How to Extract a Mother’s Rogan Josh Recipe Over Zoom
July 17, 2020 10:38 AM   Subscribe

For as long as I’ve been raising my own family, my mother has brought rogan josh to me, in frozen bricks, whenever she visits. Periodically, I’d ask her for the recipe. Each time, my mother would hem and haw, saying that she cooks with her eyes. “This much,” she’d say, gesturing to a pile of fennel powder. “Stir until it’s red enough.” Recently, I called my mother to ask her again for the recipe. I reminded her that we had gone without the dish for half a year. She murmured something about shipping me a batch. I pushed back, invoking Kashmir’s disappearing culture. I emphasized the importance of preserving our cuisine, especially since I’d married outside of the community. I used all of the same guilting tricks that mum has been known to wield against me, and eventually she broke: she would walk me through the recipe over the weekend, on Zoom. (New Yorker)
posted by ChuraChura (42 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
That was a great read, thanks for posting this.
posted by Carillon at 10:52 AM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I first scanned this as saying that his mother brought Joe Rogan to him, which I thought was a really weird gift...
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:27 AM on July 17, 2020 [18 favorites]

This makes me realize how fortunate I am to have a copy of Rasachandrika that's been annotated by past users.
posted by aramaic at 11:47 AM on July 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

"It tasted exactly like hers, too, but it didn’t feel quite right."

This resonated with me. I can make my grandmother's chicken fried steak or chicken & dumplings, my father's pies or my mother's spaghetti alle vongole (among other things), but it doesn't feel quite right. They're gone now, and along with them a certain "theirs-ness" to those foods.
posted by slkinsey at 11:52 AM on July 17, 2020 [18 favorites]

Suddenly I'm incredibly hungry.
posted by zenzenobia at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2020

posted by lalochezia at 12:01 PM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

 They're gone now, and along with them a certain "theirs-ness" to those foods.

What your tasting is “yours-ness”. The recipe is yours now. Keep as much as you can, but some of that flavour came from someone else making it for you. You can't taste gratitude in what you make for yourself, but others can. When they say they enjoyed it, you'll know they're tasting what you did back when it was someone else's recipe.
posted by scruss at 12:29 PM on July 17, 2020 [53 favorites]

Mine's been doing this with her garam masala recipe. I have baggies full of it but no recipe.
posted by infini at 1:02 PM on July 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Rojan Josh must be another Indian dish where the restaurant version, made by people who roots generally stretch to entirely different parts of India, is almost entirely wrong. I have never had a Rojan Josh that wasn't steeped in tomatoes.

A similar thing has happened to vindaloo whose restaurant version generally contains potatoes due to confusion caused by the word "aloo" ("potato"), coincidentally sounding like the end of vindaloo, and doesn't contain the flavor bomb ingredients of the real thing. Madhur Jaffrey's version is an experience.

(In the UK where I grew up, it's always trans-literated to Rojan, not Rogan, so I've typed that out of habit)
posted by w0mbat at 2:13 PM on July 17, 2020

I've only ever heard it pronounced row gun jo sh in India so I have no idea what they're transliterating from.
posted by infini at 3:18 PM on July 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

This resonated with me. I can make my grandmother's chicken fried steak or chicken & dumplings, my father's pies or my mother's spaghetti alle vongole (among other things), but it doesn't feel quite right. They're gone now, and along with them a certain "theirs-ness" to those foods.

My husband and I each have a couple of our mothers' recipes, that through a ton of trial and error we can completely replicate, and I have to tell you, it's bittersweet. There's something wonderful about a recipe that you can only taste from one person who loves you. The feeling of triumph turns into a weird empty feeling a lot sooner than you would think.
posted by Mchelly at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2020 [9 favorites]

I've only ever heard it pronounced row gun jo sh in India so I have no idea what they're transliterating from.

And have you been to every part of India (and Kashmir and Pakistan and Bangladesh)? It's a lot of territory, lot of languages and scripts.
posted by w0mbat at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2020

I've only ever heard it pronounced row gun jo sh in India

Yeah, I'm with infini.

