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Archive for the ‘Traditions and Customs’ Category

The Last Word on Kheer

In Kashmiri, Low Fat, Rice, Tea Party, Traditions and Customs on March 23, 2007 at 12:32 am

kheer

Well, as I was saying (paraphrasing Ammini) “Much is made of rice in Kashmir.” It is the staple at meal times, naturally. For most ‘holy’ days and special days like birthdays, as also to mark new beginnings, we make taher (soft ta – her) – rice cooked with turmeric and mixed with salt and heated mustard oil as naveed (prasad); more delicious than you may think. Any function in the family – weddings, yagnopavit (the thread ceremony) – the bua or maasi (aunts) will make ver, a risotto like preparation in which rice is spiced with caraway seeds, heeng, and vari-masala, and creamed with the gradual addition of water and mustard oil (what else!), quite the olive oil to us. There will be walnuts added, or in the non-vegetarian avtar, chichir (bits of, ahem, intestine). While modur polav is usually served at weddings, the sweet at other less-extra-ordinary occasions is the Kheer.

Now, this is again where Kashmiris are at loggerheads with Maharashtrians. Maharashtrians serve rice kheer only for shraddha! And we think the(ir) sevian (vermicelli) kheer is nothing to write home about (no relation of the muslim seviyan, mind you, which is an altogether different delicious animal). We serve rice first on our thali which then receives all the gravied dishes – katori being used only to serve yoghurt. On a Maharashtrian thali, rice is served last; except, again, when observing a shraddha. If they serve the rice to the front of the thali, we serve it on the other end away from you, and you bring forward, a little at a time, mix it how you want and eat. They serve a dainty handful, we upturn an entire bowl-full. Yet the twain has met!

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Mutsch: Kashmiri Meatballs

In Kashmiri, Traditions and Customs on March 17, 2007 at 9:06 pm

mutch_wm.jpg
Naani’s much talked-about mutsch!

It’s time we talked Kashmiri food. Kashmiri cuisine derives its unique flavouring from regular Indian spices used somewhat differently. Fennel and ginger powder are used in most of the preparations. The colouring is important to the presentation; turmeric for yellow curries, and red chillies for the red ones, and there are the white curries that derive their colour from the use of milk and yoghurt. The word ‘curry’, incidentally, is not a part of our vocabulary.

An interesting feature of Kashmiri Hindus is the complete lack of caste hierarchy. That’s correct – we are all Brahmins. Garlic and onions may have been taboo, but please give us our daily serving of meat. :)

mutsch

Just like the Bengali Brahmins we salivate over our fish and goat-meat, cook everything in the wonderfully fragrant mustard oil, favour rice, and worship mother Goddesses with fervour. And like them, we also have the loochi, maida pooris fried in mustard oil. Oooh, they taste super with Kahva, and are intertwined with my memories of visits to the Kheer Bhavani shrine, many kilometers outside of Srinagar city. A tiny temple inside a water tank (a natural spring), it sits in a large paved area shaded by giant Chinar trees (Oriental Plane trees). A typical visit to the temple would involve an early morning rise, a head-bath (this is Indianese for washing hair as part of the bathing process; most of us women keep long hair, or used to, and daily shampooing is neither practical nor necessary), trekking to the bus-adda to take the bus into the countryside. The mothers, grandmothers and aunts would have gotten up even earlier to prepare a packed lunch of rajma, dum aloo, and such delicacies, to be had later under those magnificent Chinars in true picnic fashion.

The bus would wind through the most beautiful (the word – beautiful – being very inadequate here) landscape of paddy fields and rustling (Lombardy) Poplars. There is hardly a stretch on that picturesque narrow road where you are too far from a brook or a stream to not hear its gurgle. The droopy willows by the brooks add to the idyllic picture.

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Winter Freeze

In Traditions and Customs, Vegetables on January 28, 2007 at 9:07 pm

Cauliflower

Old Man Winter is loosening his grip…soon the winter bounty will be over. Enjoy it while it lasts and if you put in some extra effort now, you could make it last longer. And I am not talking about pickle making.

Drying is one method which works on summer as well as winter vegetables, though dishes prepared with re-hydrated vegetables have a distinctly different taste. Like many people preparing for long hard winters ahead, Kashmiris too have a tradition of cooking with vegetables (and fish) dried in the sunny and warm summer months. Turnips and turnip greens, eggplant, bottle gourd, tomatoes, cauliflower, cooking apples (bum tchoonth), can all be seen threaded into garlands and hung up to dry by a sunny window all over Kashmir, and relished later in the winter. Everyone has seen pictures of Kashmiri red chillies strung similarly. And of course, you have all also heard of the prized dried morels or guchhi (kannguchh in Kashmiri).

I have experimented with sun-drying vegetable very successfully myself. I have to learn some Kashmiri preparations before I try my hand at turnips and eggplant. In addition to tomatoes, I have tried sun-drying cauliflower, and karela (bitter gourd) in the Delhi summers. Mint can be similary dried for monsoon-season and winter use when it becomes scarce. Just snip bunches of fresh mint, give it a quick rinse, shake of the excess water, and let it dry in shade. Once it is dry, crush it between your palms, throw out the stems, and store in air-tight glass jars. As the end of winter nears, I do the same to make my own kasuri methi (the more fragrant cousin of the regular methi/ fenugreek greens) for later use in stews and chicken curries.

