Balti indian cooking - introduction

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There really are Balti people who live in Baltistan. Once it was a kingdom complete with its own royals. Now it is the northernmost part of Pakistan. It is located on the roof of the world and though few places are as remote and inhospitable, few people are more friendly and few have such a colourful history. Their food has evolved over centuries into pan cooked stir-fries and slow cooked dryish stews.

The results are aromatic and very tasty indeed.

It was an imaginitive restaurateur who, by establishing a Balti restaurant in, of all places, Birmingham England, a few years ago, put Balti cooking on the map. It took off in a big way, and just 10 years later there are no less than 100 Balti houses in Birmingham alone, with dozens more springing up all over the UK, and sweeping the British Isles in the way that tandoori did two decades ago.

What is Balti? ============== "Seriously delicious" is how Patrick, Earl of Lichfield, described Balti cooking when he first encountered it in the company of the Birmingham Post's Carol Ann Rice.

Balti is a type of Kashmiri curry whose origins go back centuries in the area which is now northern Pakistan. Balti refers both to its area of origin and the dish in which the food is cooked and served to the table. Known also as the Karahi, the Balti pan is a round bottomed, wok like, heavy cast iron dish with two handles. The food served in the Balti pan are freshly cooked aromatically spiced curries. Balti food at its best is very aromatic, but not excessively spiked with chillies. Traditionally it is eaten without rice or cutlery. Balti bread is used to scoop up the food, using the right hand only.

The origins of Balti cooking are wide-ranging and owe as much to China (with a slight resemblance to the spicy cooking of Szechuan) and Tibet as to the tribal ancestry of the nomad, the tastes of the moghul emperors, the aromatic spices of Kashmir, and the 'winter foods' of lands high in the mountains. Balti food is both simple in its concept and cooking, and complex in its flavours. True Balti food is dryish and slightly oily and spicily tasty. The modern British Balti house has retained the traditional concepts, and has widened the range of Balti to encompass many favourite curries which have never been heard of in Baltistan.

Whether this modification of the authentic and traditiohnal is a good thing or a bad thing, is frankly, I believe, irrelevant. The diners at a Birmingham Balti house have as much in common with a Balti or Pathan tribesman as an alien from outer space. Indeed many of the Balti house owners and workers have probably been no nearer to Baltistan than their customers. Their demands are quite different.

So too are those of householders who want to cook at home. In Baltistan they cook what they cook, day by day, meal by meal according to what provisions they have in store. Most of us at home do the same for our lunch, tea, supper or dinner. Unless we are planning an elaborate entertaining session, we simply use what we've got. In this respect, Balti cooking is perfect.

In this book (Balti Curry Cookbook) I give recipes for the two types of Balti cooking - authentic recipes from Baltistan, and recipes for Balti dishes as served in the modern Balti restaurant.

The Balti Restaurant ==================== The first Birmingham Balti restaurants, or houses, were in effect, curry transport cafes.

Furnishings were basic. Formica chairs and tables were bolted to the floor. They stayed open from 10am to 3am daily and you paid in advance.A wide choice of dishes were offered, all called Balti this and Balti that: Balti Meat, Balti Chicken, Balti Prawns, Balti Vegetables, Balti Dhals. All could be ordered in any combination - so Balti meat with Peas, or Balti Chicken with Carrots, or Balti Prawns with Chickpeas or Balti Meat with Chicken or Palti Prawns with Meat were just some of the examples on theoriginal menu. Spicing was subtle with an emphasis on fresh garlic, ginger, coriander leaf (throughout my Balti recipes, the European word 'coriander' will be used instead of the American/ Latin american 'cilantro' IMH) and aromatic spices including clove, cassia bark (similar to cinnamon which can be substituted IMH), cardamoms, aniseed, fennel, cummin and garam masala. As the restaurateurs were Pakistani Moslems, alcohol was not served and the Balti House was not licensed.

As times went by clones began to open around the Midlands. By the mid 1980s, things began to elaborate and menus got longer with some restaurants offering over 60 Balti dishes. The combinations have become legendary. _Adil's,_ one of the earlies Balti houses offers such coded delights as Balti Mt-Spi-Cha-Chi-Aub, meaning Balti meat with spinach, chana dhal, chickpeas and aubergines. Another favourite is Balti Tropical which is a combination of Balti Meat, Chicken and Prawns. The ultimate mix is called 'the Exhausting Balti Dish' by at least two Balti houses. I asked one of the waiters why it was called 'Exhausting'. 'Simple', he said in a perfect Kashmiri Brum accent, 'it will exhaust you eating it. A better epitaph I cannot write.

Taken from The Balti Curry Cookbook - Pat Chapman ISBN 0 7499 1342 8 Submitted By IAN HOARE On 05-07-95

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