Fatehpur Sikri beckons, as does Kadhai Jhinga

Before we left Delhi, Anita thrust a beautifully written and researched paper on Fatehpur Sikri into my hands. It had a grade of A+ and was written in 18951995 as part of her course work in Dorothy-land. It was also the only copy that existed of that paper. I knew I should have asked for a photocopy, especially since I had just burned her sheets.

You know what's coming next, don't you? And you're right.

I couldn't find it once we settled into our hotel room in Agra.
We turned the car inside out. No paper.
We turned the room inside out. No paper.

My husband, The Finder of Anything Lost or Put Away Safely, discovered all sorts of forgotten knick-knacks, like a long wooden shoe horn, hair brushes, pens, one of a pair of earrings, but no folder with continuous stationery paper that had been fed into a dot-matrix printer. Tell me, do you remember those? In that case, you are as ancient as her (and me.) But that's besides the point! We asked room service to do detailed reconnaissance to no avail.

The Finder and I looked at each other; he, flummoxed; me, worried. I chewed through all my fingernails and wondered if I should attack my toenails next. My heart sank further as I realized I would never ever get to eat authentic haak. Or taste that one mutschgand that was sitting in her freezer.

If she heard a strain in my voice or undue stress when I spoke to her from Agra, she made no mention of it. Luckily for her, me and the paper, it appeared magically under one of our heaviest suitcases. The Finder obviously had not done as thorough a job as he is wont to do, leading to his demotion and change of title to The Finder of Most Things Lost or Put Away Safely. With a spring in my step, haak in my near future and a mutschgand with my name on it, I had no qualms about leaving Agra for Fatehpur Sikri, the seat of the Mughal Empire for a brief period during Akbar's reign.

The tomb of Salim Chisti
The Tomb of Salim Chisti

Legend has it that Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint, told Akbar that his dry spell as a procreator of heirs would be fulfilled shortly and Akbar was soon blessed with not one, but three sons. To show his gratitude, Akbar built the city of Fatehpur Sikri around Salim Chisti's camp, only to be abandoned within 10 years and left near-intact. Some historians say it was due to water shortage, others say that it was not quite as centrally located as Agra Fort.

Like a veil
Like a veil

Even today, people throng to the tomb of Salim Chisti looking for that blessing and the elusive heir. They buy colored thread from the only vendor outside the tomb who warns them of doom if their money does not find its way into his pocket. He also sells glittery scarves for at least Rs. 500 that must be placed on the shrine inside the tomb. We are such spoilsports that we passed on both urgent offers but there was more — we needed to cover our heads in deference to the Islamic practice when stepping into a place of worship. We decided to take turns going in as we only had one large handkerchief between us but that wasn't necessary as we were offered plastic hats for free, as soon as we stepped into the tomb.

Jama Masjid
The Jama Masjid stands next to the tomb

In case you're thinking that the birds say cheep cheep to us, we did donate some money once inside, which I hope goes towards the upkeep of the place. I am pretty sure that the glittery scarves find their way back to the vendor by nightfall to sell to some unsuspecting tourist the next day. Everyone has a living to make, just as everyone has the right to make choices about how to spend their hard-earned money.

Seeking heirs
seeking heirs

This post celebrates Salim Chisti for leading Akbar to build one of the most beautiful fortresses in the history of India. And, a new lease on life for me!

Given their initial nomadic lifestyle and their long journeys during wars, the Mughals must have eaten seafood even though most of the recipes are for kebabs, meat roasts and braises. In that spirit, here's a recipe for spicy shrimp, Kadhai Jhinga, adapted from the trusted Prashad, Cooking with Indian Masters.

Kadhai Jhinga

kadhai jhinga
Perfect for tapas

  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 large white onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 tbsp grated garlic
  • 3 whole dried red chillies
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ajwain or carom seeds
  • 3 roma tomatoes, chopped small
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2-3 hot Thai bird chillies, sliced vertically down the middle
  • 3/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp kasoori methi (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • water as required
  • cilantro for garnish


  1. In a medium kadhai, heat oil and add chopped onions. Sauté until they turn a beautiful golden in color. Add some salt so that the onions lose their water content a little more quickly.
  2. Pound coriander seeds and dried red chillies into a coarse powder using your mortar-pestle. This makes me sneeze every time without fail, so protect your nasal passages appropriately if, like me, you are sensitive, too! Or use your spice grinder.
  3. Add grated garlic and stir well.
  4. Add coarse powder of coriander seeds and red chillies, and ajwain. Stir well.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, with about 1/4 cup water. Mix well.
  6. Add grated ginger, green chillies, garam masala. Cook stirring frequently until the mixture thickens and "oil leaves the sides." This is your masala. Adjust the seasoning at this point. If necessary, add some red chilli powder to up the heat.
  7. Add shrimp and stir so that the shrimp are coated well with the masala. Cook on medium heat until the shrimp are cooked. Do not overcook the shrimp unless you like them that way.
  8. Stir in lemon juice and kasoori methi, if using.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with your favorite Indian bread.