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VCC Q3 2006, Voting Has Begun!

In Ruminations and rants, Traditions and Customs on November 5, 2006 at 7:22 pm

Many of you out there already know about the Virtual Cooking Competition (VCC) that was started by VKN at My Dhaba. The third (quarter) edition entries are currently in and all of you can participate in voting for the entries of your choice. The theme for VCC Q3 2006 is Festival Foods (any cuisine).

Check out the delicious spread here and decide the wining entry. I am off to cast my vote!

Divali Treats II: Karanji and Sev

In Tea Party, Traditions and Customs on October 25, 2006 at 6:00 pm

Puja thali
ready for the Puja with diya, haldi-kumkum, and the karanjis

It’s time to hit the gym or jogging track or whatever it is that you are able to do to reduce the guilt (amongst other stuff that might have been added) of over-indulgence. But before I do that I must put down these two recipes lest I forget how I made them this time. I never seem to follow recipes for familiar things…

At our home we make karnajis as prasad for Laxmipujan. The fresh coconut filling makes it different from the North Indian gunjiya, which is stuffed with a mix of khoya and dessicated coconut, and sometimes, a little bit of sooji (semolina) as well. The fresh coconut reduces the shelf life of the karanjis, but don’t ask how long they are good for. I wouldn’t know!

Karanji

Karanji

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Divali Treats I: Shankarpara and Paparia

In Tea Party, Traditions and Customs on October 19, 2006 at 9:12 pm

paparia
Paparia

Tonight is Dhanteras, and Divali is officially on! We have our Divali lights out and the first candle has been lit. This is all the Maharashtrian side of me. I guess I can lay claim to it after sharing with TH of 17 years. I cannot believe it myself. Not the sharing for 17 years, but that if we have shared for so long does it mean we are as old as it must mean. :)

Our Divalis are completely Maharashtrian. Kashmiri Pandits, unique for Hindus I would think, don’t have a Divali tradition and never celebrated it until their recent expulsion from the homeland. But, let’s talk of pleasant things…

Sharing in the family tradition for me means doing it the way my MIL did, as much as I can. Since she hasn’t been gone all that long, every thing has been reminding us of her this week. First, we did the Satyanarayan pooja this week (nothing to do with Divali). And thought of her as we did the elaborate preparations for it.

shankarpara
Shankarparey

It is now just two days to Divali and all that I had prepared were the shankarparey. I had watched my MIL make them a couple of times but never with the intention of remembering…and so, with a little bit of trial and error (very little of this), I made reasonable, very edible, shankarparey early this week.

There’s a few things I have always made even when my MIL was away visiting the BIL in the US. If you are a Maharashtrian then it’s not Divali till there is chakli. So, I always make that. Even if it means soaking rice and a bunch of lentils, letting them dry for a bit, slow roasting each ingredient separately, begging the local flour mill owner to ‘please grind it for me’, then preparing the dough, pressing it out of the chakli-press, frying it carefully on medium heat till beautifully crispy-brown. Every family’s recipe varies just a little to make our’s the best kind we have ever had!! And, of all the Divali treats, it’s my son’s favourite.

When I was away in the US I was very lucky to find packaged chaklis at an Indian store on the outskirts of Denver which tasted exactly like my MIL’s! I would bite into one, savouring every bit, and think of home.

I also manage to make sev, and on the Laxmi pujan day, the karanji, a sweet similar to the North Indian gunjiya, but made with fresh grated coconut instead of dessicated copra.

But all these still remain to be made this time, between tomorrow and tomorrow.

Today, I made paparia, another family tradition. I didn’t want another trial on my hands and called TH’s aunt in Poona. The paparia turned out as good as my MIL’s! But of course, I was using the family recipe.

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Roth, Pun, and Vinayak Chaturthi

In Kashmiri, Tea Party, Traditions and Customs on August 29, 2006 at 7:53 pm

RothWell, I forgot completely about this one occasion on which Kashmiris do use flour!! It is one day in a year so I can be forgiven my oversight.

Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayak Chaturthi, as Kashmiris know it, is the day when some Kashmiri families perform a small puja which includes a katha (story) on the lines of the Satyanarayan katha. There is the standard do-this-ritual-or-else-face-the-consequence line of reasoning in the story. If you do the puja in good faith then you look forward to prosperity…naturally. Otherwise, the gallows you shall face.

Interestingly, there is no idol that is worshipped, at least not in my family. There is druva, a type of grass, akshata (rice), and flowers offered in return for the blessings wished.

The naveed (neivaidyam) is of the roth (ro- as in ‘road’, and -th as in the second letter of the tavarg of the Hindi varnamala, the Hindi alphabet). Hey, it’s important to get the pronunciation of the topic of the post right! And this sound is missing from the English language!

