair to remember.
I love to travel! Possibly, as an Army officer’s son, travel was in my DNA and a routine of life… passing through quaint, little towns that were completely unheard of while going for summer and winter vacations to our grandparents’ houses. The most anticipated part of the journey was the food that we’d discover on our way. Each train journey had its own special culinary story and was replete with familiar sounds of the vendors selling ‘cold drinks’ at the railway stations, tiffins packed for ever-hungry boys that my mother had to nourish.
A trip down South meant idlis with exotic chutneys for breakfast and unknown villages with their names written in unrecognisable dialects rushing by. Every once in a while the pantry car would dish out delicious chicken cooked in local spices — a rail car rendition of a chicken chettinad with appams. The sheer magnitude of serving hot appams to a whole train set really high standards of cooking and food service!
Dinner was all about the Madras spicy curry with rice, and every once in a while if the whole bogey comprised of the families of a unit of the Indian army, then a full roast chicken with brown sauce brought squeals of delight amongst all the young ones.
The royal breakfast served on the fast trains, which can still be found in the Shatabdi, begins with warm milk, then cornflakes, a toast or two, some eggs and then some more! Interestingly, it is the British who brought to India both the extensive rail network and the concept of dining cars, which evolved or downsized into pantries subsequently.
The flair of dishes and courses can be credited to them. And so, on their favourite stretches especially in the East, Railway cutlets were the staple, and an almond soup, as dusk approached.
Often on short trips back to Delhi, we’d find the menu dotted with Veg Au Gratin, or a fish orly. Anecdotal tales passed among friends say that the origin of the Railway mutton curry lies in the days of the Frontier Mail when a troubled British officer searched for a midnight snack, and the Indian chefs whipped up a desi dish, amended to his palate by being laden with yoghurt.
I discovered the joys of this dish on several journeys across Northern Indian in the late ’70s and ’80s, savouring it with toasted buttered bread amidst a game of ‘tic-tac-toe’ or a round of antakshri. Once while travelling from South till Mumbai, we found ourselves indulging in mutton biryani or railway biryani, as the khansamas on the trail liked to call it, and even kebabs inspired by the shammi kebab, with an accompanying raita.
While waiting for the ‘always-late’ train in Jammu, omelette sandwiches were the staple, and pakoras of every vegetable available in the season with green chutney made journeys through Punjab so much more delightful. Given a choice, I’d still travel by train for the fun of long journeys, food chats, various stations and their culinary offerings but the luxury of time isn’t on my side. So it’s the air journery that rules the roost but that’s a food journey for another occasion.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup cream
500 gm puff pastry, you could buy a pre-mix
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, cook and stir until tender for about five minutes.
Lower heat to medium-low and add mushrooms. Cook and stir until mushrooms reduce by half for about 15 minutes. Stir in roasted garlic, Parmesan cheese, and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Stir in cream. Remove from heat and allow mushroom mixture to cool. It will thicken as it cools.
Unfold pastry sheet onto floured surface and lightly roll into round shape. Cut into 3 such pieces.
Place a mounded teaspoon of mushroom filling in the centre of each square. Fold pastry over filling to form a circle. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Railway Mutton curry
800 gm shoulder of lamb
16 baby potatoes, peeled
1 big potato
90 gm desi ghee
150 gm chopped onions
5 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
5 tsp red chilli paste
3 tbsp dhania
2 tsp jeera
1 tsp haldi
4 cups clear, lamb stock l Salt to taste
50 gm imli
180 ml coconut milk
Put tamarind in a saucepan, add 1 cup of water, bring to a boil, and simmer until reduced to a quarter.
The potato jaali
Peel, wash and make a laccha with help of turning slicer and shallow fry over medium heat and cooking oil until crisp.
Heat ghee in a pan, add onions and curry leaf, saute over low heat.
Add garlic paste, ginger paste, red chilli paste, coriander, cumin and turmeric and stir-fry until the moisture evaporates.
Add the meat, increase to high heat (to sear) and stir-fry for 7-8 minutes (adding small quantities of water to prevent sticking).
Add potatoes, stir-fry for a minute (adding a little water to prevent sticking).
Now, add stock and salt, bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked.
Add tamarind, bring to a boil, reduce to low heat simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Repeat step with coconut milk and simmer till gravy is medium thick.
Season to taste. Serve with potato jaalis, and optional rice.
Walnut 50 gm
Cashew nuts 50 gm
Pistachio 50 gm
Almond 50 gm
Sugar 300 gm
Chilli flakes 20 gm
Celery 10 gm
Vinegar 5 ml
Take a pan and caramelise the sugar. Add chilli flakes and vinegar. l Add dry nuts to the mix, caramelise and it’s ready to serve.
Almond velvet soup
15 to 20 almonds
3 cups white stock
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp maida
1 cup milk
1 tsp almond essence
2 tbsp fresh cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Soak almonds in hot water for 7-8 minutes. Take them out, peel and blend in a mixer.
Heat the butter in a saucepan, add flour and mix well — cook for a minute.
Add stock and mix well, cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
Add milk, almond paste, butter, cream, salt and pepper. Cook on medium flame for 5 minutes and keep stirring. Add almond essence. Stir till it reaches a boil, pour into a soup bowl. Garnish with almonds and you could serve hot with a dinner roll.
Railway chicken cutlet
200 gm chicken/mutton, minced
15 gm ginger
5 gm green chilli
2 gm coriander
1 tsp salt
1 egg l 2 gm roasted jeera powder and garam masala
40 gm onions
Bread crumbs 30 gm
Oil for frying
2 wedges lemon
Mix all the ingredients of marinade — ginger, green chilli, green coriander, salt, egg, jeera powder and garam masala with the chicken/mutton mince. Leave aside for an hour. Divide the mixture equally into small balls.
Heat oil in a pan and deep fry the cutlets until golden brown. Serve with mint chutney, and lemon wedges.
Veg Au Gratin
2 cups milk
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups breadcrumbs
2½ cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 large carrot
1 small broccoli
1 small cauliflower
3 medium potatoes
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Take milk and eggs and beat together. Mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
Wash the vegetables and finely slice them.
Melt butter, add onions and sauté until light golden. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat oven to 180ºC. Butter a large deep casserole dish.
Layer one by one with carrots and zucchini, followed by onions and mushrooms, then grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
Lay down a layer of sliced potatoes and sprinkle salt and pepper. Dot with butter. Pour over the mixture created in the first step.
Repeat the steps to create 2-3 layers.
Cover with a foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes.
Take out the dish, add the remaining cheese and bake for 5-7 minutes. Serve hot.
For a twist in the presentation, take a pineapple, halve it and hollow it out.
After step 8, empty the Au Gratin into the pineapple, season and add cheese. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes within the pineapple. Serve hot.
The writer is a chef and founder, Under One Roof Hotel Consultants Pvt. Ltd.