If you are surprised at how heavily the dice is loaded towards Southern India on our dining table, then I have also been amazed to meet non-Kashmiri souls that have haak-rus ( haak- broth) flowing through their veins. Some even wrote poetry in the praise of haak! But for them, I would have never thought of writing about this most favourite of our greens – haak. Haak is the Kashmiri equivalent of the term ‘greens’ or the Hindi ‘saag’. So, we have monjji haak (cohlrabi greens), mujj haak (radish greens), vopal haak (dandelion greens), and vast haak. But the greens we love the most, we just call haak.
Sometime in June this year, I was egged on by my friends to post my recipe for haak. That they hadn’t been able to locate this elusive green with their friendly neighbourhood greengrocers had not stopped them. No sir. First there were Bee and Jai trying it with collards, which I did too, the time I lived in the US – an excellent substitute. Then Pel cooked his asparagus-haakesque. And finally Manisha presented her super version with dandelion greens. There was some discussion about spicing…but all very amicable.
It was time for me to wake up and smell the coffee. There actually were people who might enjoy this simplest of dishes, as much as those of us born into Kashmiri homes.
But, it had been past that time of the year…all I could manage at the time was some monjji, a little past its prime but with greens still worthy. And now, my dear friends, it’s that time of the year when vegetable markets in Delhi are at their greenest! There is spinach, mustard, methi (fenugreek greens), bathua, cholai (amaranth), kulfa, and sooa (dill), and, of course, now even haak is available in Delhi! Last week I found even the push-cart fellow carrying haak and I could hardly believe my eyes. He had the early kind – kanyi haak – the tender shoots with just the top 3-5 leaves! This is the type that looks almost exactly like kai lan, which is what you should use if you can lay your hands on some. Try your Asia specialty stores for this Chinese green; in Delhi, it is now available at all outdoor vegetable markets.
Prepared exactly like I prepare monjji haak, it was just what the son and I had been craving a long time. Braised with whole green and dried red chillies, the greens are amazing served with plain steamed rice and lots of yoghurt. Use enough water to braise them lest they dry out. It is alright if you are not able to consume all the water – you can mix it into some dahi and finish it. Or just discard. You can adjust the heat to your liking, squeezing as much or as little of the chilli-juice as you prefer, or discard the chillies entirely.
You may be tempted to chop your greens…but, just like the Chinese, Kashmiris too like to cook these whole. The kanyi haak is trimmed just a little bit, and the bunch of leaves kept together. Check the leaves for pests, trim off stems only if too long, rinse well, and follow the recipe. With hardly a few minutes of preparation, the meal can be ready in under 10 minutes. And that gorgeous green is so inviting, don’t you think?
There are other things that have made their appearance at vegetable vendors…along with haak this week I also bought the season’s first turnips, cabbage, sem-phali, methi, and… the Bhavnagri mirchi! We have already enjoyed the season’s first bharleli mirchi. Try the recipe if you haven’t already – it’s amongst the best this blog has to offer. Pel will surely agree.
I also bought the season’s last bhindi (okra), gavar (cluster beans, for which I now have a stunner recipe), and ghia (bottle gourd). There’s bottle gourd year round but not a patch on the summer ones.
For variations of this versatile recipe use your favourite vegetable when you want to be seduced by the inherent flavours or when you are feeling lazy but would still like a good home-cooked meal. I use spinach leaves when haak is not available. You could try with cabbage – use the outer darker leaves. Here are Bee’s other creative attempts (note how she stays true to the basic concept of using greens from the mustard family) :
with cauliflower leaves
with brussel sprout leaves