Kashmir, the crown of India, is not called so just for its geographical location. This little state has a rich treasure of culture, heritage, flora, fauna and FOOD! Yes, Kashmiri food is a meat eater’s heaven but read on for some piquant vegetarian dishes and to end it all the traditional Indian way, we have sweet treats from the mountains as well.
This, divine, rich and tantalizing lamb curry gets its brilliant red color from Kashmir’s very own red chillies which are dried and ground to make fine powder and are also kept whole. This wazwan delicacy is cooked in a yogurt based gravy with fried onions, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices that make it fragrant and give depth. For the best experience, try it out with the short grain basmati that is grown right in the valleys of Kashmir. The mere waft of this curry cooking in a kitchen will make your mouth water. To get the best authentic taste of this dish, try out the wazwan restaurant at the Kashmir tourism department in Srinagar.
Yet another lamb speciality, this delicately cooked stew has a mellow yet intense taste. Like the almost all the major stews or curries, the yakhni also has a yogurt base which gives it a rich gravy. The mustard oil used to saute the lamb chunks gives the gravy a punch and the fennel seeds, bay leaves, cumin, cloves and black cardamom add mellowed tones. Besides being a wazwan dish, yakhni is also served by itself at casual occasions and is made for a homely lunch as well. It is best served with the short grained basmati rice.
You might not find many fish preparations being worked on in Kashmir, but this succulent, tart and mouthwatering fish dish is the way to go. The combination of fish and radishes is what makes the Muji gaad stand apart. The fish is fried in mustard oil following the radish. The gravy is light and can pass off as a broth. A blend of Kashmir chilli, ginger, turmeric, fennel and cumin powder is used to make the broth like gravy while the fish is marinated in a dry rub made of bishop’s weed, cinnamon stick, brown and green cardamoms, cloves and cumin. There are quite a few who add lemon and tamarind paste to the gravy to make it a little tart which gives a really good flavour to the spice rich delicacy.
The show stopper of the wazwan course, Gushtaba is a dish of luscious minced meat balls cooked in a rich and delectable curd base curry. In the wazwan course, Gushtaba is served at the end signifying its importance and hard work gone into making it. The meatballs are made of finely beaten meat and strips of lamb fat. To the fine mince, a variety of spices are added and then cooked in curd which has another set of Kashmiri spices. Gushtaba is one of those rare dishes that does not use Kashmiri chili, the dish has a mellow yellow tone. The slow cooking process keeps the meatballs tender and juicy. They have a melt in the mouth texture and is enjoyed with the short grain basmati. You cannot miss this ball of deliciousness at any case! You just have to taste the Gushtaba and you’ll keep coming back for more.
This exquisite wazwan starter, is Kashmir’s own take on lamb ribs. Marinated in a warm spice mix, saffron and milk, the tender meat is juicy, succulent and fit for a king’s feast. The ribs are first marinated in yogurt and spices that include the Kashmir red chili powder, dried ginger powder, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and asafetida. The paste is rubbed on the ribs and marinated for six long hours!! Once the marinading time is over, the meat is par-boiled either in water or milk and then pan fried. The par-boil keeps the meat tender and the pan frying gives a depth and crunch to the ribs. Enjoy a plate full of these ribs as a starter with a mint chutney and wedges of lemon. A fizzy drink with the Tabak Maaz is just divine!
Rishta is another one of the wazwan delicacies. The mutton meatballs are relatively smaller in size when compared to the Gushtaba that has an intense, structured and robust taste. The mutton mince for this dish is beaten just like the meat for Gushtaba sans the extra fat. The meat is then blended with 11 spice mix. The spices include dry ginger powder, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom etc. The gravy is tomato based and the Kashmiri red chili powder gives it the rich and vibrant red color. The rishta can be enjoyed with both tandoori roti/naan as well as with basmati rice.
Moving on to the vegetarian delights of Kashmir, here’s an erstwhile staple,and a daily portion of a meal in the villages and small towns, the Tomul Chhot. This current evening snack is made of rice flour. It’s a flat bread made over a skillet. Its texture resembles that of normal flat bread made of wheat. It’s best enjoyed with Sheer chai (salted pink tea) which is another famous hot Kashmiri beverage.
Dum, is a way of cooking in which the meat or vegetable usually potato, is cooked over a low flame with a lid which is sealed with wheat flour dough, and then a heavy object is placed over the lid. This way, the food is cooked in its own juices. The authentic Kashmiri dum aloo is made with baby potatoes which are first fried and then added to an ambrosial yogurt based gravy which has spices like kashmiri chilli, ginger, fennel powder and other primary Kashmiri aromatics. The potatoes are further cooked in the gravy with the dum method. A rich and scrumptious twist to this recipe is, a khoya, cashew and raisin filling which is filled into the potato before adding to the gravy. The Kashmiri dum aloo is best eaten with hot chapatis (Indian flat bread) or tandoori roti ( tandoor baked flat bread).
