This vegetable korma is aromatic, rich and flavourful vegetarian dish from the kitchens of the Mughal emperor Akbar. This dish, shahi navratan korma, is an exemplar of Mughlai cuisine. The recipe has a five hundred year old heritage.
Make this for your vegetarian friends and they will love you. Make it for your carnivorous friends and they may rethink vegetarianism.
It is, to my thinking, the best vegetarian dish in the world.
It is not an everyday dish. It is suited to festive occasions, birthdays, or when you want to do something special for vegetarian friends.
The English translation of navratan is “nine jewels”. Shahi means “royal” and korma means “braise”. It is named as a tribute to the original Navratan – the nine courtiers of Akbar. I discuss this a little more in what is korma?
So, what are the nine jewels in this recipe?
Firstly, you should use nine vegetables, as this recipe does. Depending upon what is in season you may choose to use different vegetables. The recipe shows three different stages of adding the vegetables. Root vegetables, needing more cooking time are added first, softer vegetable are added later, and some, such as the cherry tomatoes are added very late in the process.
Many of the vegetables listed in the recipe were introduced to India well after this recipe was first formulated. The original recipe would have had more leafy green vegetables than I have specified.
Choose your vegetables based on market availability and appearance.
Consider using sweet potato, turnips or pumpkin for the root vegetables. Consider kale or some of the Chinese leafy vegetables. Use bitter gourd or okra in place of the softer vegetables. What you want to achieve is a balance between all the vegetables and have some visual appeal.
The next nine jewels are the spices. And yes, there are nine spices in this recipe.
The penultimate nine jewels are in the garnish. Whilst it seems complex, it is the highlight of this recipe. And, of that highlight, the pineapple is the most important. The flavour lifts the dish. It cannot be cooked into the recipe because it will react with the dairy and is one of the reasons this recipe will not keep.
The last of the nine jewels are the people you eat this dish with. In a very traditional setting this dish is meant to be eaten by nine guests. The recipe below contemplates four people but is easily scaled to serve more – use the “servings” field in the recipe.
There is just one exotic ingredient in this recipe; the melon seeds, or magaz. A good Indian grocer will have these, if you are lucky. If you can’t get them, ignore them as there are no real substitutes. The recipe will be much better if you use them, of course.
You would serve this dish with nothing more than a big platter of naan.
the nine vegetables
- 2 brown onions – halved and thickly sliced
- 2 carrots – peeled and chopped into 1cm pieces
- 2 potatoes – peeled and chopped into 1cm pieces
- 1 cup cauliflower florets
- 1 green capsicum – calix removed and cut into 1 cm pieces
- ½ cup peas
- 120 g spinach leaves – coarsely shredded
- 50 g beans – chopped into 1 cm pieces
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes – halved
for the shahi paste
- 12 almonds
- 12 raw cashews
- 1 tbsp white poppy seeds
- 1 tbsp melon seeds – (magaz)
for the masala
for the korma
for the shahi paste
- Soak the almonds, cashews, poppy and melon seeds in ½ cup of hot water for 30 minutes.
- Once soaked, grind to a smooth fine paste. Add a little more water if required. Remove from grinder and set aside.
for the masala
- Grind the green and black cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, mace and toasted coriander seeds into a coarse powder.
- Crumble the bay leaf into this mixture and set aside.
for the korma
- Warm the milk, add the saffron threads and steep them for 30 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat ghee in a deep pan on a high heat. Once hot, add the ground masala and fry for about one minute, or until it crackles and becomes aromatic.
- Add the sliced onions and fry for three minutes and they soften slightly with golden edges.
- Add the garlic and fry for three minutes or until the raw aroma of garlic goes away.
- Add the shahi paste and mix well.
- Reduce heat to medium, and add the yoghurt one tablespoon at a time, mixing well between each spoonful.
- Add the saffron-infused milk, ginger powder and kashmiri chilli powder and mix well.
- Reduce heat to low, and fry mixture for two minutes, or until it comes to a simmer, stirring continuously. Do not allow mixture to boil, or the yoghurt will split.
- Add the prepared potato and carrot and mix well, ensuring every piece is well coated in the masala.
- Add one cup of water and the salt and mix well.
- Cover, and simmer the dish on a low heat for 20 minutes.
for the garnish
- Heat one tbsp ghee in a small pan. Once hot add blanched almonds and fry tossing continuously until they turn a pale golden brown.
- Place them to the side of the pan and add the pistachios and cashews. Fry for about one minute until the cashews turn a light golden brown.
- Add raisins and melon seeds and fry for 30 seconds, mixing continuously.
- Add the chopped pineapple, mix well and cook for one minute.
- Add the mint leaves, saffron strands and julienned ginger, mix continuously, and cook for one minute.
- Remove from the heat and set aside.
finishing the dish
- Once the vegetables have been cooked for 20 minutes, remove the cover and raise heat to medium.
- Add the cauliflower florets, capsicum, peas, spinach and beans. Mix well, but gently.
- Cook for another 15 minutes, mixing often, but gently, to avoid breaking down the vegetables. The newly added vegetables will absorb a lot of the liquid in the pan. Once the vegetables are cooked they should still have some crunch and the dish should be quite dry.
- Add the cherry tomato halves and mix well.
- Reduce the heat, and add the cream one tablespoon at a time, mixing well between each spoonful. Do not allow the dish to boil, as the cream will separate. Allow to come to a gentle simmer, then mix well, but gently and remove from the heat.
- Transfer the korma to a serving dish, then place the garnish over the top of the korma. Serve immediately.
- The melon seeds, or magaz, are available from good Indian grocers.
- Use whatever vegetables are in season – choose a combination for the flavours and visual contrast and appeal.