A classic example of Arabic inspired dishes in Hyderabadi cuisine, Marag is a totally delectable, spicy and creamy stew of lamb cooked with herbs and spices till fall-off-the-bone soft and thickened with roasted nuts paste and dairy. It's hugely popular at wedding banquets, served like a starter soup with bread. It's not commonly made at home except on rare occasions and the recipe is mostly found only with restaurant chefs and those who cater to weddings.
I have tried my best to consult the ladies who do know how to make it and some chefs I have been able to contact and put together this recipe after much trial and error. The result is absolutely mouthwatering and a much requested recipe especially during the coming winter months. Do try it. It's out-of-the-world delicious and not very hard (make sure you read the notes at the end for substituting some of the rare ingredients). I use a pressure cooker to cook the lamb till very tender which makes it a lot easy and takes less time. Meanwhile I have the nuts roasted and made ready separately. Just mix the spicy tender lamb and the roasted goodness together. In no time they become friends and a few minutes of slow cooking and the delicious soup / stew is ready.
Take all the ingredients listed for pressure cooking the meat in a pressure cooker. Mix well. Add about 2-3 cups of water and keep on high heat for 4-5 whistles. After that reduce the heat and cook for about 20 minutes. We want the lamb to be really tender.
While the meat is cooking, dry roast the nuts - almonds, cashews, chironji (if you can find it or the dessicated coconut), poppy seeds and pistachio. Grind all into a fine powder along with the yogurt.
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the ghee and add the nuts and yogurt paste to it. Fry / roast it well till all the water evaporates and the mixture becomes thick and grainy. (Be careful not to burn. Quickly sprinkle water if it starts to stick to the pan and then just cook it down again) Turn off the heat.
Boil half of the contents of the potli ka masala packet in about a cup of water and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Strain and reserve the masala water and discard the rest.
After all the steam is released from the cooker, carefully open and just stir everything lightly to mix. Now transfer the meat along with the stock into the pot with the nuts paste. Stir well & add the masala water and milk and let it simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding salt and ground black pepper if required. You can also add more water / milk to adjust the consistency and creaminess of the soup.
Lastly add the cooking cream. First take it in a bowl, take 2-3 spoonfuls of the soup from the pot and whisk with the cream and then add it back. This prevents curdling of the cream (especially if you are using regular cream instead of the cooking cream.)
Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the very finely chopped coriander and serve piping hot with naan / rumali roti / irani roti.
Recipe notes and substitutes:
* cassia buds are dried unopened flowers of the cinnamon tree. So, you can substitute with a piece or two of cinnamon sticks. Even whole allspice may be used if you have that.
** Chironji or charoli seeds are lentil sized nuts of a tree with scientific name Buchanania lanzan. These almond flavored nuts are widely used in sweet and savory dishes such as these in Indian cuisine. If you don't have some on hand, use dessicated coconut instead to make up for the quantity of nuts.
*** Hyderabadi potli ka masala is used like a bouquet garni in meat dishes like nihari, and sometimes in biryani, korma, etc. Its a mix of exotic spices, dried roots, dried leaves, rose petals etc. Although not absolutely required for making marag (hence you can leave it altogether), it gives a new dimension in flavor hence I like to add a little amount of it. Its available in Indian and Pakistani grocery shops and can be frozen for a long time. If you cant find that then boil a few bay leaves, whole coriander and dried rose petals if available in some water. Strain and add the water.