Wednesday May 29
As the Great Amir Khusrau once said:
Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast
“If there is a paradise on earth, It is this, it is this, it is this”.
Much has been written about the sheer beauty of my motherland, but authentic Kashmiri cuisine is something of a mystery to many people. Everyone often talks about the famous Kashmiri Wazwan, the multi course meal in Kashmiri Muslim cuisine. However, the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is another jewel in this land and that is just as mouthwatering and rich as its more famous sibling.
The food of a place is a true reflection of nature’s blessing to it, and the paradise on Earth is just as blessed as some of the other magnificent and celebrated lands across the globe. From the luscious meat dishes like Rogan Josh (Lamb cooked in rich spicy gravy), Kabar Gah (Poached Lamb ribs, deep fried in ghee), Yakhni (Lamb cooked in curd/ yogurt based sauce) to great vegetarian delights of Monj-e-Hakh (Khol Rabi with its greens), Nadur Yakhni(Lotus root cooked in curd/ yogurt based sauce), Dum Aloo(Potatoes boiled, deep fried and cooked in a spicy gravy using the dum method of cooking) the list is just endless. The beauty of the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is the lack of using of the holy trinity- Onions, Tomatoes and Garlic in any traditional dishes. This is remarkable as most of India and the subcontinent can hardly think of many other curried meat or vegetable dishes, without using this holy trinity.
Since 1989, when the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandit’s started, the regions that Pandits have settled in have given a slightly different shape to the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. Sunflower Oil has replaced the pungent and strong flavours of mustard oil, Paneer (Indian Cottage cheese) has replaced many meat dishes in festivals and coriander is used as a garnish in dishes. These subtle or major changes aside, the smells of the pure, age old Kashmiri cuisine can still be found whenever a seasoned Mom or grandma decides that she’s had enough and wants to add that authentic touch to the night’s dinner.
The other specialty of the Kashmiri cuisine (Both Hindu or Muslim) is the use of the special Kashmiri Chilies. These are some of the best chilies in the world and are very similar to Paprika. Just like Paprika, the Kashmiri chilies are low on heat but high on color and flavor. The major difference between the two is that, the Kashmiri chilies are sun dried and paprika is smoked. The smoky flavor of paprika is missing in Kashmiri Chili, however the Kashmiri chili has a more intense flavor of chili without the burn.
The end result of most Kashmiri dishes such as Rogan Josh and Dum Aloo would be incomplete if the chilies are not Kashmiri. There are many brands that boast of selling pure Kashmiri Chilies, but apart from the real thing (From the spring kissed fields of Pampore in Kashmir), the best one in the market is Everest Kashmiri Lal. I will share the recipes from my homeland in my other blogs.
The other key basic spices in Kashmiri Pandit cuisine are (as called in Kashmiri) Baadyan (Fennel powder), Zavyul masala (Kashmiri Garam Masala, a blend of many spices and a proud secret recipe of many mothers. PS- I will share mine in my Blogs), Lyedar (turmeric powder), Shonth (Dry Ginger Powder), Yenga (Aesofotida powder), Ver (A spice cake that mixes many other spices including chili and fenugreek seeds among others). These spices together with the cooking techniques, make such a strong flavor and texture profile, that the need for using onions and tomatoes to thicken the curries is eliminated.
Rice is the staple of most Kashmiris, though we enjoy our kandur waan (The local baker) breads like lavasa (A naan bread with Afghan roots), Kulcha (A slightly savory or sweet hard biscuit like bread), Katlam (Kashmir’s answer to puff pastry, a flaky crusty oven baked bread), Tel vor (Kashmiri sour dough oven baked bagel). These breads are usually savored during breakfast, but no Kashmiri lunch or dinner be complete without a side of rice. Most of the dishes need a nice helping of rice to be mopped with. Kashmiri Pulav (A sweet Rice dish made with dry fruits), Tehr (Rice cooked with turmeric and salt and seasoned with smoked mustard oil), Syun Pulav (A savory meat based Pilaf) are some of the magnificent variations of rice dishes that are eaten along with or besides the good old Basmati Rice.
This blog only scratches the surface of the cuisine of my ancestors. I am a proud custodian of some of these recipes and as my tribute to my roots, I will be share my food experiences and these traditional recipes with all of you. Thank you for reading my first blog.