We’ve all salivated over the amazing, sumptuous flavours of dum biryani. In fact, for many of us, it remains one of our most cherished culinary memories. When biting into succulently soft veggies and marinated-cooked rice, we feel like kings. And small wonder, given dum pukht’s nawabi origins.
Royal for centuries
There are two stories associated with dum pukht cooking, both with royal origins. Dum means “breath” and pukht “cook” – often confused with slow cooking, dum pukht is actually cooking with steam, as its name suggests.
One story says that this technique has traversed the regions from ancient Arabia to ancient India; being introduced by the Mughals in the 16th century. In fact, the earliest documented recipe is said to be found in the Ain-I-Akbari manuscript.
Another story has it that in the 18th century, a nawab, Asaf-ud-daulah initiated a food-for-work programme to help his subjects overcome a famine at the time. He employed thousands in the construction of the Bada Imambara shrine in Lucknow, and to feed them, cooked rice, meat, vegetables and spices together in large cauldrons, as a one-dish meal that would be available to anyone who was hungry. One day, the Nawab himself breathed in the aroma of the dish, and the royal kitchens were immediately asked to incorporate dum pukht into their repertoire.
Today, it’s become very much part of the Indian culinary experience, used in Awadhi, Mughal, Hyderabadi, Kashmiri and other regional styles.
What is the method behind dum cooking?
The method is simple: the ingredients (rice and vegetables) are marinated if needed and then put into a copper or earthen pot called a handi, sealed with a dough of flour, ghee and sugar and cooked on a very low flame or charcoal. The food cooks in its own juices, retaining all the rich flavours and health it originally came with. What’s more, the dough becomes a bread imbued with the flavours of the dish. The bread is often eaten with the rice dish and is delicious as well.
Slow-roasted spices or bhunao are used in this cooking method, and are usually fewer than in other traditional Indian dishes, yet all the rice and veggies are delicately infused with flavor because of the steam. Perhaps because of the slow-roasting and the steam, dum pukht is famous for its amazing aroma, especially when the seal is broken on the table.
- 1 cauliflower, cut into florets
- 100 gm ginger garlic paste
- 10 gm red chilli powder
- 100 gm cashew nut paste
- 50 gm almond paste
- 50 gm chironji paste
- 50 gm desiccated coconut
- 50 gm fried onion paste
- 20 gm brown garlic paste
- 100 gm coconut milk
- 80 ml ghee
- 10 gm coriander leaves for garnish
- Marinate the cauliflower in ginger garlic paste and a pinch of salt.
- Combine the cashew nut, almond, chironji pastes and desiccated coconut.
- Heat some ghee, add the remaining ginger garlic paste and the nut paste mix. Cook on a high flame.
- Add the coconut milk, brown onion and brown garlic pastes, some red chili powder to taste and cook till you can see the ghee separating.
- Add some water, and let simmer so the sauce reduces. Strain the sauce if needed.
- Put the cauliflower florets in a shallow pan and pour the sauce in. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid or with a dough and cook on a low flame for at least 45 minutes to an hour. Check tenderness of cauliflower with a fork.
- When done, remove and serve with the bread pieces and rotis.