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Smoking in Indian Cuisine

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Some of the most memorable dishes I have eaten in Indian restaurants had a smokey flavour to it. I can still almost taste the mixed dal I ate in a small restaurant in Edinburgh, the aloo gobhi and a mushroom rice here in Dublin , the smokiness enhancing their flavour superbly. I know that they must be using their tandoor to get that flavour, but is there any way to recreate it at home? I neither have a tandoor nor a BBQ, so I was delighted when Sanjeev Kapoor showed a way to cook 'Dhungar Dal' on Khana Khazana. The results were quite disappointing - there was no smoke flavour at all. These are the things I have tried:

- Cook dal, place a piece of foil on top. Now put a piece of live coal on the foil and pour a few drops of ghee onto the coal. Cover tightly and allow to smoke for a few minutes. This is Sanjeev Kapoor's trick, but it didn't work for me.

- I roasted the uncooked dal, even burnt it a bit on purpose, and then cooked it. This tasted burnt (and why wouldn't it? :laugh: ) rather than smoked.

- I added liquid smoke to my aloo gobhi, but the flavour of the liquid smoke goes better with Western dishes, definitely not with Aloo gobhi.

- My bharthas and naans are good enough because I char them over the gas fire. And as I write that it occurs to me that perhaps I could char the aloo/gobhi a bit too. But how do I do the dal?


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The Dhungar method works everytime, perhaps you didnt have enough air space in the pot to supply some oxygen. Try it again, I am sure it works, I have used it on Biryanis, Curries, Raans and Tandoori Chicken.

Though for the last few years I have been using a different contraption using a disused Pressure cooker.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja


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The neatest smoked food trick I've seen in Indian food is smoked buttermilk or lassi. Rajdhani, the Gujju thali place near Crawford market does this as an extra to the main thali - you have to ask for masala chhas.

Its quite a production. They bring a brass tray with a few smoking coals on it, then in front of you add some ghee on the coals and then a few spices, I forget which. Then as the ghee is spluttering and the spices start smoking, they quickly put a stainless steel tumbler over the coals to trap the smoke.

Then after a minute or less they take the tumbler out and VERY quickly before the smoke trapped inside has a chance to escape they pour in the buttermilk, swirling it around so it captures the smoke. And it really does taste smokey, its quite something. I've never seen this done anywhere else.

- I roasted the uncooked dal, even burnt it a bit on purpose, and then cooked it. This tasted burnt (and why wouldn't it?  ) rather than smoked.

This works very well with skinned mung dhal. In a Taste of India Madhur Jaffrey has an excellent Bengali recipe for roasted skinned mung dhal with spinach, where the roasting gives the dhal a wonderful rounded taste.


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The Black Dal ( Maa ki Dal ) most restaurants serve gets its smokey flavor from the tandoor. Presoaked is left on the the tandoor for the duration of the night. In the morning the dal is cooked. The pot is transfered to a stove, seasonings etc addded and it is cooked till done.

The smokey flavor in the bharta is also from char broiling the eggplant in the tandoor.

Then again some dal tarka and other dishes appear smokey becauce at some stage the cook actually sets the pan affire for a minute, I don't think this is intentionally done though, while some consider the flavor thus obtained uniquely restaurant fare some pleople don't like it.

The way you described the smoking of your dal, Rajsuman, I think it did not work as with the foil covering the dal no smoke came in contact with it. If you poke a few holes in the foil it might work.

Or take a pot and place a katori in the at the bottom. Pour your dal into the pot making sure the level remains below the edge of the katori. Place a burning coal in the katori pour your ghee on top and a few spices like clove, cardamon, cinamon etc and place a lid on top of the pot. No peeking! as the smoke will escape, let the pot remain covered for a while. Remove katori with coal.

See if that works.

Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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Though for the last few years I have been using a different contraption using a disused Pressure cooker.

Hello Episure,

Could you please elaborate? You've got me curious as a cat!


Edited by rajsuman (log)
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In his book 'The Bombay Brasserie' , Chef Udit Sarkhel suggests a way to recreate a tandoor at home. It involves getting your oven very hot, putting live coals in a roasting tin and placing the tin in the oven. I haven't mustered enough courage to try it yet. I've read of cases where people roll tins (with food inside)over gas fires to recreate the tandoor effect.


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  • 1 year later...
If hickory smoke can be distilled, I'm sure ghee smoke can be distilled as well.  I'm surprised no one has come along and bottled liquid ghee smoke.  I think 'tandoori' in a bottle would have quite the following.

I'd be the first one to buy it. Hmmm.., quite a few innovative ideas floating around on eGullet - I like the irecipes idea too (over on the cooking forum) - now all we need is some entrepreneur to get into action.

P.S. There is also something called Charcoal Seasoning at the American Spice co., but the list of ingredients scares me.

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It's a little complicated, I'll PM it to you tomorrow.

Episureji, just to jog your memory a wee bit, 'tomorrow' never came. Would you be kind enough to share the details?

Please......pretty please...... :wub:


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