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Master of Hyderabadi cuisine Mehboob Alam Khan on the importance of sourcing the freshest ingredients

Mehboob Alam Khan hosting one of his famous Eid dinners.

Mehboob Alam Khan hosting one of his famous Eid dinners.
| Photo Credit: Sanjay Borra

If you think Hyderabadi haleem is a brown mushy dish cooked with all sorts of pulses, wheat and meat, with every bite requiring one to spit out a whole black peppercorn, Mehboob Alam Khan might just smack you on the head with a spoon. “Haleem is just meat and wheat, a few spices, and lots of ghee. Commercially, the look of the dish has changed and, unfortunately, that is how haleem is known to everyone now,” says the 80-something master of Hyderabadi cuisine, who is the go-to consultant for high-end restaurants in the region.

The spread on Mehboob Alam Khan’s table.

The spread on Mehboob Alam Khan’s table.
| Photo Credit:
Sanjay Borra

Needless to say, dinners hosted by Khan at his ancestral home in Barkatpura, or in his Banjara Hills residence, are elaborate affairs. Besides the rigorous witness (mutton soup), haleem and dum biryani, guests are treated to keema-stuffed lukhmi presented in genius vada-style, Dahi Baingangrilled goat offal on bamboo sticks, whole roasted goat stuffed with quail, eggs and more, and grilled stuffed chicken, among other delicacies. Food coma-inducing, no doubt.

What makes food cooked by him so special? “Ingredients, patience, and cooking without diluting the process. The notion that a mix of spices makes the food interesting or delicious is wrong. Food, when made with less spices, cooked slowly on a low flame, and stirred occasionally, turns out perfect. When the main ingredient is sourced right, consider half the battle won,” says Khan. No wonder then that the who’s who from across the world — from model-turned-TV host Padma Lakshmi to restaurateur Andrew Zimmern to former Masterchef Australia judge Gary Mehigan — have dined at his table.

“Having grown up in an era when our family used to host a lot of the Nizam’s special guests, I took a keen interest in knowing the best processes and methods. For instance, along with the quality of meat, I also care about how the meat is chopped. Bone-in is the best way to cook any meat dish as it lends extra flavour,” says Khan.

The pro-tip he gives anyone who wants to prepare good biryani is this: “There is nothing called ‘extra biryani masala’. Biryani is a simple dish that is fragrant, flavourful and a good balance of rice and meat. Ghee is important, but it shouldn’t make your fingers greasy. Finally, train your nose to know the fragrance of well-cooked food.”

That Khan really knows food, and cuisines from around the world, is evident from his collection of books on everything from Turkish cooking to knives and grills. His kitchen also boasts several kinds of cooking ranges and utensils. His tagine collection is like a mini exhibition. “I am a strong advocate of traditional utensils for cooking. Let's say, handi, lagan are all must-haves. My family looks forward to the days when I decide to cook. That’s when they learn by watching me. I don’t take cooking classes for anybody. When I am cooking, the children observe. That is how I learnt too,” he says.

“If the main ingredient is sourced right, consider half the battle won. One should be able to taste the flavour of the meat in any dish.”Mehboob Alam Khan

prabalika.m@thehindu.co.in

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