If that be so, you might well wonder how come there has been no Kashmiri greens recipe on this blog yet. The fact is that the most common way with our most popular green, the haak, is also the least spectacular. In a matter of speaking, you may say they are just blanched greens. My non-Kashmiri side of the family didn’t think it was anything to write home about. So I didn’t. And my son and I continued to secretly also relish the fact that there would always be more for us!
Many reasons were given for their dislike – it was oogr (strong tasting) – as are most vegetables of the brassica family; it was too salty (huh?); just too plain…I didn’t insist. It meant I was free to use mustard oil in it and there would be more for the two of us. Keep in mind, these were days when it was not commonly available in Delhi, and my Dad’s kitchen garden was the only supply, which we had to occasionally share with visiting relatives with keen eyes.
Then Bee and Jai wrote about it. And I thought – okay, so a flash in the pan (for haak, not Jugalbandi). But it got the subject out of the closet.
Traditionally never part of a feast, it has been elevated to wedding banquet status since the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland. Kohlrabi greens, and haak, are the two greens that the Kashmiris are partial to. I find kai-lan, a Chinese green, to be a very close substitute for haak. I have also prepared collard greens in the same way. They are all cultivars of Brassica oleracea. Pairing haak with nadur (lotus stem) is utter simplicity.
Other greens that are prized and devoured with much relish, besides spinach, are dandelion greens, sotchal (common mallow greens), liss (amaranth), mujj haak (radish greens), vopal haak, and vusta haak. One man’s weed is another man’s green.
I got talking about haak with Manisha and Pel and shared my recipe. Pel tried it first with kai-lan and was very pleased. Then he presented his haakesque asparagus (and laid bare all the secret tricks I have for retaining the colour of my greens) – some sort of a revenge he called it! All this while Manisha had been patiently waiting for me to write about it. Finally, she went ahead and presented her version with dandelion greens. Neither missed the opportunity to goad me on. Frankly, their enthusiasm for this simple recipe has a lot to do with this post.
So here it is, the much loved haak, prepared this time with monjji haak (kohlrabi greens) from my Dad’s over-summered monjji. Haak and kohlrabi are winter vegetables here in Delhi. These and spinach are my son’s favourite greens. When he was little, I would prepare haakesque spinach, and tell him it was haak. Now it his favourite way to eat spinach.
Do not chop the leaves – use them whole. If using kai-lan, use the stems, and separate only a couple of the lower bigger leaves; the tender top leaves should remain bunched, as they would if you were preparing a Chinese version. If using other greens such as collard or kohlrabi, remove any stalks that seem too coarse.
I have adapted my recipe for pressure cooking; you may use the traditional braising technique of a gentle simmer. The trick to retain the bright green of the leaves with the pressure cooking is to release the pressure immediately after turning the heat off. This can be achieved very safely by partially lifting the weight (prop with a wooden spoon), or by standing the pressure cooker briefly under a running tap.
I find the flavour of haak leaves very delicate and do not recommend any spicing other than some hing and the chillies. When using monjji haak from the summering vegetables, I find the flavour much reduced and the cooked-cabbage smell beginning to dominate. This is when I find the addition of a pinch of veri masala (a Kashmiri spice cake) greatly enhances the taste. At a pinch, you may substitute with Kashmiri garam masala. If you have picked your vegetables at their prime, you’ll find there is little they will need in terms of spicing.
Monjji Haak (Kohlrabi greens)
1 ½ lb Kohlrabi greens (or collard greens, or spinach)
1 T (or more) oil, preferably cold-pressed mustard seed oil
a few grains of strong hing, dissolved in a little water (optional)
2 green chillies, broken into two
2 dry red chillies, broken into two
a pinch of soda
½ t Kashmiri veri masala (optional)
Heat oil in a pressure cooker or heavy-bottom pan. Once it starts to smoke add a cup and a half of water and bring to boil. Add a pinch of soda (it will foam) and then put in the greens. Stir around till they wilt. Add more water if needed – the leaves should stay submerged (you may need more water for pan-cooking). Add salt and the chillies. Close the lid and pressure cook for 5-7 minutes (or simmer till tender: 15-20 minutes). Immediately release the pressure (see note above), add the veri masala, if using, and transfer to a serving dish.
Serve with steamed rice and a bowl of plain yoghurt.
Note: When adding water to the hot oil, measure out and dump it all in at once. The high walls of the pressure cooker should catch all the fine spray of oil and water. If using a shallow vessel, keep a lid handy to quickly cover the pot and reduce clean-up.
These healthy greens are my entry for HotM4: Vegetables at The Heart of the Matter, as well as at Joanna’s Food. If you didn’t hear me last when I was propounding on the benefits of mustard oil… it’s all here! Of all oils, mustard oil has the least amount of saturated fats, and the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Did I mention that it lends a most wonderful aftertaste? Good food, delicious food, everyday.