Navratan or ‘nauratan’ means ‘nine gems’ and korma is a mild, slightly sweet, creamy, gravy-based curry, where either vegetables or meat is cooked slowly, almost like a stew. Navratan Korma is regarded to be a Mughlai dish, which was created or modified by the royal chefs of Mughal emperors in Delhi. It is said that the dish probably originated during Emperor Akbar’s reign, whose interactions with local noblemen and kings, some of whom did not eat meat, influenced his decision to include some vegetarian dishes in the royal kitchen. In fact, Akbar had nine favourite courtiers, who were intellectuals, scholars and every one an expert in their respective fields like art, music, poetry, finance, warfare, politics etc. The most well-known were Tansen and Birbal, and collectively all nine of them were called Navratna or the nine gems of Akbar’s royal court.
Coming back to the dish, here we use nine different types of vegetables, including nuts, raisins and paneer, a kind of cheese. Although the original recipe probably had exotic dried fruits, apricots, dates, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, pistachios etc, I have seen versions where even baby corn and pineapple are also used.
During my stint in BS, there was a tradition of ordering Shammi Kababs, Mutton/Chicken Biryani and Rumali Rotis for any Desk party from Karim’s, a restaurant located in Old Delhi, overlooking the grand Jama Mazjid. Just thinking about food from Karim’s makes my tummy growl! But since the Mughals were connoisseurs of mostly meat dishes, it is but natural that Karim’s menu mainly consisted of non-vegetarian food. But to satisfy the one or two vegetarian friends in our department, one day we decided to order something different from the usual paneer dishes. That’s when I had Navratan Korma for the first time, and I forgot my chicken and ended up eating their share of the vegetables! Ya, it was good. I don’t think I can ever recreate the exact dish; Karim’s chefs are masters when it comes to rich, decadent Mughlai food. But here’s my take on it.
Prep time: 30 min Cooking Time: 30 min Serves: 4
The nine gems:
Paneer: 1 1/2 cups
Green beans: 1 cup
Peas: 1 cup
Red bell pepper: 1 cup
Green bell pepper/capsicum: 1 cup
Potatoes: 1 cup
Carrots: 1 cup
Cauliflower: 1 cup
Dried fruits (raisins, almonds, cashews etc): 1 cup
Cashew paste: 1/4 cup
Cream/ whipping cream: 1/2 cup
Milk: 1/2 cup
(You can also use 1 cup cream, instead of 1/2 cup cream+1/2 cup milk, if you like a richer taste)
Butter: 1 tbsp
Refined oil: 1 tbsp
Water: 1 cup
Chopped coriander leaves: 2 tbsp
Finely chopped onions: 1 medium size (You can also make a paste, I prefer to finely chop it)
Garlic paste: 1 /2 tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Green chillies: 1 or 2 slit
Bay leaf: 1
Cinnamon: 1/2 inch stick
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Garam masala powder: 1 tbsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Salt to taste
1) Cut all the vegetables into small cubes.
2) Boil the potatoes, cauliflower, carrots for 5 minutes. Now add the beans and boil all of them for another 5 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, lightly saute the paneer and dried fruits. Remove from heat.
4) In a deep pan, heat the butter and oil and temper it with cinnamon, bay leaf and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add chopped onions, garlic paste, ginger paste, chillies and fry for 2 minutes covered on medium heat. When the onions become translucent, add the cumin powder, garam masala powder, chilli powder and coriander powder with the cashew paste and a cup of water. Mix well to make the masala or the base for the gravy.
5) After around 5 minutes, add salt and the boiled vegetables, cover the pan and let them cook for a couple of minutes. These vegetables take longer to cook, so we add them first.
6) Now add the rest of the vegetables, paneer and dried fruits.
7) Pour milk and cream and let it cook for 10-15 minutes till the gravy becomes thick.