kadhai jhinga
I dare you to stop at three

  • I like to serve this as is, without any accompanying bread. And that has nothing to do with the grain-free brigade, for I do love my bread. To me, that space in my belly occupied by rotis or naan is space that could have been gainfully used by more shrimp!
  • The original recipe calls for 4tbsp of ghee.
  • You can't go wrong with an onion-tomato-ginger-garlic base for this dry-ish sauce. Ajwain and coriander seeds add that additional dose of flavor.

It's hard to stop eating this, with or without bread. This was supposed to be dinner last night but by the time I looked into the kadhai, there were only 4 shrimp left and not much masala either. I melted when she said, But it was really good, Mumma!


Satrupa said...

Nice post,lovely clicks and a delicious dish .....

Anjali Koli said...

Eloquent post Manisha! Enjoyed the narative and the pictures.

Aspiring Annapoorna said...

Loved the pics as usual - smiled a lot at Anita's lost paper (wish I could get a copy to read!), and Medha's last comment. And you've just given me one more reason to buy Prashad.
Of course, in the spirit of deciding how to spend the hard earned money my dilemma now is whether to buy it online (for 30$+shipping to europe) or wait till my India trip (where it is 300 Rs+free delivery) LOL.

GB said...

Ajwain is the least used (or at least one the least used) spices in my masala arsenal. I have to experiment with it more--this looks wonderful!

Good to know the papers turned up!

Anita said...

It's all about faith; who knows what lengths of coloured thread you would have tied if you hadn't found the paper in time! You had more faith in The Finder... You forgot to report that you also lost a travel guide of mine - the taxi driver never came to return it. I will have to be more careful about what I loan you in future.

BTW, you take fabulous pictures. Next time you show me how to pick out fish - am no good at sea food.

Pelicano said...

So glad you found the paper!

Aside to Anita: you are silly beyond reckoning for loaning out one-of-a-kinds- to anyone! I only say that because I care, and also perhaps because I've lost a number of important things in the past to people and have learnted my life's lesson. :-)

Intriguing jhinga recipe- I am thoroughly curious about the ajwain-dhania taste now...

Pelicano said...

And oh, the carved joli... is that the right word?

Finla said...

Ha ha I would love to have seen your trying to bite your toe nails, the thought itself me thinking aobut has put a huge smile on my face.
I am sure trying to make this prawn dish once when I have guest.

Desisoccermom said...

The founder got demoted hun? That was a lovely piece of writing Manisha and the jhinga is as good as it gets. I will have to make it one of these days but not before I make the kebabs.

Desisoccermom said...

Pel, it is carved 'jali' There is no such word as Joli in Hindi. There is Holi, Jhol, Jhoola, but no Joli. :)

Pelicano said...

Jali- dhania-vadas, Jaya! :-P

Soma said...

The paper was found:)

and next time i am using ajwain. Shrimp cooked as a meal for me disappears before a meal, so it is always an appetizer. and even with a meal, i save the shrimps carefully on the side to be enjoyed all by itself. now I am starving.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Satrupa, thanks!

Anjali, thank you! Kashi ahes?

sacredfig, wow! You are AA?! I never connected the dots! Medha is my best and honest critic! I purchased my copy of Prashad in Bombay many years ago. Before that I gifted a copy to my brother-in-law. He uses it a lot, too. ;-)

GB, so true! Ajwain is a mostly forgotten spice. I didn't care for it much until a decade or so ago. I love the taste now. There is a lot more to ajwain - healing and soothing properties. It's a nifty underrated spice.

Anita, I have infinite faith in The Finder (and wow! Look at you! Italicizing and all!) Why didn't you tell me earlier? Hadn't I arranged for the driver to drop it off at his employer's home? And then when you offered to pick it up, you would be invited for drinks and a sumptuous meal?

D has the driver's phone number and will call him this weekend to ask him where the book is. Just for you. And could you please stop giving away all the material for my future posts? Now I can't use this anymore. Sheesh! There's such a thing as NRI copyright.

Pel, I'm sure you're glad the paper was found. So glad that you turn right around and ask her what in heaven's name was she thinking! Right. Sheesh to you, too! I had my reservations but have you experienced Indian hospitality? The resident Indian kind? No! No! No! Take eeeet! Take! I am saying! Take eeeet! I took it. If you make this, make it really spicy. It's even better that way.

