Mangsha Besara (Mutton cooked in mustard sauce) is a rustic, ancient dish from my motherland, the state of Odisha (erstwhile Orissa), in the eastern part of India.
Jiggs Kalra – the author, columnist, gastronome, food consultant and restaurateur, considered the Czar of Indian Cuisine, once said “Some of the world’s most popular cuisines are made of two things: one, food that have a strong ancestry (read foundation) and two, patronage, which ensures that the dish is not only evolved (and refined) to a state that it stays relevant with time, but also gets popular”.
A good example of this is Odia cuisine, cuisine of a region that was once considered to be rich in resources and culture. It is said that the real motive behind Ashoka’s conquest of Kalinga (one of Odisha’s many names in past) was to claim the ports which were India’s gateway to the then “spice route”. With the rich maritime history that the state has and the strong trading traditions with Asia Pacific cultures like Java and Bali, these ports introduced spices like cumin and bay leaf in the subcontinent.
Over next thousand years Odisha’s political history rode a seesaw. It lost its independence and gained it back many times and the control changed hands starting from Chelas and Choras of south to Nawabs of Bengal to Mughals to Marthas and eventually to the British.
Yet, Odisha never lost its focus on the purity of its culinary tradition, owing mainly to one of the largest organised kitchens in the world, the Rosaghara (kitchen) in Jagannath temple at Puri. Engaging a thousand chefs working around seven hundred fifty-two chulas (wood burning clay hearths) to feed more than ten thousand people daily, it was organised to the extent of levels of chefs; the Swara – the head chefs, Jouginas – the sous chefs and Tunias – who head the prep unit of the temple; with mastery in four different documented techniques—Bhimapaka, Nalapaka, Souripaka and Gouripaka. They could cull out 172 dishes in a day at the temple, each with its own characteristic and unique taste. This array of varied techniques and dishes were considered benchmarks of a great chef back in time.
With such rich ancestry and depth in foundation, Odia cuisine rarely features among the popular (or known) Indian food cultures today. Patronage, as Kalra said, is essential to take the cuisine of any region beyond its boundaries by infusing ordinary cuisine with a healthy mix of good and exotic dishes. Example: Mughal, Awadhi, Lucknow and Rampuri food. This is exactly where Odia cuisine missed the bus as it never got the patronage it deserved from the “foreign” ruling class for centuries post losing its political identity in mid sixteenth century. The rulers of the region were more tributary lords than actual kings.
Food is an important and integral part of various traditions and has cultural significance in the life of the people of Odisha. What sets Odia cuisine apart is the lightness of touch. The ingredients retain their freshness of taste mainly because they are cooked without the mandatory frying that many regions cannot do without. The flavours are usually subtle and delicately spiced, quite unlike the fiery curries typically associated with Indian cuisine. Although Sattvik food is cooked in temples, the same techniques are extended to cooking non-vegetarian dishes.
People outside Odisha find the food similar to that of Bengal, whereas they are very different, though there are a great many similarities too. Both the Bengalis and the Odias like their fish and mutton, and have various ways of preparing them. History says, during the Bengal Renaissance, in the 17th and 18th Century, Odia cooks used to be employed in the kitchen of the Zamindars of West Bengal. So, some dishes which are now popular as Bengali dishes are basically from the kitchen of Odisha and were later introduced and included in the food list of West Bengal. I can go on and on….
Besara is a cooking technique where vegetables, fish or meat is cooked in a mustard-garlic sauce. This simple rustic mutton dish is much older than the bright red spicy Maangsa Aaloo Jhola (Goat meat with potatoes cooked in curry style) for which every Odia can lay down his life.
The immensely popular Maangsa Jhola (mutton curry) was most likely imported during the Afghan/Moghul rule of Odisha during 16th and 17th century. Bayazid Khan Karrani the son of Sultan of Bengal and his infamous general, Kalapahad invaded Odisha in 1567, which saw the then ruler Mukunda Dev vanquished and killed. This was introduction of Muslim rule in Odisha and thats how the much loved Mangsa Jhola (mutton curry) reached Odia kitchens and it was made popular during the Bengali supremacy in British Raj.
