Mughlai Cuisine consists of dishes developed in medieval India during the rule of Mughal Dynasty / Empire. Mughlai Cuisine represents a unique blend of the cooking techniques and recipes of ancient northern India and central Asia. The Mughlai Cuisine cooking styles are used in the traditional cuisines of North India (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and surrounding areas ruled by Mughals) along with the cities like Bhopal and Hyderabad in India due to presence of Nizam rule in these cities. The flavors of Mughlai Cuisine vary from mild to extreme spicy with the strong taste of ground / whole spices and a distinctive aroma. Mughlai Cuisine is an elaborate buffet of main course dishes with a variety of accompaniments. The term Mughlai refers to a dish made in combination of Indian and Mughal style involving variety of rich and spicy sauces, butter, yogurt, cream and dry fruits.
Mughlai Cuisine was rich and royal in comparison to Indian Cuisines like Rajasthani and Gujarati Cuisines. This made it more easily acceptable in areas around Delhi and Mughal Empire with regional influences. As per Mughal empire traditions, food formed an important part of the gifts exchange culture and laid the rules for diplomatic etiquette. The gifting and sharing of food recipes would at various times convey messages of friendship, goodwill, status and power. Particular meal courses were fixed for various occasions like festivals, rituals, guests and marriages according to the seasonal variants. This is one main reason why Mughlai Cuisine has spread across India today with utmost love and affection.
In Mughal dynasties kitchen used to have independent ministers to monitor day to day activities of the cooking. Kitchens used to have a huge budget and were run by an army of cooks and assistants. In this cuisine food was prepared in such a way that it caters to individuals appetite along with health and well being. Many home remedies were also prescribed / suggested using household ingredients during this era. Nimatnama (the book of delights) is a food manuscript written during this era, considered to be the finest cook book written till date. Surprisingly, this book also refers to many health benefits of consuming betel leaf (paan), in variants which has been an ancient practice in India.
In Mughlai Cuisine most of the dishes had Persian / Turkish names originally due to their influence from central Asian region. However this has been customized in India over the time and now they have an Indian version of these dishes and their names. The preparation of Mughlai Cuisine food was time consuming and involves variety of techniques as it was cooked for royal Mughal emperors. Gravy based dishes are very popular in Mughlai Cuisine as they go well with both rice dishes and bread dishes. Though many Mughlai dishes are rich and creamy, loaded with nuts, they are offered in lighter versions too by substituting healthy simple ingredients. The common Mughlai dishes include variants of pulao / pulav, biryani’s, ghosht’s, kulcha’s, parantha’s, naan’s, kofta’s, kebabs, keema’s, tikka’s, tandoori’s, korma’s and sherbat’s. Vegetables, spices and all variants of meat have been an all time base for all the mughlai dishes.
A few popular dishes in Mughlai Cuisine are:
- murgh musallam refers to dish made of whole chicken with different spices and ingredients like egg, tomato, ginger and onion
- biriyani refers to a rice dish made of long grain rice, meat, rich and aromatic spices and seasonings in a dum style of cooking
- haleem / khichra refers to a stew like preparation made of wheat, barley, lentils, different spices and minced meat and sometimes rice too
- mughlai parantha refers to a soft fried bread that is prepared out of whole-wheat flour stuffed with a mix of ingredients including keema or minced meat, eggs, chopped onions, green chilli and pepper
- navratan kofta refers to dish made of vegetables, nuts and paneer, navratan means nine gems and so this dish is usually prepared with nine different vegetables
- kebabs refers to a dish based on grilled meat has distinct set of ingredients including exclusive combination of spices and unique cooking procedures
- rogan josh refers to a gravy dish comprising of braised lamb chunks prepared with browned onions, ginger, garlic and yogurt and seasoned with spices like clove, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves
- pasanda refers to a rich lamb curry made of lamb legs that are flattened into strips and marinated with ingredients like chilli powder, yogurt and a combination of spices for hours. The marinated lamb legs are then fried with other ingredients like onions, coriander and chillies
- kulfi refers to a dish mixture of thickened milk seasoned with saffron and pistachios that is frozen in a metal cone and later served with falooda and garnished with pistachio nuts, saffron and ground cardamom
- sheer korma refers to a dish made with milk, dates, vermicelli, sugar, rose water, almonds, raisins, pistachios, saffron, cloves and cardamom
- firni refers to a rice pudding dish garnished with saffron, pistachios and chopped almonds
- shahi tukda refers to a bread rice pudding dish made with bread, dry fruits, condensed milk and is seasoned with cardamom