Jaali is the word you are looking for.

Happy, so glad you are back and have a smile on your face! Don't wait for a guest; make it for yourself!

Jaya, make both and have a protein feast! And there is jhola, also. It is very 'in' around these parts. It's called going green!

Pel, I don't think she's going to help you next time.

Soma, go feed yourself before you disappear! This is *so* good!

Prerna said...

Uff, u found the paper!! Thank god. My mind wandered behind you for all those paragraphs praying that u do :-) You are a lovely writer Manisha and its a delight reading through your stories!
About that jhinga machli- I have my own set of memories related to them which maybe I'll save for some other day!U just took me back home for a little.

Unknown said...

Do you think I could use a can of diced tomatoes instead of the three fresh? Fresh is probably better, but say I only had the canned. Do you think it would taste too different? I often used the canned when I make Indian even when the recipe calls for fresh, because I always have them around. Just curious.

Kulsum said...

You such a talented writer Manisha! and I'm so intrigued of the use of ajwain. My limited use of ajwain is tempting me to make this right away!

Sanyukta Gour(Bayes) said...

First time here..u hv a wonderful space with mouthwatering recipes n pics...
Visit mine as time permits...
And this looks so yummy n filling..Flavorful n delicious with Ajwain...in our household we add Ajwain mostly to everything..in parotas,chapati,parathas,puri,sabjis,curries..and with shrimp a real take......following uuuuuuuuuuuuu

Indian Food Rocks said...

Prerna, thanks! Looking forward to hearing your stories!

ryan, I'd use the entire can and skip both fresh and tomato paste. Just be aware that this will take longer to cook down. The original recipe used only fresh tomatoes. I took the middle road - trying to keep the flavors while getting it to cook quickly. Let me know how you liked it!

Kulsum, ajwain often takes a back seat to other spices but it adds wonderful flavors. I'm glad you feel like you should experiment more with ajwain!

Sanyukta, thank you! I'm in awe of how much ajwain you use in your cooking! I'm looking forward to reading your recipes!

Indu said...

This site does not open at home, maybe a slow internet connection....anyway, i came to a net cafe to read and i am glad i did...enjoyed the lost paper story :D and the shrimps look super.......

Aspiring Annapoorna said...

So we made this Kadahi Jhinga recipe for dinner tonight. We used only one red chilli, about 3 inches of mild green chilli split, and no red chilli powder. We're wimpy and our dried red chillies are quite hot! :D
It is as Medha says - absolutely delicious! The ajwain and Kasoori methi add layers of flavor, and in our view quite suitable for spring/summer nights.
We had this with fresh homemade Naan and cucumber raita (to fend off the effect of the one chilli we did put in! :P :) )

This comment was brought to you by tingling tastebuds and happy stomachs

Indian Food Rocks said...

Indu, sorry about your Internet woes. I hope things are better now.

Sacredfig, so glad you approve! As long as you got the main flavors with the slight oomph of red chillies, that's all that matters. What if the shrimp were grilled and then mixed into the sauce? I might want to try that! So jealous of your homemade naan. Have you seen this article about backyard home tandoors? I want! I am dreaming tandoor and naan. And tikkas. And kababs.

lubnakarim06 said...

Loved going through the post....there is something magical about the place... isn't' it? I was a kid when i went there...so all blurring memories....Kadhi jhinga an aromatic and spice-full recipe...looks yum...

Aspiring Annapoorna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aspiring Annapoorna said...

Oh I only just saw your reply to my last comment...yes yes we did see the article, and have been discussing it at many levels - a)yes it would be lovely to have one at home (although I don't see where we would put it on the top floor of one of those tall buildings from the dutch golden age!!) b)In the context of design cultures, and the D-I-Y mentality...in a country of excellent ceramic artists, traditional and contemporary trained...why do we not have a ready-to-use home tandoor that can be purchased in India. I only see infomercials for a toaster-oven rip-off to make naan when I wake up bleary eyed at 3 am from jet lag...

Our naan was ultra simple - pastry flour + salt + instant yeast left to rise for a couple of hours. Pressed by hand or rolled with rolling pin to desired shape and cooked in a ultra hot skillet on the stove-top. Slightly in the spirit of Bittman's Pizza Frita (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/dining/07mini.html) ...but without that much oil and well...more naan-esque. I don't know if that makes sense!

And oh, I came back to this post, because I'm making the recipe again tonight :) It is super-good.

Soma said...

making this again today:) am hooked!