“What to make for dinner?” A question that mothers across Pakistan agonize over a daily basis.
It’s a convoluted decision tree guided triggered by the following: What’s in season? What’s in the fridge? What’s going bad and needs to be used up? Your father doesn’t eat this. Your sister loves that…The intensity of agonizing only heightens when guests are coming over. Preparations begin 2-3 days in advance, and the menu will be crafted to cater to every crazy on the table.
Serving everyone’s needs however, comes at a price. Throwing a Pakistani “dawat” (formal dinner) is never a quick and dirty affair as it nearly always follows this expansive formula:
1-2 side vegetable dish (one with gravy, one without)
1-2 side meat dish (one with gravy, one without)
A meat entree that will be the star of the show
A small kachumber (tomato + onion + cucumber) salad and/or raita/chutney
Type of rice
Growing up, my favorite dinner menu that catered to both my parents’ local and expat friends was:
Leafy green salad / Deep-fried okra / Haleem (lentil + meat dish cooked over several hours) or mutton korma (mutton curry) / My man Latif’s stellar lamb roast / Potato wedges served alongside the roast / Vegetable rice (recipe forthcoming)
When I reached out to some friends to share their family’s go-to “dawat” menu, my friend Merium mom’s list hit all the tried and true Punjabi notes:
This bomb all-Punjabi menu by Bisma Tirmizi got my heart racing as well:
The formula adapts when you move away from Punjab – you may see more or less meat, rice or no rice, depending on the weather and history.
In Pakistan’s Hunza Valley in the northern areas, you will find a much more healthy balance between meat and vegetables, and a strong tilt towards bread.
Baloganze Pitchu (tomato dip – pictured) / Burutz Berikutz (cheese) / Chapsae Doudo (meat soup) / Girgir Aloo (lentil and potato – pictured) / Hosaryo Hoi (pumpkin curry) / Chap shuro (meat cakes) / Burum Hanik (chapati with butter) and/or Shuro (festive white bread)
Erum, born and raised in Karachi but whose family immigrated from Mumbai grew up with a very cosmopolitan dinner menu reflective of the two mega-cities’ cultural diversity:
Potato salad / Potato cutlets / Mutton curry prepared over two days / Paun roti, type of bread hard and crusty on top but soft and fluffy on the side (#gottahaveit) / Custard and ice cream for dessert
Going north and west, the dishes are drier, sparser on ingredients and heavy on red meat. One of my former students Yasir who hails from the village Regi on the boundary of KP and FATA shared the following menu that he enjoyed growing up:
Patti tikky (BBQ fat-covered meat ‘boties’) / Roche (salted mutton cooked over 8-12 hours – similar, I made this in a slow cooker) / Chapli kabab (pictured) / Bandi rojy (similar to Kabuli pulao, pictured)
For those of us outside of the sub-continent, pulling off the ambitious 6-8 dinner menu may not be possible. You may want to incorporate items from other cuisines to balance the heaviness, and draw upon a different set of ingredients.
I always struggle with doing that while keeping the menu theme and flavors cohesive and meaningful.
Here are some ideas that I have tested in part. Would love to know what you think:
Kalee daal (green lentil soup) / Wild rice bowl (I often adapt Sweet Green’s version) / Kebab, preferably beef or lamb (I love these by Come Con Ella) / Mint-chilli chutney / Garlic-sauteed asparagus / Naan or multi-grain bread