Akhni (Regional Indian Wedding Speciality)

A spicy, onion based curry, which uses whole spices and unusual cooking techniques. Sharing a very treasured recipe today. This is not only special because it is my late grandmother’s recipe but also because this is something that you would not find at any Indian restaurant.

My mother and father come from different regions in India. And if you know about India, you should also know how the cuisine changes every few kilometers. So naturally some of the food that my grandmother (mom’s mother-in-law) cooked was different than what my mother had grew up eating. Some dishes had a slight variation in the cooking techniques, while others varied in ingredients. Akhni was something that my mother had neither eaten before, nor even heard of. It’s because akhni is a very regional speciality from the small town where my father belongs to. If you do not belong to Kaimganj, chances are that you might not have had (or heard about) it.

My mother learned the recipe from my grandmother. Then whenever there was a family gathering, my mother always included akhni as one of the food item. She wanted to introduce it to her family as well, and bring this gem of a dish to light. Needless to say her family (my aunts and uncles) loved it too and learned the recipe as well. And because it deserve much more attention than that, I am sharing this treasured recipe here.

What is so different about this dish?

It’s an onion based curry which uses mostly whole spices for aroma and flavor. Another distinct feature of this curry is that it uses raw mustard oil traditionally (you can substitute with other oil as well). The spices, meat, aromatics and oil are added all at once in the beginning. After being cooked for some time, potatoes are added. Then the curry is cooked until we get rid of the raw onion smell and no liquid is left.

In older times, akhni was made in big pots put over slow burning ashes, and left to be cooked overnight. But as times changed, so did the cooking methods. My mother used to make it in a pressure cooker which reduces the cooking time drastically, but always gave great results. I used an instant pot for this recipe. I have also included instructions to make it using a pressure cooker.

Ingredients at a glance

  • Meat: I use veal with bones for my recipe. In Germany you can buy halal meat from Turkish shops and this cut is called ‘Kalbshaxe’, which you can request them to cut into small pieces. You can also use beef or lamb with bones for this recipe (which would take longer to cook: instructions included below).
  • Onion: This recipe is heavy on onion as it makes the base of the curry. Use white/brown onion for making this recipe to get an authentic color and taste.
  • Mustard oil (substitute: Rapeseed oil/ olive oil): Traditionally this recipe uses unprocessed mustard oil, which gives it a distinct flavor. The smell of mustard oil changes as it cooks and remains very subtle by the end. However, if mustard oil is not easily available to you, or if you are not a fan of the mustard then you can substitute it with either rapeseed oil or olive oil.
  • Whole coriander seeds: You can find them at any Indian store by the name Coriander seeds. In German they are called Koriandersamen-ganz.
  • Fennel seeds: You can find fennel seeds at any Indian store. In German they are called Fenchelsamen. Buy the big ones that are yellowish-green in color.
  • Whole dried Kashmiri red chili: I use Kashmiri dried red chili for my recipe as it gives a bright red color. You can substitute it with any other dried red chili. However, you may have to adjust the quantity depending on how spicy your chili might be.
  • Potatoes: I used Speisekartoffeln, similar to russet potatoes. Any variation of potato could be used. The cooking time will have to be adjusted accordingly.
  • Red chili powder /Turmeric powder: You can easily find red chili and turmeric powder at any grocery store in Germany. Depending on the kind of red chili powder used, you may have to adjust the quantity to your preferred spice level.
  • Garlic: I used normal white garlic cloves. You only need to peel them and not chop them.
  • Salt: Any kind of salt would do.
Tea sieve ball that I use to seal in the coriander
and fennel seeds.

Note: In addition to these ingredients, you will need a tea sieve ball (as shown in the picture above, they are available at most well stocked grocery stores in Germany or homeware stores) or a muslin cloth to put your seeds in. The seeds will infuse their aroma into the curry through the sieve/cloth, and will be removed before serving. If you do not have either of these, you could grind the coriander and fennel seeds and then add them instead.

How is Akhni served?

On weddings and special events, akhni is served with a very thin flatbread called rumali roti. It is made by professionals and it’s so thin that you can almost see through it. I have memories of watching it being made by professional cooks, while visiting my grandmother’s place for my uncle’s wedding. The traditional rumali roti is made on a huge flat pan and is so big that it’s cut into several pieces to make serving easier.

Since rumali roti cannot be made at home, we usually have it with home made chapati/roti and sometimes with naan. It also makes a good pairing with plain boiled basmati rice.

Akhni (Regional Indian Wedding Speciality)

Onion based curry, using a blend of whole spices and getting a distinct taste from mustard oil.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4 persons

Equipment

  • Pressure cooker /Instant pot
  • Spatula
  • Tea sieve ball / muslin cloth to seal in spices

Ingredients
  

  • 800 grams/ 4 cups veal with bones (kalbshaxe: cut into small pieces) (substitute: beef or lamb with bones *See notes below)
  • 2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 2 Tbsp whole fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp red chili powder (adjust to preferred spice level)
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 dried kashmiri chili (substitute: any other dried red chili)
  • 500 grams/ 4 medium white onion
  • 1/3 cup Mustard oil (substitute: rapeseed oil/ oilve oil)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 500 ml water

Instructions
 

For Instant pot (Instructions for pressure cooker below)

  • Peel and roughly chop the onion. Peel the garlic.
  • Put the coriander seeds and fennel seeds into the tea sieve or a small piece of muslin cloth. Seal them inside properly, so nothing comes out. (If you do not have anything to seal the spices in, simply grind them into a fine powder and then add directly)
  • Add the meat on the bottom of the instant pot (switched off at this point) followed by all the spices (including the sealed coriander and fennel), oil, garlic, onion and salt. Give everything a good mix.
  • Put the lid on and set to cook on high pressure for 15 minutes in the instant pot.
  • After 15 minutes are over quick release the pressure. Add the potatoes, then turn the instant pot to saute mode (high) and cook until all liquid has evaporated. Keep stirring from time to time to avoid burning. This will take somewhere between 15-20 minutes.
  • When all the liquid has evaporated and the masala starts to turn glossy, add 500 ml of water. Put the lid on and set to pressure cook on high for another 2 minutes.
  • After 2 minutes are over, quick release the pressure. Remove the tea sieve/muslin cloth with spices. Transfer to a serving bowl and rest for a few minutes so that the oil comes on surface and the curry looks more appealing.
  • Best served with hot chapati/naan.

For Pressure Cooker:

  • Peel and roughly chop the onion. Peel the garlic.
  • Put the coriander seeds and fennel seeds into the tea sieve or a small piece of muslin cloth. Seal them inside properly, so nothing comes out. (If you do not have anything to seal the spices in, simply grind them into a fine powder and then add directly)
  • Add the meat on the bottom of the cooker (not heated) followed by all the spices (including the sealed coriander and fennel), oil, garlic, onion and salt. Give everything a good mix.
  • Seal the lid and cook on medium low heat for 30 minutes.
  • Release the pressure after 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook with open lid on medium high heat for 10-15 minutes until all liquid has evaporated. Keep stirring to avoid burning.
  • When all liquid has gone and the masala appears to become glossy, add 500ml of water. Seal the lid again and cook on medium low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Release the pressure and remove the tea sieve/muslin cloth with spices. Transfer to a serving bowl and rest for a few minutes to let the oil come on surface, which makes it more appealing.
  • Best served with hot chapati or naan.

Notes

*If you are using beef or lamb meat, add 10-15 minutes more to the cooking time in step 4.
Keyword grandma’s recipe, indian curry, regional speciality, Wedding food

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