Ratna G. Chotrani/Hyderabad
Whether it is a hundred-year-old dish Kuzi or Fish Salad or Badam Ka Kund or the Noorani Seviyaan, Shahnoor Jehan, the descendent of a Sultan of Yemen, dishes out these mystic 100-year old cuisines for the connoisseurs and the gourmands.
Even as the erstwhile nawabs of India deal with the loss of their titular legacy, tables laden with succulent meats, and the foods flavoured with freshly ground spices and their untranslatable code of tehzeeb- their last standing bastions of power, wealth, and heritage - Shahnoor Jehan, whose grandmother Muzaffar Unissa Begum hailed from the family of the Sultan of Yemen, has kept it alive.
Meeting this soft-spoken lady was a quiet grounding experience given her repertoire of knowledge on food.
Shahnoor Jehan with her daughter
Daughter of an IAS officer and wife of a very supportive businessman Adil Mirza, Shahnoor Jehan was also encouraged by her adorable children Shohrab Mirza and Nimrah Mirza to use her knowledge and the knowhow inherited from her blue-blooded family and preserve the 100-year-old recipes for posterity. Khassa, a food brand, is a reality because of the support Shahnoor Jehan got from her family.
Shahnoor Jehan says, “There’s a certain etiquette that embraces all nawabi culture. It's not so much about the commonality of ingredients or dishes but the way the food is prepared and served and the way we host our guests. And for these families, it's comforting if you understand that,” she says. “Khassa is just that.”
In earlier days people never said "food is ready' while inviting guests to the table,; they would say but said “Khassa Taiyaar Hain.” Shahnoor Jehan has preserved her well-guarded recipes dating back to several generations.
A dish from Shahnoor Jahan's cook book
Her cookbook which she has preserved to date from her school days takes on a narrative beyond food; it's about legends, anecdotes, and antiquities that comprise heritage. It is this inherited legacy that has made her take up cooking as a passion and make it her business. "I think cooking was a hidden talent in me. Most of the time friends appreciating my cooking made me ponder over the possibility of taking it up as my profession and when my kids and family support came, I converted my culinary skills into a startup."
"Till I got married, I never had any experience of cooking; it was only an interest. It was my grandmother and mother who inspired me initially and the realization and confidence that I can cook well came with the appreciation I got from my friends and family who eagerly awaited the indulgence. The original cuisine is slowly fading away. I kept up the tradition of preparing dishes on charcoal and grounding spices made by hand.."
Begum Shahnoor Jehan the granddaughter of Nawab Ahmed Baig and her Grandmother Muzaffar Unissa Begum shares a princely legacy of the Sultan of Yemen and her food is an amalgamation of Mughal, Turkish and Arabic and influences of Hyderabadi cuisine.
She has infused local foods like rice, wheat, and meat dishes and the skilled use of spices herbs, and natural edibles in Khassa,
Owner of brand Khassa, Shahnoor Jehan serves cuisines like mutton haleem, mutton Shikamaru, dum ka murgh, or whether it is her signature dish a hundred-year-old dish called the Kuzi- leg of mutton cooked in pure almonds, saffron, and spices like black pepper enriched further with dry fruits, sugar candy ( Rock Mishri ) saffron, and silver foil are steeped in history.
Shahnoor Jahan's recipies
While Khassa has been in the limelight for its iconic Kuzi, mutton roast or the kebabs like Shikampoor Shahnoor has also drool-worthy desserts to her credit that you can never say ever! Whether they are the innovative desserts like the Noorani Seviyan or the most rich ones like the Badam ka Kund- a traditional Hyderabadi dessert rich in almonds infused with saffron and cooked for hours together to get that creamy finish.
Says Shahnoor Jehan some of the recipes are native but they have been prepared and perfected down the generations at Shah Manzil, which is the present-day Raj Bhavan (the official residence of the State Governor). They have been part of Shahnoors family legacy for generations over a hundred years of age Adds Shahnoor my maternal Grandmother Muzzafar Unissa Begum, the daughter of the Sultan of erstwhile Yemen, and her grandfather Nawab Ahmed Baig, the son of late Shehzoor Jung, was influenced prominently by the flavours of Yemen, where she was from. I picked up most of her techniques and recipes which were well guarded and preserved by Shahnoor Jehan’s mother Faiq Jehan Till date Shahnoor continues to preserve the diaries and books belonging to her royal family. She adds that while her mother has been an inspiration for her she did pick up a few techniques from her mother-in-law Shaheda Begum she adds.
Today this luxury dining has come alive with her cuisine “Khassa” which is offered to her customers by way of food based on orders from her customers. It is indeed a luxe dining experience as nothing is too extravagant at her end whether it is the use of the saffron or the almonds, or whether it is the use of gold and silver foil, they season most of her meals. Only the finest cuts of meat make it to your orders. Whether it is ordering the mutton roast -chunks of meat soaked in sauces, ginger garlic paste, pepper, and roasted or whether it is Kairi Ka Do Pyaaza chunks of meat cooked alongside with raw mangoes spices and silky onion gravy a seasonal specialty.
Shahnoor says some of her dishes are cooked languorously , sometimes for entire day-the dum (where food is cooked for hours over low heat in lagan and smoked with the piece of burning coals placed on top to flavor the food , and these remain her techniques of choice.
Shahnoor Jahan with Khassa
In the earlier days, the chefs or the bawarchis at her Shah Manzil sometimes specialized in just one dish. Kitchens were considered laboratories, and chefs artists were encouraged to experiment innovate and create. Today we are preserving this past heritage as an agenda. She recalls the Nawabs of yore were patrons of food, helping the food to evolve Now dining With The Khassa brings back some of the grandeur and is a beautiful reminder of the lavish brilliance of nawabi food.
Says Shahnoor Jehan we want to bring a culinary slice of Yemen and the Nawabs of Hyderabad at Khassa with dishes that resonate with our philosophy of cooking with the choicest of ingredients.
Her spread in her menu looks fit for a king. There are Shammi Kebab-succulent pieces of tender lamb cooked with spices a melt-in-the-mouth experience and the Mutton Shikampur, the iconic kebabs from the royal kitchens of Hyderabad. The main course consists of Tamatar ka Kut a classic Hyderabadi dish and a rich tomato gravy topped with mild temperate spices and boiled eggs. Mutton Dalcha, is an age-old recipe of mutton cooked with lentils and bottlegourd. There are classic dishes such as Chicken or Mutton Korma cooked in rich gravy sauce or the traditional Kairi Do Pyaza a tangy lamb preparation. Her signature dishes include Haleem, Kuzi, Fish Salad Mutton Roast, Dum Ka Murgh, or the Dum Ka Raan all slow-cooked in mild spices.
Also, there are desserts to die for whether it is the Zafrani Badami Kheer, Sheer Khorma, or the Qubani ka Meetha.
Khassa indeed brings the hidden treasures of food that is heavy on aroma and boasts of rich flavours that will hit the spot if you’re looking for a feast.