While the particular inflections and emphasis may change from language to language obviously, but "rojan" (assuming an anglo "J" sound) doesn't seem to make phonetic sense in any of the big languages. I'm entirely unfamiliar with the northeast, so I can't say whether it makes sense in Bodo or something, but on the whole "rojan" seems extremely weird. Maybe a typo? It doesn't seem like a transliteration error, at least in terms of sound.

At minimum, it doesn't appear to make sense in Bangla, Gujrati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Sinhala, Telugu, or Tamil.

Urdu ... maaayyybe if you really swallowed the "g" sound? Urdu sort of minimizes it iirc (been, what, ten years since I interacted much with Urdu folks), so I could see someone transliterating based on the idea of J as being a weak G. Maybe? I don't speak Konkani, but the Konkan people I know pronounce it the same as in Marathi or Malayalam, depending upon where specifically they're from.

As I say, I'm not sufficiently familiar with the other tongues to say. Sindhi, perhaps, or Pashto? I'm quite unfamiliar with those, but proximity to Urdu could I suppose in the extremely abstract make them possibilities? Or not; again I have no idea how Pashto/Sindhi would actually pronounce the words, I'm purely going off Urdu being the closest sound-wise I can think of but also Urdu not being the solution itself.

It's interesting, anyway.
posted by aramaic at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

I just finished a bowl of what my grandparents called "Hungarian Noodles" for reasons unknown. The recipe came to them from my grandfather's mother whose Appalachian ancestry included Scottish, Irish and English but no Hungarian that we are aware of. It's basically a hamburger noodle dish flavored with tomatoes, green peppers and onions, and my grandparents always cooked it for me when I came to visit because it was one of my favorites.

I learned a lot about cooking from my grandfather, who had been taught to cook by his German father-in-law. My most vivid memory of him in the kitchen was chopping a pile of onions for nearly every dish. When I would ask him how to make something, he always started off with "you take half a pot of onions, and cook 'em down..."

My favorite thing he taught me was how to make dumplings for what we called goulash (but apparently is more of a paprikash). He would stir up egg and flour in a coffee cup and pinch off the resulting dough with two spoons, letting it fall into the boiling soup whereupon the cooked dumplings would puff up and float to the top, and were always the best part of the dish for me. I never make it myself for some reason, but I taught my daughter to make it and hers turned out really well. I'm glad it has made its way further down the generations.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

This article hit close to home. I usually get a stock of BisiBeleBath powder (A Karnataka (South Indian) speciality) every year from my mom, but her flight to Mexico this year was canceled (covid, of course)and I ran out. I can make it myself, maybe over zoom but the problem is that we use some variety of chile and though I'm here in Mexico with a crazy variety of chiles, I have no idea what is the corresponding name. So I am sure that even if I follow the instructions to the letter, it will taste different and more importantly, will not have that taste of Home to alleviate my homesickness.
posted by dhruva at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

1 pinch asafetida (hing)

Looked for this at the Indian grocery today, but no joy. Can anyone suggest a good read on this ingredient, or comment on what it adds? Big pinch, or scant pinch?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:00 PM on July 17, 2020

You could go with a 50/50 mix of onion and garlic powder. It'll be wrong, but not utterly wrong.

(I'm surprised an Indian grocery didn't have it, tbh)
posted by aramaic at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Asafoetida will ofen appear in tiny cheap yellow or white plastic containers (about the size of an expensive eye cream, for reference) and you should be able to smell it right through the plastic and all the way down the aisle. It smells somewhat like burning sulfur and it adds a certain *something* to Indian food. Hard to put a finger on what it tastes like (the comment about onion and garlic above is pretty close but not quite), but you notice if it isn't there. It also reputedly cuts down the flatulent effect of lentils on the gut. I recommend buying some if you come across it - it's usually a couple of dollars and a small container will last ages as you're only using a small pinch at a time.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:40 PM on July 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

