Rajasthan’s red mutton curry – once meagre, now an extravagant treat | Travel

With a history of clan conflict and marauding Moguls, the warriors of the Indian state of Rajputana needed to eat on the hoof. Add to the pot a harsh desert landscape and you begin to understand the origins of Rajasthani cooking. What began as survival food from meagre resources has evolved into a surprisingly elaborate cuisine. Passion for these traditional dishes is undiminished and the Rajasthani classic laal maas – a rich, deep red mutton curry – still inspires heated debate.

On a recent trip to Rajasthan, I was lucky enough to be taught the secrets to a perfect laal maas by the personal chef of Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur. He said the combination of generous quantities of ghee, deep red mathania chilli and yoghurt worked together to preserve the meat, allowing the dish to be transported for days and eaten on the move. Originally made with wild game, it is now concocted with hunks of on-the-bone mutton.

Photograph: Alamy

We gasped as he added eye-watering amounts of chilli, then learned that mathania chilli is relatively mild, creating a gentle heat and depth of flavour. A slice of dried green mango adds astringency and whole garam masala spices: – cardamon, cinnamon, mace and bay – pungency. To replicate the smoky flavours of cooking over an open fire, the dish is smoked with a lump of charcoal drizzled with ghee. Little else is needed besides doughy baati bread rolls, roasted until crisp over hot coals, to soak up the thick spiced sauce.

For some of the best laal maas, head to the lakeside restaurant at Amet Haveli in Udaipur or sample the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s family recipe at Pillars on the terrace of the art deco Umaid Bhawan Palace.

Carolyn and Chris Caldicott’s World Street Food: Easy Recipes for Young Travellers (Pimpernel, £9.99) is available at bookshop.guardian.co.uk for £8.49

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