Author: Namrata Wakhloo
“Az kyah chhu syun?” — What’s for lunch/dinner? This is the perennial question in every Kashmiri household at the meal time.
Kashmiri Pandits are the native folk of Kashmir since millennia, however, the Himalayan Valley has continuously been exposed to foreign cultures from across the mountains. We have been ruled by Mughals and Afghans. We have seen preachers and travellers from Central Asia and Persia. All of this has influenced the cuisine of Kashmiris which is hard to miss.
Rich lamb curries and green vegetables with Batt’e (boiled rice) and Zamut Dod (curd) are the staple food of the people of the valley. Food is cooked in mustard oil, always flavoured with asafoetida, fennel and other spices. No onions, garlic and tomatoes are used.
Dishes are usually not garnished with herbs like coriander or curry leaves which is very common in other Indian cooking elsewhere.
This could very well be called the King of Kashmiri cuisine. Succulent portions of lamb are braised in an aromatic gravy of oil, fennel and red chilli powders, tempered with asafoetida and other Indian spices.
High-fat portions of lamb, sautéed with asafoetida and cooked in turmeric, fennel and spices. Its mild flavour rests easy on the stomach.
Means “tangy brinjals!” Pink, long, brinjals are deep fried and tempered with asafoetida. The succulent brinjals tingle the tastebuds with flavours of tamarind or lemon and fennel powder.
This, like the Roganjosh, is a must-do item on the menu. Minced meat is flavoured with various spices and oil before shaped into finger-long cylindrical rolls, which are then slow cooked in a boiling potpourri of various spices in water. The boneless delicacy is had with both boiled rice as well as tandoori breads.
It features on any regular saal (feast)menu. Lamb chops are sautéed on asafoetida and then cooked in a thick gravy of curd and fennel powder. The mild flavours of Yakhin are essential to balance the fiery Roganjosh and Matcz!
Lamb ribs boiled in a mixture of milk, water and spices, before marinated in curd and then deep fried in ghee. Usually served as a starter especially if a guest is invited!
Haakh & Monj’e Haakh
“Haakh te batt’e” to a Kashmiri is what “Dal Chawal” is to someone from the plains. If Roganjosh is the king, then Haakh is the queen of Kashmiri cuisine. Collard greens (Haakh) and Knol Khol (Monje Haakh) steamed with asafoetida and whole red or green chillies. It accompanies every rich feast or a frugal meal eaten on a daily basis.
For those, who do not fancy non-vegetarian food, we serve several variants of Tsaman or cottage cheese. So, we have a Lyder Tsaman which is cooked just like the yellow lamb Kalieye.
This is the Roganjosh equivalent.
Plenty of fresh water fish like Trout and Carp is available in the river-rich region. Fish is usually cooked with vegetables — Mujj’e Gaad is fish with slices of Turnip and Gaad’e Nadur which is fish with Lotus Stem. Always deep fried and well drenched in a gravy of oil, chilly and fennel powders. Eaten with plain boiled rice.
A mild and flavourful preparation of sautéed chunks of lotus root, simmered in a gravy of curd and spices.
No vegetarian menu is complete with this humble potato dish. It is on top of the list and a must-do for all feasts. By now, you would know that the key ingredients are! Boiled, peeled and deep fried in mustard oil, tempered with asafoetida, Dum Olav are smeared in a rich chilli-red gravy thickened with fennel powder and other spices.
Our food being so rich in oil and spices, there needs to be something that balances the system and prevents heart-burn! Come summer or winter, there’s always plain curd or raita at the table. So, there’s Muj’e Chyetin — grated radish in curd sprinkled with green chillies and salt.
Come winter and Turnips are on the menu every second day! They are usually paired with lotus stem — Gogj’e Nadur or lamb — Gogj’e Syun. Or many times standalone. Non-greasy and mildly flavoured with asafoetida and cumin.
Mong’e Khyetczer and Syin Khyetczer
Though most of the dishes are had with plain boiled rice, two very popular types of Khichdi also grace the cuisine. Khyetczer is cooked on certain days as an offering to the God or as a part of the meal for a special day. We have the Green Gram (Mong) Khichdi and the Lamb (Syin) . Usually relished with pickle of Knol Khol!
Lotus stem or Nadur, as we call it, is found in abundance in the lakes of Kashmir, so it plays a ubiquitous role in the daily food. We practically pair it with anything and everything — meats as well as veggies. It tastes great as fritters too!
Spinach is boiled, hand mashed and blended in with sautéed lotus stem to make this lip-smacking dish. You just add a bit of salt, red chilli powder and dry ginger powder to mustard oil tempered with asafoetida.
Do remember to steam the spinach on high heat to retain the green colour!
Since Kashmir experiences long and harsh winter, there’s an age-old tradition of drying vegetables and fruits in the sun during summer/autumn and then storing them for the winter months, which invariably last from early November until early March.
Vegetables and some fruits like tomato, apple, quince, plums, fish, brinjal, bottle gourd and turnip are strung together in long garlands can be seen hanging in balconies and attics through these months.
These are cooked separately or with other vegetables/meat/cottage cheese. Shared below are All’e and Vanagan Hachi (sun-dried bottle gourd and brinjals) cooked together with spices.
A variety of greens on the side, accompanies the meat dishes. One such leafy vegetable cooked usually with brinjal, is the mallow leaves. Its called Sotczal Vangun. Mallow grows very easily, even wild. Other than Kashmiris, I have heard that Koreans cook it too.
Shallow fry (though it takes up a lot of oil to get the taste right) with long sliced brinjal, sprinkle some salt and chilli whole/powder and its good to go.
Kashmiri Pandits are not very fond of Dal. However, what gets usually cooked, especially for ‘fasts’ is the Green Gram (Mung) together with lotus stem.
Pressure cook the Dal with sauteed Lotus Stem and temper with some asafoetida, cloves and whole red chillies! You could make the dal richer by adding a little milk.
Kashmir is an Apple Valley with dozens of varieties of apples that it produces. Though most are eaten as fruit, some apples, especially, the sour ones are cooked for a savoury creation called Tsoonth Vangun. This sweet and tangy creation made from sour apple and brinjal is a popular one once autumn arrives in the Valley.
Apples and brinjals, both are sliced long and fried first. Then add the usual spices like chilli , turmeric, ginger powders. Do temper the oil with asafoetida. If the apples are on the sweeter side, add a few drops of lemon juice.
I hope I was able to introduce you to some of the common dishes in the Kaeshur Khyen. Will be back soon as there’s more to come……
So, late afternoons, when the family has just wrapped up lunch, Sheer chai has been had and the kitchen has been scrubbed clean, the lady of the house pops the very important question — “Shamas kya ranav syun?” — What should we cook for dinner ?
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