Badam Pasanda – it’s a dish that my dad makes on every festive occasion and these days, for most of his entertaining at home as well. Long revered as the centrepiece of Mathur-Kayasth cooking, especially from old Delhi, the Badam Pasanda is one of those disappearing heritage dishes that you may have only heard of but never quite tasted. Which is why when it is served up in traditional homes like my parent’s, it always elicits reactions that are over the top to say the least.
The way my father cooks it, it seems as though it is not a particularly tough dish to prepare. In the older days, including in the time of my grandmother Mrs. LC, the proper way to do the Mathur-style Badam Pasanda was a painstaking task. Thin and flat strips of meat – always goat meat, taken from the thigh – were marinated and stuffed with sliced slivers of almonds and pistachios. These would be carefully rolled up and tied with a string before being lowered into a bubbling bhagona of curry, where the meat would curl up and cook, giving you a dolma-like preparation in a sauce. This was the great delicacy that only the best, most dexterous cooks, knew how to prepare. My dad’s aunt, Mrs. KC was the pasanda expert in the family, legend has it. With her passing, the art would have all but died but for my dad, who finally eschewed his workaholic routine much later in life and took to cooking with a gusto befitting any shaukeen Kayasth gent.
The way my dad cooks the pasanda is simpler than how his aunt cooked it. The meat is marinated and then lowered into a rich gravy full of almonds, without any of that intricate rolling/stuffing business. It does not take very long to cook this dish. And yet, the pasanda is a deceptively simple dish. Why it is almost dying out as an art form is because not too many butchers now know how to make a proper pasanda. What really is one? Before we come to that, here’s a little bit of food history and sociology.
Kayasth Cuisine – A Brief Intro
Most traditional dishes reveal far more than just their taste, if we have the patience to examine them in deeper ways than mere consumption allows us to. A bite of the pasanda can be fairly revealing too. It tells you all about the history of the Kayasths-a unique community in the Subcontinent, whose culture and food reflects India’s upper class composite culture-in almost a single bite.
Courtly cultures have traditionally played around with culinary ingredients that were rich, exclusive and hard to come by. Thus dishes created for the elite are easily discernible from those of the more rustic/agrarian or poorer communities both in the kind of ingredients that they use and in the way these ingredients are cooked. Any courtly cuisine thus has more “finesse” than in the rough and hardy ways in which bolder dishes may have been concocted by other communities.