The influence of the Mughal Bawarchi Khana in shaping the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent is uncontested. From Nihari Gosht, Galouti Kebabs to Mutton Korma and Haleem, the robust assortment of Mughlai dishes is still loved and reimagined across dining tables and restaurants of the country.
A mildly sweet, creamy gravy preparation, Pasanda was also conceived during Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign and now is the crown jewel of Kayastha cuisine. What makes it stand out is its mellow taste that gently hugs your tastebuds instead of erupting with spice.
Kayasthas were an upper-class Hindu community who served as courtiers at the Mughal courts. Their close interaction with the aristocrats resulted in them integrating many exclusive ingredients like saffron and dry fruits into their cooking.
Pasanda was one such Shahi preparation that used the finest meat cuts—leg meat of the lamb or goat—which was referred to as Pasanda in Urdu. The dish was the epitome of an epicurean delight and thus was christened Pasanda from "pasande", the Urdu word for “favourite”.
However, there are references to a dish similar to Pasanda in King Someshvara III’s 12th-century text Manasollasa. This dish is prepared in a similar way to how Pasanda was cooked in Mughal kitchens. The meat was first pounded and flattened with mallets, then cooked in a yoghurt gravy until it was tenderised.
The same method is still followed by the Kayastha community in making the Pasanda. After pounding the meat into thin slices, it is then scored with a knife so that it’s able to soak up the complex marinade made with a select few spices like garlic, cumin, chilli powder and cardamom.
Some cooks go the extra mile to fill these fillets with almond and pistachio shavings, roll them up and secure it with a string, and then let the mutton package simmer in a steaming curry sauce made with yoghurt, tomato, onion and bell pepper. To tenderise the meat, the Kayasthas rely on kachri powder (a powder made of wild berries found in Rajasthan) instead of papayas, since the fruit may have been exclusive to regal kitchens.
Variations of the Pasanda are now made with every possible protein—from chicken, shrimp, and paneer to soya chunks.