Kashmiri Pandits, just like Bengali Brahmins, are known for their love of mutton and fish. Just the sight of a goat can make my Bengali professor salivate. Likewise, a Kashmiri is within her rights to discount a meal that did not include meat.
Food is perhaps amongst the most gossiped topics in the Kashmiri community. The usual greetings and hugging are always followed by queries regarding the last meal. How do you do? What did you have for lunch? The aunt will barely keep herself from clucking if you omit to mention some meat dish, real or imaginary, in your previous repast. And you had better include the leftover morsel from yesterday’s meal while you are recounting the feast which is obviously your norm. You can see the mental balancing underway as the relative from one side (paternal or maternal) weighs the meal in question (enjoyed at the other side) and determines who the winner would be after they are done serving you next. I have been accosted on the street – and after the pleasantries were done with – “Ah, on your way from your maasi’s eh? So, what did you eat?!” Now I look back at it with nostalgia; it did make our once-upon-a-time annual summer visits to Srinagar all the more colourful.
Yet, this blog speaks little of my nonvegetarian heritage.
While we do have our revered vegetarian Goddess Kheer Bhavani (a prerequisite for visiting whose shrine is that we take a ‘head-bath’ to wash away the sins of meat consumption), we also have another beloved Goddess to whom we offer a prasad of tcharvan-olu (liver and potatoes) over taher (yellow rice). One for everyone. Or maybe, one for every occasion?
Hari Parbat (The Hari Hill) is abode to Srinagar city’s patron deity, the Mother Goddess Sharika, represented in Hindu symbolism and Tantric mysticism by the Sri Chakra. The Goddess, known by other names such as Tripura Sundari in other parts of the country, symbolises the lofty spiritual and philosophic aspect of Shakti (the Feminine), unlike her awe-inspiring Kali rupa.
Adshad-navum (the ninth day of the month of Ashad) is celebrated as the birthday of Goddess Sharika and devotees at her shrine distribute taher-charvun. Kashmiri Pandits celebrate their own birthdays in similar fashion – a tradition that I gladly follow. While those of you born on the 29th of February are happy to celebrate once every four years, in my family we get two birthdays each, every year! Since all of us now follow the Gregorian calendar for mundane reasons, and it is after all, our recorded date of birth for all things official, we observe this day as our birthday for all friends and acquaintances. For family, we keep aside the day according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The menu remains the same – taher and tcharvun-olu. For the vegetarians there might be a dish of tchaman-kaliya (a wonderfully fragrant and subtly spiced dish of paneer in a milky broth), and if they insist, then another dish of olu without tcharvun. On these special days the son and I partake of this meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Birthdays are celebrated in this fashion not just for the family members but also for members of the extended family no longer living with you! So my mum cooks taher on my birthday, and the birthdays of my sisters, our husbands, her brothers-in-law….! More taher –tcharvun for everyone!
If you care for liver, then this is a great recipe that is quick. The ideal combination is, of course, tahar. But if you are a vegetarian, or don’t think goat liver is anything to write home about, then follow the recipe omitting liver. You will have a quick version of Kashmiri dum aloo, the next best thing to serve with tahar on your birthday.
150gms goat liver, cut into 1.5″ pieces, rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 3/4″ cubes
1 1/2 t red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
1/2 t turmeric powder
1/2 t ginger powder
2 t fennel powder
1/4 t Kashmiri or Punjabi garam masala (optional)
2 T mustard oil
Heat oil in a pan or pressure cooker. Drop in the cloves followed by the tejpatta. Once the cloves have plumped up (a few seconds) add the liver pieces and stir around till they change colour. Add the potatoes and saute for a few more minutes. Take all the spices, except garam masala, in a bowl. Add just enough water to make a paste. Add this paste to the pan and stir to fry the spices till fragrant (a minute). Add salt, and a cup and a half of water. Close the lid of the cooker and cook for 10 minutes after full pressure is attained (or cover the pan and simmer till potatoes are tender). Sprinkle with garam masala and remove to a serving dish. Serve with taher or with steamed white rice.
turmeric (1/2 t or thereabouts for every cup of rice)
mustard oil (don’t be chicken and use ghee instead!) – to taste
Add turmeric to rice and steam/cook rice as usual. I soak it for 15 minutes, bring to boil, cover and simmer 10 minutes, and then let it rest another 10 minutes. Fluff it with a fork or spread on a big platter or thali. In a heavy pan heat mustard oil till smoking (I use my big iron ladle for this and other quick tempering needs). Pour over the rice. Sprinkle with salt and mix. Serve with a fiery tcharvan-olu. It is great to hand-mould into sausage shapes and eat on its own too!