Drying is one of the oldest and easiest way to preserve food. In a country with plentiful sun it is only natural that we should have a tradition of using the sun’s energy to process food. You will find wadi varieties from all over the country. Bengalis put their bodi into many dishes including shukto, Southen India gives us vadams and appalams in addition to celebrating dried vegetables in, the most delicious of all ‘curries’, the vatahkuzhanmbu. In Uttarakhand mountain cucumbers are combined with urad-dal to make wadi. Punjab’s famous wadis which come in various flavours (with plums, with tomatoes, and regular – all spiced up with generous amounts of black pepper) can be combined with the blandest of vegetables to lift them out of the ordinary. From the state of UP we have mangodi, small wadis made with mung dal. Kashmiris make sun-dried spice-cakes and call them veri. Pickles that have been cooked in the sun for a while are found all over the country.
Archive for the ‘Kashmiri’ Category
I am breaking the journey through the Kashmir Himalayas to share with you a family favourite from the region. ‘Kashmiri’ dum aloo appears on the menu of Indian restaurants more often than it ought to. I don’t imply that it is not worth offering, but that what is offered is not the real McCoy, but an outright imposter. The only thing they have in common is the main ingredient, my favourite vegetable, the potato. You may well say, “What’s the big deal?” If Saveur (their tagline – Savor a World of Authentic Cuisine!) can invent their inauthentic versions why not Indian restaurants! Of course, one is free to try restaurant dum aloo, even like it, but there is nothing Kashmiri about it. All I want is for you, my readers, to make an informed choice.
I used to cook it only occasionally as it involves a bit of frying and uses more fat than my average everyday cooking. That meant cooking a larger batch since “who knows when I will cook it again,” which, consequently, involved consuming even larger quantities of oil. I decided to change that. Now I cook it at least once a month, enough just for two meals. I get my treat and there is no need to binge.
As we move to bigger urban centers, and into smaller and smaller lots and apartments, we are removed more and more from the food we eat, from the act of growing our own food. Much of what was once common in every home garden is gradually getting lost, at least to us city folk. My parents maintain a small garden patch in their urban lot and even in that tiny space my mom forages for amaranth. Yes, forage; they don’t grow it from seed, it just volunteers! When we were younger and had a large kitchen garden inside the IITD campus, kulfa (purslane) was another green found growing wild.
My father and his brothers are avid gardeners. Even in the constraints of their urban homes, you will find them pottering around. My uncle, in Pune, gardens out of huge planters on his rooftop growing runner beans, and Kashmiri favourites haak, sotchal (common mallow), and monjji (kohl rabi). I have been very lucky, despite an urban upbringing, to have grown up in a home with a garden, and knowing a little about how food makes it to the table. In my own typical city house I grow herbs in pots, I have a curry leaf tree and a lime tree, and grape vines that climb up the pergola on my first floor terrace.
Many wild greens used to be part of a regular Kashmiri diet – abuj, vopal haak, vasta haak, hund, to name just a few. Today, I would be hard pressed to even identify them.
Winter has set in Delhi. We have had some rain this week which has further brought down the temperatures and I am beginning to regret not airing out the winter wardrobe ahead of time when the days were sunny and bright. The sun will be back in our winter soon enough and we will be found lazily shelling peanuts outside during breaks from work, or while waiting for transport. Oh, but there’s a change to that script. Those of us who have got used to Delhi’s awesome Metro may not be able to indulge in this litter-generating activity. Imagine, not-littering might become a habit with the denizens of Delhi! Hope floats!
Paneer is de rigueur for a Kashmiri vegetarian spread. Good high-fat milk is hard to come by in mountainous Kashmir since there are no water buffaloes; low fat cow milk is what you get. Despite this, dahi (yoghurt) and paneer are plentiful and a regular part of the diet. On days fasting is prescribed, all Kashmiri Pandits practice vegetarianism; even those who may not be fasting. Observing periodic dietary restrictions are to be found in most faiths and belief systems, be it Ramzan for Muslims, or Lent for Christians. Us Hindus seem rather fond of fasting and have created an immense variety of them. To add to the fun, each fast comes with its own rules: what is kosher, what is not, or the length of the fasting period (half a day to up to an entire month). You may also chose the frequency of fasting: weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or yearly. If you like to walk your own path, well, you could even customise your fasting routine.