Asfoetida can also be found among the Creole condiments, right next to sassafras. It does an odd sort of underburn with tomatoes, and I've literally seen it added to a big pot of beans with a matchstick as the measuring tool. Definitely potent and unmistakeable.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Each time, my mother would hem and haw, saying that she cooks with her eyes. “This much,” she’d say, gesturing to a pile of fennel powder. “Stir until it’s red enough.”
This feels so true for anyone who loves making food and/or is really good at it. They may even pull out a recipe for their signature foods but there are a dozen little things that are not in the recipe that they do every time, or that they do purely on judgement (red enough, moist enough, firm enough). Unless you are fortunate enough to cook by their side enough times (or capture it on zoom?), you're never going to replicate it.
posted by 3j0hn at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you buy asafetida, I suggest finding a glass jar or metal tin to put the plastic bottle in. I actually don't think it smells terrible, though it is very _organic_, but it penetrates everything and soon everything on the shelf will smell like it.
posted by tavella at 7:54 PM on July 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeah I'm probably just mis-remenbering the UK spelling. I see some use of Rojan online, but it's overwhelmingly Rogan.
posted by w0mbat at 9:35 PM on July 17, 2020

(in the future, it might be worth checking before snarking at people)
posted by ChuraChura at 10:04 PM on July 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

This was such a lovely article!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:10 AM on July 18, 2020

1) Do you really fry those big black cardamon pods? I wouldn't have thought it would affect things.

2) The recipe doesn't mention ratan jot, also called alkanet and dyers' bugloss. I thought it was a traditional ingredient in rogan josh. I actually have some of this but I'm a bit scared of using it in food. Should I be scared? Should I use it?

3) Why do they add ghee at the end, when lamb is so fatty already? What does this do?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:31 AM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what I think it means. It means Mummy and I facing up to her mortality. And these days, mummy has been losing people left and right so much so that death has come between us when we speak. I and mummy now have an unspoken agreement that this time, when ever I can reach Delhi from Finland, she will show me herself and stand over my head while I replicate. Exactly like she's been doing since I was 9 years old when I was taught how to light the gas for the stove top. It was chest high for me, i.e. I was tall enough to look into saucepans.
posted by infini at 5:20 AM on July 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

3) Why do they add ghee at the end, when lamb is so fatty already? What does this do?

cut the chilli in your mouth with a mmm ghee flavour to the rest of the curry... mmm
posted by infini at 5:21 AM on July 18, 2020

1. Tadka.
2. The recipe in the article uses kashmiri chili, not ratan jot, for color and flavor.
3. Flavor.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:21 AM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Regarding black cardamom: traditions could differ, but I've always opened the pods and just fried the seeds, discarding the pod itself.

For green cardamom it depends on the recipe and my desired outcome; sometimes I just mash the pod with the side of a knife to open it and toss the whole thing in to fry, other times I pick out the seeds and discard the pod. But black I always chuck the pod.

I feel like maybe there's an article in there somewhere. Or at least an aside in some kind of cookery thing.
posted by aramaic at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I will fry it whole for rice and meat, when used, and then chew the juices in the pod before spitting out the husk. I am like that only.
posted by infini at 12:34 PM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Re: "Rogan" vs. "Rojan:

TLDR: the j/g is a unique letter in the Perso-Arabic script, غ, which is pronounced pretty differently in different languages; for this reason, I theorize that the variable spelling is either different pronunciations or different ways to bring the word into the Roman alphabet.

Long version:

As the article points out, Kashmiri food is fairly obscure and exotic to the rest of India (and Pakistan, I suspect but do not know from experience). The word "Rogan," however, is a Persian word, روغن, which simply means oil. جہش seems to be etymologized a few different ways: in the Wikipedia page, it is claimed that this word comes from جوشانده, jośā dān [excuse bad Persian transliteration], meaning "boiled." That being said, because "josh" can mean passion, excitement, etc., it is sometimes etyologized as hot, spicy, etcetera. To make matters worse, sometimes the dish is sold as Rogan Gosht, "gosht" meaning meat. But "stewed in oil" sounds like a reasonable name for the dish.

The غ letter is called "ghayn" / غین in the Arabic alphabet, and is usually supposed to represent the sound /ɣ/ or /ʁ/, a voiced velar or uvular fricative. This is a kind of throaty sound that, in many modern languages, such as Egyptian Arabic and modern Persian, is pronounced as /g/. In Urdu at least, the correct pronunciation of غ, especially in famous names such as Ghalib/غالب, is a mark of education and culture. It's also kind of difficult to pronounce, so you're more likely to hear a /g/ sound than anything else.

