Korma connection

soity banerjee | Updated on September 12, 2014


Korma, Kheer & KismetPamela TimmsAlephNon-fiction₹395

Putting to test a mutton recipe from Korma, Kheer & Kismet by blogger-turned-author Pamela Timms

What could be more suspect than a book on Old Delhi by a “trailing spouse” expat?

A book on Old Delhi by a “trailing spouse” expat who cooks. That the book is titled Korma, Kheer & Kismet — a word even the greenest Indophiles curl their stiff upper lips at — only makes matters worse. And yet, it’s hard to dismiss a food memoir by Pamela Timms. A blogger-turned-writer who has earned her chops through columns and blog posts that can be picked apart for anything but a lack of honesty and grit. And honest it is… this rambling chronicle of five seasons spent eating in the warrens of the Walled City, where food is inevitably laced with dirt, drama and nostalgia. A place where the author finally manages “to embark on the culinary quest of a lifetime” and engage with an India she is otherwise denied by her expat status and by the New Delhi bubble — “like some potentially dangerous species… marshalled into the expensive residential ‘colonies’ of South Delhi.”

Offering up what is perhaps her most hard-won discovery yet — Goggia Uncle’s ‘Ashok and Ashok’ mutton korma — in the very first chapter, Timms endears herself to us with her earnest prose and her clever handling of the insider-outsider rift. Notwithstanding the odd reference to EM Forster’s A Passage to India or to spotting an elephant on her first day in the country.

The only non-vegetarian recipe in the book — barring the roast chicken with pasta and tomatoes that sits awkwardly in an otherwise all-Indian list — the korma is a simple, if time-consuming, dish to make. Unusually for a korma though, it uses keema or minced meat as the base for the gravy — a trick one has come to associate with rara gosht, a staple in most north Indian menus.

The recipe is inspired not by the much-feted kitchens of Karim’s or Al Jawahar near the Jama Masjid, but by the nondescript Ashok and Ashok Meat Dhaba in Sadar Bazaar. Run by friends, rumoured to be musclemen-turned-restaurateurs, the shop appears to benefit as much from the secrecy surrounding the korma (the recipe is never revealed) as it does from the dubious backstory and character of its gruff, unyielding owners.

A fortuitous meeting with Goggia Uncle, “a small, taciturn man in his sixties with bright orange hennaed hair”, followed by his unsupported claim of tutoring the two Ashoks in the art of making the korma, eventually lead Timms to what she calls an “identical” version of the original. Whether that’s the case (or not), the recipe stands to test. Sure it’s not as spectacular as one hopes it will be — a fallout of the expectations the story drums up, and of the absence of sights and sounds that have earned the korma its street-cred. But these are minor quibbles in a large, slick cauldron of delightfulness.

Besides, in a country where andaaz or estimation is the guiding principle in every kitchen, a recipe can never be the last word. Even in this one, Timms appears to have dispensed with the flavourings that Goggia Uncle carries with him to add to the minced meat at the butcher’s. So tweak it to your taste, pressure cook it (for about 30 minutes), if you must, and add larger quantities of garam masalas (whole and powdered) and chilli. For good food deserves all the personal attention it can get.

Goggia Uncle’s ‘Ashok and Ashok’ Mutton Korma b

by Pamela Timms

Serves 6-8


6tbsp ghee

2 onions, peeled and grated

4 thumb-sized pieces of ginger,

peeled and grated

6 garlic cloves, grated

1tbsp garam masala

1 brown cardamom

5 green cardamoms

6 cloves

10 black peppercorns

500gm minced mutton (make sure the meat is as finely minced as possible)

1.5kg small pieces of mixed shoulder and rack of mutton

2tsp turmeric

1tsp heaped of chilli powder

2tsp salt

10 medium-sized tomatoes, skinned, seeds removed and finely chopped

A few slices of ginger and coriander to garnish


1 Melt the ghee in a large pan.

2 Add the onions, ginger and garlic and cook until wellbrowned, 10-15 minutes.

3 Add the garam masala, brown and green cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns and stir well.

4 Add the minced mutton and mutton pieces, coating well with the spices.

5 Stir in the turmeric, chilli powder and salt, then cook on a low flame for about 20 minutes until everything is well browned.

6 Add the chopped tomatoes and enough water to cover the meat, then simmer gently for 1-1.5 hours till the gravy is thick and glossy.

7 Check seasoning and add more salt or chilli, if required.

8 Garnish with slivers of chopped ginger and fresh coriander and serve with roti.

Published on September 12, 2014

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