Decades ago, on a field trip to research the recipes in Lucknow, accompanied by a dear departed friend and passionate foodie, we encountered the boti kebab. Such is the power of myth and mystique created around galawat ke kebab — Kakori, Tunde and Dora — that we kept chasing the Holy Grail and become sunblind to other riches, no less delicious, which were scattered on the streets at every step. To cut a long story short, there was this kid, barely out of his teens, who was imparting finishing touches to his stuff on a large flat tawa — the iron griddle used to turn out perfectly grilled tikkis — in the chowk. The aroma wafting was seductive and the moistened masala-draped cubes of meat looked most appetising. The two of us exchanged glances and the unasked question, “Why not?” led us to one of the most satisfying splurging. When we exchanged notes with our hosts, we were told that this kebab was seldom cooked at home. Like chaat, it was classified as a street-side snack, not very genteel. Some generously offered to let us sample home-cooked handi kebab that is a refined rendering of the same recipe. But we digress. Memories linger, and we kept yearning for an encore.
Many years passed before we were most pleasantly surprised to find it on the dinner table at home. It hadn’t been ordered from a takeaway but beloved son Indrajit had lovingly prepared it — to chase away the lockdown blues. ‘Ask no questions, and you will be told no lies’ is the adage and we enjoyed every morsel of what was on the plate. However, he later let us on to the secret that one of his friends from a small kasba in Awadh had shared his family recipe with him. Relax and enjoy an exceptional kebab that can be made to perfection in the home kitchen. All it requires is a little patience and preparation — marinating and grinding your own aromatic whole spices masala.
Wash and trim the meat. Cut into small bite-sized pieces. Remove the skin and grate the papaya. Whisk the curd and prepare a marinade by blending the grated papaya, garlic and ginger pastes, along with salt. Place the boti in this marinade in a bowl overnight (or at least for six hours). Dry roast lightly all whole spices, including coriander, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and chillies. Heat oil in a pan and stir-fry the onions till rich brown. Take off the stove and keep aside. Grind to a paste in a blender fried onions, dry roasted spices, nuts and poppy seeds. Grind in short pulses. If required, sprinkle a few drops of water. Heat ghee in a pan and put in the boti, along with the marinade. Stir-fry for about 15 minutes. Add the ground spice paste and continue to stir-fry on medium flame for another 15 minutes. When the fat separates sides, add gram flour mixed in 1/4 cup of water. Reduce flame to low and let the flour cook. Sprinkle kewra water. Cover and simmer for a minute. Switch off the stove. Garnish with chopped green chillies and fresh coriander or mint leaves, if you like.