So you may make as much or as little roth as you decide and most of it is then distributed among friends and family. The mimimum predetermined amount could be sava seer, for example. But it is usually cooked in greater quantities so that there is plenty to share and enjoy. The performing of the puja (the story-telling and all) and the sharing of the Roth is called Pun dyun (translated- ‘giving of Pun’ alluding perhaps, to the sharing of it).

The roth is in essence a cooked dough of whole wheat flour, sugar, and ghee. Similar to the Maharashtrian shankar para dough but not the same. There are different methods to the cooking which make the roth different in texture and taste. For the Pun, the dough is usually rolled like a thick poori, pricked or patterned with implements (we used to use metal lids with sharp edges to make intersecting circle patterns) and deep fried. My mother would always use metal lids, the kinds with sharp edges, to make impressions. When I and my sisters were little girls she would let us help with this part and we would get fancy with the intersecting circle patterns. This time I helped with the frying, big girl that I am.

Since you are not supposed to eat till the puja is over, we always sit for a breakfast of these to be washed down with Kahva, the fragrant spicey Kashmiri tea. These make a filling and wholesome breakfast. Yea, they are deep fried, but once a year, c’mon? Also, I think because they are not leavened, they don’t soak up much oil/ghee while frying. And if you make them like my mom’s, you cannot have more than one for breakfast.

Roth is also made for weddings, but that kind is usually baked in an oven. My sister and my mom worked on a recipe for that in her CT kitchen. Another time…

Roth

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F(e)asting…on Janmashtami!

In Potatoes, Traditions and Customs on August 18, 2006 at 7:44 am

Janmashtami celebrates the birth of the world famous Hindu God, Krishna. The festival is different in that it is the child-God – Balkrishna- (bal- Sanskrit for child) that is worshipped. It is huge in this part of the country as well as in Maharashtra. Most Hindus fast till midnight, the legendary hour when Krishna was born. Kashmiris are more of the feasting kind of people. Not that fasting is any different!

We have been missing out on the fasting since my MIL passed on. Everyone was missing the ‘fast’ food and the lime pickle brought out only at such times was getting darker and darker. So, we decided to fast this Janmashtami.

There are dos and don’ts regarding foods that are permitted. I personally think that smart housewives invented the rules so that they could eat their favourite foods – pumpkins and brinjals are not allowed (no prizes for guessing why these got dropped!), rai/mustard is not be be used, ghee instead of oil, all kinds of fruits and dairy, and it has to be all cooked fresh – no leftovers. See what I mean?

While the more customary fasts are broken with a regular meal in the evening, Janmashtami is an all-day f(e)ast! I kid you not. You have to survive all day on potatoes and sabudana, or waterchestnut (available as singara flour or bits), or fruits, or dry-fruits, or sundry dairy stuff. No rice, no roti.

Here are pictures of our lunch – the Maharashtrians got ‘their’ potatoes (boiled, peeled, and crushed and cooked in ghee with a bit of cumin, cayenne, and peanuts – roasted and crushed), accompanied by the sweet lime pickle (which uses neither rai/mustard nor oil) and at long last, I got my potatoes – peeled, cubed, and fried in mustard oil (yeh!) and sprinkled with cayenne and salt. That is the whole point of the fast for me, right there.

potatoes stir fried with peanuts potatoes fried in mustard oil

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Modur Polav (Sweet Pulao)

In Desserts, Kashmiri, Rice, Traditions and Customs on August 13, 2006 at 11:51 pm

modur-01.JPG

Indira’s Independence Day Parade precipitated this…this blog, I mean. And immediately I thought of this fragrant pulao that I haven’t made in a while. It is one of the few sweet dishes that we Kashmiris have. It is not an exaggeration when I say that you can count all of them on one finger, if you count like my husband.

And I thought why not showcase one of them (how exclusive is that!) to celebrate our day of Independence. It is sweet, and it has saffron as its primary colour, the top colour in our tiranga. When served at wedding wazwans it is always the first course – that should tell you something about its stature for a people who don’t care much for the sweet stuff! In old days, sugar must have been dear in a place connected to the rest of the subcontinent only by treacherous mountain roads. The pulao is, quaintly, always paired with a tangy north-Indian kind of achar (the Pachranga kind).

After a few anxious moments on seeing Archana’s entry (Whew! That was close!) I present to you the Modur Polav (sweet pulao) from Kashmir, the northern-most state of India, as my entry at Mahanandi, the very inspiring blog by Indira. In my search for Andhra food I stumbled on her blog some time back and …you surely know what happens to foodies in places like that?

This pulao uses saffron as one of the main spices, the most exclusive variety of which grows right here in Kashmir. This is an authentic recipe from my Mom. I can vouch that it comes out great every time I make it – which is as well – imagine the benchmarks I must have had to confront marrying into a Maharashtrian household! All them varieties of sweets and me with my ‘repertoire’ of all of three. But to tell the truth, I have needed just two of those to have family and friends raving about my dessert-making abilities!! Those have been two real Aces up my sleeve.

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