The 'saoji' cannot boast of a hoary history. But its mixes are not for everyone to make. It has an exclusivity not may culinary experts have experimented with. The 'saoji' is not your ready-made dish that’s served in all restaurants. For a taste of the traditional dish, head to Nagpur. If not, wait for food festivals where you can bite into its varied flavours. These, perhaps, are the only two sources to eat 'saoji.'
It was Halba Koshti, the weaver community of Madhya Pradesh, that made the 'saoji' their identity dish. The community migrated from their original environs to Nagpur in 1877 to work in the Empress Mills which Jamshedji Tata set up there. The Halba Koshti women excelled in cooking the 'saoji.' The flavour and aroma of the dish crossed the borders of Nagpur through the tradesfolk who came to the mills.
What makes the saoji special is the correct measure of its ingredients. To the uninitiated, the dish is a mix of spices. But how to mix and match becomes the moot question, a secret which the Koshtis are loath to divulge. Prod the cooks and they reveal a vital ingredient - jute oil. The traditional dish is prepared in jute oil and cooked only in clay pots.
Apart from the base ingredients, each Koshti family has its distinctive mix. Over time, foodies have succeeded in ferreting out the secrets mixes of the 'saoji.' The Koshtis use four main ingredients. Of these, there are two types of masala powders made of 32 different ingredients!
It’s the taste of mutton masala mix that stands out in the saoji. Almost all parts of a goat go into the clay pots.
Here’s a 'saoji' recipe that was apparently 'stolen' from the closely-guarded secrets of the dish.
1 kg mutton, cut into small pieces
2 big onions, chopped finely
2 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
3 tablespoon oil
½ cup coconut pieces
3 cloves cardamom
2 tablespoons coriander
1 tablespoon aniseed
9 dry pepper corns
3 sticks cinnamon
3 cinnamon leaves
7 dry red chillies
1 tablespoon khus-khus
Pour three spoons of oil into a dish
Sauté the big onions till they turn crisp
Turn off the heat, drain out oil from the onions, add a bit of water and grind them to a pulp.
Boil pepper, red chillies, cardamom, aniseed, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cinnamon leaves, khus-khus and coconut pieces
When they are done, add some water and grind them to a paste
Heat oil in a pan and add in the chopped mutton
When the meat turns brown, add in ginger-garlic paste and onion paste and mix well
When the meat begins to turn crisp add the rest of the ground masala paste
Add salt as required and three to four glasses of water. Cover and cook till the gravy starts boiling.