Pather ke phool, Dagar phool, Kalpasi, the many names for a very unusual and unique spice!
The very first time I encountered this intriguing ingredient is when I was 18yrs old!
I used to work at an Indian Restaurant in late 80’s at weekends as a barmaid, dressed in a saree, I welcomed diners, took drink orders and served these in the lounge bar area. I knocked back a good few when I was bought drinks by charming regulars!
My manager called me Pepper, he thought I was hot and spicy. I called him Salt, bitter and unpalatable. My name stuck. I was called Pepper by all the staff for the entire duration I worked there and after.
On one occasion the chef, staff as well as Salt were engrossed in discussion about the evenings staff curry. A little pouch with something bizzare was being discussed.
Chef was excited he got some from India. Everyone was looking forward to eating meat curry! Being curious I asked what it was. I was told it grows on the trees.
It was dry and looked like thin grey paperish moss.
That night I tasted Dagar phool for the very first time. A hint of something in the background of the meat curry. The taste was memorable and I never remembered the name.
Years later, I tried to find it and no Encyclopedia had anything growing on the trees that were edible.
By chance I found it some years ago on Google. I had eaten Lichen. A Fungus! An ingredient used in certain regions and cuisines in India.
I ordered some online after much searching and seriously I was back at the Viceroy…
Its so hard to describe the taste/flavour. Its part floral, part woody, part earthy, perfumed, somewhat like sandal wood to me. It gives a unami taste to curries. You only need a small amount, half a tsp, thats all for a pot of curry. I think it could be polarising. You will either like it or loathe it!
It smells of nothing in its dry form, but when used with whole spices and hits the oil/ghee you are hit with that unique bouquet. You can imagine you’re in some Dhaba in India, some Restaurant or sitting in a traditional family home. Wherever you are…it transports you somewhere else!
There are countless dishes cooked with dagar phool, Biriyanis, vegetables, Pulao, meat and chicken.
If you can source it, try it, sparingly. Its distinctive and unique. I cooked it today in both a traditional handi for the authentic flavour and a normal pan to accommodate a larger quantity of mutton.
My handi/clay pot I picked up for a bargain when I was trying to find a Tagine. Only you can’t use it in the oven.
Its tricky to sit on the stove but my wok ring turned upside down worked a treat. Up till then I used the Tagine diffuser.
Clay pots take some time to heat up. You need a med heat to use the ones ready/seasoned for cooking on flame. But they are amazing for slow cooking.
So here is the recipe for Dagar phool mutton handi.
Its a must for just the sheer experience.
Even just once!
1.5 kg mutton
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp ghee
3 medium onions diced
2 bullet chillies
6 curry leaves optional
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods split
1 blade mace
1 tsp dagar/Stoneflower
1 bay leaf torn
Handful fresh chopped coriander
8 garlic cloves minced
1 inch ginger minced
Green chillies or 2 bullet chillies sliced.
3 tomatoes sliced
2 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp Coriander powder
1 tbsp Cumin powder
2 tbsp Al Noor Basar
1 tbsp Turmeric powder
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tbsp Chilli powder
Bengali gharam masala- half tsp each of cardamom and cinnamon powder.
Gently heat the oil and ghee in the handi.
Add your whole spices.
After a few minutes add the Dagar phool.
Now add onions, garlic, ginger, salt and fry for 4 minutes.
Continue to fry for 5 minutes and add 2 sliced tomatoes. Cook this till tomatoes are mushy.
Add half cup of water, cover and cook till oil splits.
Now add the powdered spices. Give it a good mix.
Stir frequently scraping the sides. Cook further covered till you see oil splitting. Add splash of water and cook further till the spices look more integrated and oil splitting again.
Now add the meat, stir well, cover to cook for about 10mins, stirring occasionally.
Next add a cup of water and let it cook slowly till the meat is nearly cooked. Keep adding water as to your preference.
Add last sliced tomatoes and sliced chillies and curry leaves if you’re using them.
Cook further untill your meat is well cooked and falling off the bone.
Add water as to your preferred consistency. I add half a cup of water and continue to cook till oil is splitting to the surface.
Add most of the chopped coriander and sliced bullet chillies.
Lastly add the Bengali gharam masala. Stir this in well.
Your dish is ready to serve.
Serve with rice or chappatis.
Keep the heat med as clay pots are usually used a little further away from flames and embers on traditional village cookers which are wood fired and a hole in the ground!
Use Dagar phool sparingly. It can very quickly overpower your curry and is only aromatic when fried in oil/ghee. So don’t be misled into thinking you need more!
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