From Persian Koresh to the Mughali Qorma
From the royal kitchens of 15th century Mughals to the modern kitchen of 2020, Qorma is one of the most exotic yet traditional banquet dishes defining the glorious culture and traditions of South Asian cuisine. Mughals being Persian, contributed to and adopted from both types of cuisines. Whole and ground spices came from the subcontinent, and rich creamy nuttiness came from the dry fruits of Persian cuisine.
The literal meaning of Qorma is “Paka hoya”; any kind of meat ( chicken, goat, beef) which is braised in yogurt and spices is called Qorma.
Artistic Mughal cooks created Qorma, inspired from Persian meat stews called “koresh”. Koresh is a very traditional Persian meat based stew. Royal cooks were able to craft a dish by braising the meat in ghee, yogurt and fried onion paste and flavoring it with aromatic whole spices and dry fruits.
Qorma – a perfect symbol of festivity
Qorma was synonymous to elegance and good fortune back in the days and even today it is cooked to mark special occasions and celebrations. It is considered as a symbol of festivity. Bisma Tirimzi in her blog at Dawn news narrates from “India Food and Cooking” by Pat Chapman – an English food writer – “If a cook could make Qorma he could cook for the Mughal court. If he could cook a dozen variations, he would be the king of the kitchen and cook for the Emperor’s table.”
Well, this sums it up 🙂
Qorma with a “Q” or a “K” Korma
Talking about the traditional ways, Qorma is and should be spelled and pronounced as Qorma – with Q (qaaf) and not K (kaaf). This change is due to modernization and ease of adaptation in the global arena. I still prefer to stick to the roots and call it Qorma.
Foundation Basics and Variations of Qorma
Over the years, different cooking techniques and combination of different spices has resulted in different variations of Qorma. Today, every region from Lucknow to Hyderabad and from Delhi to Lahore has given its own cultural dimension and identity to the royal delicacy.
The principle of making the Qorma is universal – braising the meat in fried onions and yogurt, adding local spices and flavoring with kewra water. The variations come from different cooking techniques and the use of flavoring elements. Following are some ways through which different variations can be created.
- The addition of fried onions in the Qorma is very important. Most of the recipes call for adding them at the end when the gravy is almost cooked. This is where I have created a variation instead of adding fried onions at the end, I have used pureed onions paste at the start and fried until golden & crunchy and later braised the meat in it.
- The use of tomatoes in the Qorma: Back in the day when qorma was created in the royal kitchens – tomatoes were not a very stable vegetable like it is today. One of the reasons why it is absent from classic recipe. With changing times however, people have adapted to the use of tomatoes in qorma – I don’t use them and stick to the classic 🙂
- Use of flavoring essences like Zaffran, kewra, rose water, nutmeg or mace gives aromatic flavors to this royal delicacy.
- Nuts add richness and creaminess to the gravy. The addition of nuts in different combinations and proportions is due to regional preferences. From chironji and blanched almonds to cashew nuts and almonds and later to poppy seeds and desiccated coconut, nuts have been an integral part of the dish.
- Gravy thicken on its own when you add nuts. Consistency can be adjusted by addition of water to the gravy. Every time the qorma cools down it thickens. When reheating, add little water to get the right consistency.
- Qorma is not like our staple “shorbay wala salan”, therefore our spices like turmeric, garam masala, coriander and cumin are not used.
How to serve Qorma ?
Qorma is served traditionally with shermal but it can be served with roti, naan or pulao.
- Ghee – ¼ cup
- Onions – 2 large blended into fine paste
- Yogurt – 200 gm
- Cinnamon sticks – 2 or 3 pieces
- Cloves – 5
- Green cardamom pods – 4 -5
- Bay leaves -2
- Salt – 1 teaspoon, adjust to taste
- Red chili powder – 1 teaspoon, adjust to taste
- Chicken – 1 kilo(2 lbs), cut into 12 – 14 pieces
- Ginger garlic paste – 1 tablespoon
- Green chilies – 4 finely chopped
The Nuts Paste
- Desiccated coconut- 2 tbsp
- Poppyseeds -2 tablespoons
- Cashew nuts – 10 pieces
- Black caradamom pods ( bari elichi ) – 4 coarsely crushed
- Roasted blanched almonds or cashew nuts
Flavoring Garnish ( Optional )
- Nutmeg/ Mace – 1/4 teaspoon each
- Zaffran – 1/4 teaspoon of strands dissolved in 1 teaspoon milk
- Kewra Essence and / or Rose water – few drops
- Cream or Khoya – 1 or 2 tablespoons
- Make an onion puree by blending the onions with very little (1-2 tbsps.) water.
- Marinade the chicken with chopped green chilies and ginger garlic paste.
- In a heavy bottom pan, heat ghee and add whole spices (green cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves) and let them sizzle in ghee. The spices will add aroma to the dish.
- Add pureed onions in sizzling whole spices; let onions sautee until they are nicely golden and crunchy. The browning of onions is an important element of qorma, this will take around 10 – 15 minutes, so be patient with this step.
- Once onions are nicely golden and crunchy, add salt and red chili powder.
- After adding spices, bhounfy twell to eliminate the rawness of the spices. The aroma of the Qorma masala at this stage would be just amazing.
- Add the marinated chicken and let it cook on medium flame.
- Meanwhile, let’s make the nuts paste. Using my coffee grinder, I powdered the nuts into a fine paste.
- For more smooth texture, emulsify the nuts paste and yogurt together using hand blender.
- Adding the nuts and yogurt mixture to the chicken. Give it a good mix and cook until chicken is tender.
- Once chicken is tender, make sure the masala is bhounfied well – masala gets “ek jan” and oil comes on top, the gravy masala should be smooth.
- By adding nuts paste, we added richness and thickness to the gravy. By adding water the conistency of the gravy can be adjusted as required.
- At the end, add freshly coarsed black cardamom pods for that beautiful aroma.
- This is the point flavoring elements can be added i.e.,nutmeg & mace powder, kewra or rose essence, zaffran, cream or khoya. This is an optional and personal perference. ( I added none )
- Qorma is garnished with roasted cashew nuts or roasted blanched almonds.
- Traditionally it is best served with shermaal but can be served with roti, rogni naan, kulchaal or pulao.