I know very little about the Kashmiri language, but according to wikipedia the letter is usually pronounced as /g/ there as well. I would love to know more about Kashmiri because it is a very unique language among Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and the other languages mostly, but not entirely, spoken in Northern South Asia. Also, for that matter, Romani). It has a verb-second word order, like German but unlike other Indo-Aryan languages which, with the exception of Romani, put the verb at the end.

More Rogan Josh fun facts: the recipe given here only uses chiles, but the version in Wazwan, a classic Kashmiri cookbook, uses cockscomb flowers, which turn food bright red and are used in rishta, the other well-known Kashmiri dish which usually appears as radioactive red lamb meatballs. That being said, Wazwan also includes a recipe called "Hind Rogan Josh," which seems to basically sub the cockscombs flowers with tamarind. If I were to make a go I might consider using hibiscus, which have a similar color and sourness.

Sources: wikipedia, Wazwan, Roli Books. 2007. I can speak, read and write Urdu and Hindi, and have passing familiarity with Persian.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2020 [17 favorites]

One typo on the Urdu/Persian for the term: it should be جوش, not جہش. Too many keyboards!
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2020

Each time, my mother would hem and haw, saying that she cooks with her eyes. “This much,” she’d say

My mother would gladly write down recipes, or point us at the original version in a cookbook, but if you followed it as written, the result would be light years apart from the dish as she made it. The only way to get close was to watch her like a hawk in the kitchen, and write down what she actually did.
posted by zamboni at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think in the Egyptian Arabic dialect, the ghayn (غ) is pronounced like that gh transliteration, kinda like a French R. Voiced, in the throat. The jiim (ج) is the one that's said like a hard G, like in "gazar," carrots or "gabal," mountain.

Sorry for possibly aiding a derail. I really like these recipe stories.
posted by lauranesson at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2020

My grandmother was extremely secretive about her cooking, specially the sauces. But she also liked outsourcing the boring stuff, like peeling potatoes or shelling peas. So she had to figure out tricks to get us out of the kitchen for the magic moments when she seasoned the food. We were sent into the dining room to lay the table, or out to swing the lettuce in the yard. For many, many years I didn't mind at all, but then at some point I realized that she wouldn't live forever, and I really needed to get those tricks in my book. It's a long story, but for most things, I got it.
The weird thing is that the one recipe I don't have, she actually taught me to make, and I took notes, all was good, and then I lost the notebook. She claimed to be making a recipe from our great-great grandmother, which we have in g-g-g's writing, but she clearly wasn't, the proportions are completely different. (It was a kind of chopped liver, but cooked like a French paté and insanely delicious).
posted by mumimor at 2:50 PM on July 22, 2020

Does anyone know where to find an ebook version of Rasachandrika? It's not at either of the libraries where I have library cards.
posted by aniola at 5:36 PM on July 22, 2020

Google Books has links to a few sellers (I checked Amazon, and they have it for $10).

...looks like B&N have a Nook version, as it turns out.
posted by aramaic at 6:20 PM on July 22, 2020

I picked up some ground Kashmiri chili powder because of this recipe but I was extremely displeased to discover that (1) I'm out of black cardamon; (2) my supermarket doesn't carry black cardomon, no not even in the "Indian" section; and (3) the spice store I would normally have visited is closed because of the Situation.

I think I am going to have Go Online.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:54 PM on July 22, 2020

I won't be able to make this before I am back in the big city, so I've saved the recipe on my computer. On the other hand, in the city I live 300 meters from the best Indian grocery store (according to all Indian friends). The owner will probably have interesting opinions.
posted by mumimor at 12:59 AM on July 23, 2020

Was Ratan Jot not used due to a lack of availability? I tried a version very similar to yours but it turned out nowhere as appetising as yours looks in the article you attached. I think the mutton I used was too hard. Maybe I should use tender lamb meat instead.
posted by MetaSquid at 3:49 AM on July 28, 2020

(to clarify, I just posted the article, I'm not the author)
posted by ChuraChura at 8:13 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I made this with onion and garlic in place of the hing a couple of days after this was legit fantastic. Definitely use large chunks of lamb, they'll hold up better to the long cooking times.
posted by Kreiger at 1:55 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

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