Some food preparations are so intricately tied with f(e)asting that it is hard to imagine anyone would cook them on ‘normal’ days! Breaking of a fast with specific foods also brings a special significance to those foods and further intensifies the link between our memories of events and places with the food we eat.
You all know about my penchant for tea. Just about any tea. And Kashmiris have many. Kahva or Mogul Chai is now almost as well known as the regular chai we drink everyday. There is another, not seen or heard outside the community, but as loved by us Kashmiris.
Not so long ago even Kahva was unfamiliar and strange to the North Indian palate here in Delhi; the Kahva my mother-in-law offered as a special treat to her kitty-party buddies twenty years ago did not generate much enthusiasm and made me wary of offering shir chai to anyone but family.
A typical family get-together will begin with rounds of Kahva as we wait for the folk to gather. There may be some matthi or pastry puffs or tchot (nan-like leavened flat bread) that someone is sure to have brought along. Then we will all proceed to stuff ourselves to the gills on the traditional fare that is mandatory at a Kashmiri gathering. It may seem repetitive to TH but we never tire of our rogan josh (curried mutton) or mutsch or kaliya or yakhni or haak or monjji or dum olu or panir or nadur (lotus stem) or palak (spinach). Yes, that is pretty much the standard menu you will find at any Kashmiri party. After having just finished the richest meal imaginable, we will all likely say yes to a cup of this salty milky tea. In fact, the party isn’t over till we do. Of course, there are always a few poor souls who will decline in favour of “Lipton Chai” aka regular Indian black tea that the entire country loves to drink.
It’s nippy tonight – it has snowed in the mountains and it is raining in Delhi. Some beans and rice is just what I would like…
I was lucky to get a little of the stash of fresh cranberry beans that a cousin brought over from a visit to the valley and shared with my mom who, indulgently, shared it further with me. I had never seen these beans fresh before. They are called thool razma in Kashmiri. Much rounder than the regular kidney beans, they do indeed, resemble tiny spotted eggs! I had never cooked with them or even eaten fresh ones before so I asked my mom for some general directions. She suggested I cook them with potatoes using the usual Kashmiri combination of fennel and dried ginger powder. Read the rest of this entry »
If you take a good look, you will find that the majority of the posts on this blog are around memories. Mostly memories about food. Yet, from the moment Manisha announced her IFR: Memories I seem to have been at a loss for words! Her deadline, extended, is looming and I can feel the pressure as she churns out post after daily post on IFR.
Many of my vivid memories are around food, which must be true for a lot of you. Despite nostalgia rendering most things pink, resurrecting food of our memories usually turns out well. Unless you are attempting to recreate your mother’s cooking. That one is hard to get spot on. Few can rival a mother’s prowess. Hopefully, our children will look at our cooking the same way, and we will have our spot in the limelight.
This summer, for example, before setting off for college faraway, the son finally awarded me a 10-on-10 for my rogan josh. He also added that not only had I cooked a swell rogan josh, I now had my own secret ingredient for it! Which was true – I had tweaked my mother’s recipe a tad – I added a teeny weeny bit of ground mace. What was I to do – after trying in vain to match her rogan josh for ten years, I rebelled and made it better :). Well, not really. By that time I had likely put in my time – the minimum requisite to get certification – behind cooking rogan josh to have finally got the art down. Yes, recipes evolve…in an effort to better your mom’s cooking when you can’t make it just like her’s. I bet my son’s food memories are starting to stack up. Read the rest of this entry »
As I said earlier, there is much Kashmiris make with rice. Besides being the staple on our plate it is also our preferred ingredient when it comes to celebrations of all kinds. All auspicious occasions begin with rice in some avatar or the other. Barring one sweet made with dry fruits all Kashmiri desserts have rice as the main ingredient. [Therein lies a lesson for all of us to look at statistics with a sharp eye – Kashmiri cuisine has 3.5 desserts in all!]
Kheer is the offering of choice for most Goddesses. When a sweet offering will not fit the bill, taher is cooked to mark the happy occasion. Similarly, cooking and eating ver marks the beginning of important celebrations such as weddings and yagnopavit ceremonies.
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.