Haandi man brings the new Balti to Britain

IT'S ONLY an earthenware cooking pot but it could change the face of the modern British curry. First there was Tandoori, then there was Balti. Now there is Haandi, an ancient cooking method from Lahore in Pakistan that relies on a large clay dish.

IT'S ONLY an earthenware cooking pot but it could change the face of the modern British curry. First there was Tandoori, then there was Balti. Now there is Haandi, an ancient cooking method from Lahore in Pakistan that relies on a large clay dish.

It may not sound revolutionary but then neither was Balti - which became enormously popular partly because of the size of the portions. Yet in an industry desperate for new culinary genres to hook discerning British punters, it is novelty that counts and finding a new name is really half the battle. Thus, the Haandi House is born.

In Tabaq, a small but established Punjabi restaurant in Balham Hill, south London, Ahmed Manzoor stands proudly next to his latest acquisitions. Wearing an apron emblazoned in gold and red thread with the words National Curry Chef of the Year, he picks up one of the weathered-looking brown pots. "We've never seen these in the UK," he enthuses. "For a long time I saw my mother and sister cooking with them and I wondered to myself why no one had used one here."

So he brought some pots back to south London and began to experiment in the kitchen. The results must be impressive because he won the curry chef award with his recipe for Zaikidaar Haandi gosht, a lamb dish with yoghurt, tomato, cumin, coriander and garam masala.

But Iqbal Wahhab, ex-editor of Tandoori magazine and curry commentator who once compared the atmosphere of an average Tandoori house to that of a funeral parlour, isn't bowled over by the Haandi innovation. "It's basically a different kind of pot isn't it? It's like saying I'm cooking your food in one sort of frying pan compared to another. The end result is pretty much the same."

Whether it's a vat, pot, wok or bucket, the clamber for reinvention is understandable, however. According to recent figures, Indian restaurants have reached a plateau; they increased from about 100 in the early 1960s, to 8,000 by 1997. When 10 years ago the Tandooris were growing a little jaded in image, Baltis came to the rescue, allowing the curry house to flourish again. But now Balti, it seems, is yesterday's Tandoori and the industry desperately needs to spice up its act.

In the clamour for custom, supermarket dishes have not helped, though. Nor has ersatz Asian fast food, usually in the form of the McDonald's McChicken korma and the Burger King masala burger. While the mass food market dilutes the complexity of Asian cooking, Indian chefs are becoming more "purist" to try to maintain the identity of the cuisine.

Manish Sood, business development manager for the Academy of Asian Culinary Arts at Thames Valley University, agrees that cooks are now looking more towards tradition."We're not going for mixes with French or Italian food. We're stepping back and looking at methods that are very old, full of ancient ritual and culture."

The recipe

Zaikidaar Haandi Gosht Marinade:1 pot natural yoghurt1 tsp cumin seeds1 tsp coriander seeds1 tbsp garam masalapinch of salthalf tsp red chilli powder2 green chilliesfresh garlic and ginger1tsp white wine vinegarhandful fresh coriander

Other ingredients:1 large onion2 tbsp ghee2 tomatoes1 tsp cumin, coriander,green cardamoms1 bay leaf1 lb boneless diced lamb

Method:1. First find your Haandi 2. Place yoghurt in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients and mix together 3. Add lamb and leave in fridge overnight to marinate 4. Place the marinated lamb in Haandi with herbs. Heat on high flame. Add ghee and onions5. Wait until lamb is tender and add tomatoes, then simmer for 30 mins6. Serve with basmati rice

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