Why The Bhopali Rezala Is Greener Than Its Bengali Counterpart

Very few dishes in culinary history have stood the test of time as a rezala. The origins of Rezala can be traced back to the Mughal era in India, during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Mughals, who were of Central Asian Turkic descent, brought with them a rich culinary tradition influenced by Persian and Central Asian cuisines. 

The Rezala is said to have originated in Bengal in the 19th century, particularly during the time the Nawab of Lucknow Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta (now Kolkata). The Calcutta Cookbook: A Treasury of Recipes from Pavement to Palace, by Minakshie Das Gupta, Bunny Gupta and Jaya Chaliha describes rezala as ‘a Bengali Muslim speciality.’ The coming of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah to Bengal in 1856 signalled a time of great culinary innovations, the ‘Calcutta’ biryani being the most famous invention by the royal 'rakabdaars' (cooks) of Metiaburj, who added an Islamic touch to Bengali cuisine.

It is said that the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and the descendants of Tipu Sultan brought their bawarchis with them to Bengal and it was in these kitchens that the rezala gained popularity. Besides yoghurt and cashews, the rezala also prominently featured, posto, the prized poppy which became a pivotal part of Bengali cuisine. 

Though the core of the dish features meat and yoghurt, the recipe has gone through quite a bit of modification in different communities. In East Bengal, ruled by the Nawabs of Dacca since 1875, a much lighter version of rezala found its way to the royal kitchen which had turmeric, ginger, cardamom and saffron.

The Origin Of The Green Bhopali Rezala

Renuka Devi Chaudhurani’s 'Rakamari Amish Ranna', which was compiled in the 1930s and 1940s and featured East Bengali recipes, featured a slow-cooked rezala prepared in the dum method which also included diced apples, pineapples, and vegetables like potato, cabbage and peas. However, the version of rezala that travelled to Bhopal in the 19th century featured the classic yoghurt-poppy-cashew. 

The rezala was famed for its pallid tones, the white-ish gravy which signified a lack of coloured spices. In Bhopal, however, the royal bawarchis quickly realised the need to modify the dish visually. The Begum of Bhopal, Shah Jahan Begum the 12th ruler of Bhopal who ruled around 1850s loved celebrations themed around colours, where the food and clothes would be coordinated and matched. 

Green was a popular favourite with the Begum and was seen in court prominently, particularly during jashn e hariyali where everything would be green. The rezala was thus made greener with the addition of a generous doze of coriander. To balance the heavy amount of coriander, turmeric and fried onions were added to the dish. Despite its popularity as a heritage recipe, very few Mughlai or Indian menus across the country list Rezala, except in Bhopal and Kolkata. 

The Jehan Numa Palace Hotel on Bhopal’s Shamla Hill, which belongs to the descendants of Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum still serves the Bhopali rezala which was fine-tuned in the 1800s. Shahnama, the all-day diner at the palace hotel lists a Bhopali ‘Rizala’ which is described as chicken cooked with coriander and curd gravy, garnished with boiled egg. Despite its daunting heritage, making rezala at home is not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re trying a rezala recipe at home, whether you’re a fan of the Bengali or Bhopali recipe, here are some pointers that will help.

Marination Is A Must

Marinating the meat is key to infusing it with flavour and tenderness. Instead of just mixing the meat with spices and yoghurt, try marinating it overnight or for at least a few hours. This allows the spices to penetrate deeply, resulting in a more flavorful and succulent dish.

The Precise Spice Blend 

The spice blend is what gives Rezala its distinctive flavour profile, which has the perfect balance of heat, sweetness, and aromatic richness. Consider adding a pinch of ground mace or nutmeg for an extra layer of complexity and adjust the number of green chillies if you want it to be mildly sweet.

The Yogurt To Cream Ratio Is Key

To achieve a velvety smooth and creamy texture in your Rezala, pay attention to the ratio of yogurt to cream. While yoghurt adds tanginess and helps tenderize the meat, cream contributes richness and depth of flavour. Adjust the proportions according to your preference, keeping in mind that too much yogurt can make the gravy too tangy, while too much cream can make it overly heavy.

Go For Onion Paste 

For a smoother and more refined gravy, consider using onion paste instead of chopped onions. Blend onions into a fine paste along with ginger and garlic to create a flavourful base for your Rezala. This helps to achieve a more homogeneous texture and ensures that the onions dissolve completely into the gravy, enhancing its richness and depth of flavour.

Use A Slow Cooker

While Rezala can be cooked on the stovetop, using a slow cooker can yield even better results. Slow cooking allows the flavours to meld together gradually, resulting in a more complex and aromatic dish. Plus, it's incredibly convenient – simply set it and forget it until your Rezala is perfectly cooked!