In ancient or even medieval Odisha meat eating was restricted to sacrifices (bali), occasions like weddings (in non-coastal areas) and shikaar (mainly deer meat). Meat eating became common and weekly affair only after the first few decades of twentieth century. Even the usage of spices like cardamom, cinnamon etc. was not prevalent in Odia cooking. The commonly used spices were mustard, jeera (cumin), pepper, saunf (fennel), methi (fenugreek), ajwain (carom seeds) and kala jeera/kalonjee (onion seeds) with which cooking in temples is still done today. So, cooking Maangsa Jhola (muttton curry) with all its relatively modern ingredients could not have been possible in olden days.
Maangsa Besara is a true representation of a lost recipe. Not many households cook it today nor could I find it listed in any recipe book although there are many fish and vegetable Besara dishes. You will be surprised to know, traditionally, this Indian meat dish does not use any spice, whatsoever.
This is recipe was passed on to my mother by my paternal grandmother.
Over a period that pieces Aambula (dried mango), for the hint of sourness, has got replaced by tomatoes. I made few changes like browning the mutton pieces to keep them succulent, adding yellow mustard and a small pinch of garam masala (Indian all spice) powder to enhance the flavour.
Please try this “one-step” dish. You will be pleasantly surprised with the simple yet fresh and distinct flavour and I bet you will get hooked to its taste.
This recipe is for 500 grams tender mutton (goat meat) with bones, cut into medium size pieces.
Marinate the mutton with half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a tablespoon of mustard oil for half an hour. Brown the mutton pieces on all sides, on high flame, in a pan. No need to add oil to the pan as meat pieces are already coated with oil. I have used a clay pot for that additional subtle aroma. You may chose to use any pan of your choice or even a pressure cooker.
Tip: Browning, frying meat on high heat until all sides turn golden brown, seals the juices which keeps its succulent during the cooking process.
Soak one tablespoon each of black and yellow mustard seeds in water for about an hour. Add 8 to 10 garlic pods, one or two green chillies and a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Grind to a fine paste. Yellow mustard is less pungent than black mustard. Though it is a departure from the traditional recipe I chose the add yellow mustard as I its less pungent flavour.
Add one cup of water to the paste to make it thinner and strain. Preserve the strained liquid and discard the roughage. I chose to add a spoonful of the roughage to the strained liquid for that mustardy zing.
Other ingredients you need for preparation of this dish are : fine paste of one medium sized onion, one medium sized onion sliced, two medium sized tomatoes roughly chopped, coriander leaves chopped, two green chillies and three tablespoon mustard oil. I have also added a piece of aambula, raw mango salted and dried in sun. Using aambula is a traditional technique in Odia cuisine to add sourness in food. You can chose ignore or add aamchoor (dry mango powder) instead.
Please note the absence of spices like clove, cinnamon, cardamom etc. the usual suspects in an Indian meat dish.
As I said earlier, this is a “one step” dish. Add all the ingredients including the mustard oil to the meat in the pot/pan and mix well.
Bring it to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pan and cook in low heat for about 45 minutes or until meat becomes tender and all the ingredients in the gravy gets homogenised into medium thick in consistency. Turn off the heat, sprinkle finely chopped coriander leaves and a pinch of garam masala (Indian all spice) powder. Put the lid back and let it rest for a few mins before serving. Adding garam masala powder is optional. I have added it to cheat and satiate my palate conditioned for years to spicy meat dishes.
If you chose to use a pressure cooker, cook it for 10 to 12 minute on low flame after two whistles on high flame.
Tip: If you are using a pan or a pot, put the lid upside down and put some water on top of the lid. Water on the lid helps in condensation of steam inside the pan/pot which helps in retaining heat and cooking faster.
Your Mangsha Besara is ready.
Mangsha Besara served with parboiled rice, toor dal (dal made with pigeon peas), stuffed bhindi (okra), sautéed barbatti/bargudi (long beans) with potatoes and cucumber salad in yoghurt dressing spiced with roasted ‘cumin and dry red chilli’ powder; all prepared in Odia style.