Dopiaza is typically a simple dish of meat cooked with onions. It is popular in many Middle Eastern and South Asian countries including Iran, Afghanistan and India. In the UK, it can be found on the menus of most British Indian restaurants. The name, dopiaza, actually translates to ‘twice onions’. Typically, a lot of onions are used, but in two different ways rather than just doubling the onion quantity.
Using a lot of onions in cooking is an influence from Persian cooking. It was taken to the imperial kitchens of India’s Muslim rulers during the 16th century. But adding a second layer of onions, so one story goes, came about during the reign of Akbar the Great. One of his cooks added onions a second time to a cooking pot by accident. But Akbar enjoyed it so much it became a part of the royal kitchen’s repertoire.
The resulting Moghul dopiaza used one portion of onions sliced and fried and the other ground into a fine paste. The finished dish tasted of onions, but with two different textures. And an Indian twist on the recipe introduced spices such as pepper, cumin, coriander, cardamom and cloves.
Originally, minced meat, mainly goat, would have been used in a dopiaza. This was another influence from Persian cooking introduced to a largely vegetarian India. Fresh meat was tough and without modern refrigeration meat couldn’t be hung to tenderise it. Today, dopiaza is often made with aged meat cut into larger bite-sized pieces.
Dopiaza curry was popular with the British in India during the 19th century. A century later it found its way onto the menus in Indian restaurants in the UK. Although these dopiazas favour larger petals of onions for one of the onion portions and there is more emphasis on a more substantial sauce.
In conclusion, dopiaza has been incorporated into the cookery books of many countries. And each has its own twist on the original dish from Persian cooking, of minced meat with onion.
This Lamb Dopiaza recipe lives up to its name, with onion being used in two different ways. Chicken can be substituted for the lamb, or chickpeas if you prefer.