Modur Pulao Or Zarda
Because a wedding wazwan starts with this sweet rice dish, here’s the first of Kashmir’s rare sweets. Modur pulao or Zarda, is a sweet rice pilaf. Rich as all of Kashmiri cuisine is, this fragrant sweet dish uses the state’s most well known spice; saffron as the coloring agent. The Pulao is made with any North Indian basmati available, preferably long grain. The rice is cooked in saffron and sugar infused milk with spices like bay leaves, cloves and cardamoms. The Pulao is garnished with an assortment of dry fruits such as pistachios, raisins almonds and cashew nuts that are sauteed in pure ghee (clarified butter).
Lyodur Tschaman, is a traditional Kashmiri pandit household dish. It is prepared usually during special occasions like weddings and festivals. The dish gets its intense yellow colour from a blend of saffron and turmeric powder and thus is the meaning of the word Lyodur (yellow). Tschaman means “cottage cheese”. The gravy is rich and creamy infused with typical Kashmiri aromatics. The dry ginger powder gives this mellow dish a punch of heat while the fennel and asafoetida make sure the richness does not go overboard. Lyodur Tschaman is best served with tandoori roti or chapatis
This green leafy vegetable is grown in Kashmir itself and is quiet similar to collard greens. The vegetable is cooked in mustard oil, whole dried red chilies and a pinch of sodium bicarb. This simple yet flavorful green dish is one of those few Kashmiri dishes that don’t take much time and is liked by everyone. Haakh can be served as a side dish with wheat flour flat bread or with rice. If you’re looking for something different and are a veggie enthusiast, Haakh is a must try.
Al Yakhni is the vegetarian version of Yakhni. The vegetables used are bottle gourd and lotus stems. It is special to the Kashmiri pandits. The gravy is a rich yogurt base with a light blend of cinnamon, cardamom, dry ginger and fennel powder along with caraway seeds as well. The bottle gourd or lotus stems are first cut into chunks and fried in oil then added to the gravy which is brought to a boil and then simmered for a while. The richness of this curry is mellowed with a dash of hing or asafoetida. While this simmers away, the light fragrance of Al Yakhni cooking is so tantalizing, you’d want to try it right away.
If you’re in Kashmir and haven’t tried out this crunchy, heavenly, scrumptious lotus stem dish, you’re missing out on some real good soul food. Who wouldn’t like a decent amount of French Fries for a good movie snack? The Kashmiris have their version of French Fries made with lotus stems! And they are amazing! These little crispy sticks are fried in a spiced gram flour batter and served with the chutney of choice.
Yet another interesting cottage cheese gravy, the Chamani Qaliya is quite similar to the Shahi Paneer. The cottage cheese is first shallow fried in mustard oil then cooked in a water and spice blend which thickens over a slow simmering heat. The Chamani Qaliya can be enjoyed with any sort of bread or rice. Exquisite in taste, this dish is a good side dish for a coursed meal.
Madra is luscious, tasty, rich and spicy mix lentil gravy. This is slow cooked and has a variety of spices added making it bursting with flavors. This gravy also has a yogurt base. Due to its thickness, the gravy is best eaten with chapatis or tandoori roti. The Madra is an almost daily affair in Kashmiri houses. Its mix of lentils makes it healthy yet appetizing and saporous.
Kashmiri Khatte Baingan
Tart, sweet, mellow, full of flavors and whole baby aubergines, Khatte Baingan literally means sour aubergine. This is served as a side dish. The baby aubergines are first fried in mustard oil then added to a tomato base curry that has tamarind paste to add to the tartness. The mix of authentic Kashmiri spices, give this gravy a spicy punch. The mind boggling flavors will leave you mesmerized. Enjoy this gravy with rice or chapatis.
The kashmiri version is unlike the Punjabi one which is soft. The kulcha here is small, round, hard and dry, the crumbly texture comes from the ghee used in the dough. The kulcha has an indent made with a peanut in the middle. The bread is savory. It can be eaten as a part of breakfast or as a dish to dip in curries.
This traditional Kashmiri sweet pudding is made of semolina. The pudding has a very smooth and creamy texture and is garnished with sliced pistachios. The semolina is cooked in milk, khoya and sugar. The milk is infused with saffron before brought to a boil and then a blend of ground cardamom, cinnamon and a lot of dry fruits are added. The phirni is best had warm. The sapid pudding is so tasty, you’ll always want a little more of the deliciousness.
Khubani Ka Halwa
A winter sweet dish, Khubani is the name for Apricots in Kashmir. The apricots are slowly cooked in sugar and sweet spices and cloves. It has an intense silky texture. It’s best had warm with a few toasted almonds on top. The ambrosial Khubani ka Halwa is surely gratifying and spreads sweet warmth in the chilling winters. This preparation can be made with fresh or canned apricots. Due to the intense sweetness, the sweet dish is served in small amounts.
To end this culinary journey through Kashmir, bringing to you is the most delectable, warm, tantalizing Kashmiri Kahwah ( kashmiri green tea). This tea is not your usual, green tea. The boiled water is not only infused with green tea leaves but also has a blend of spices and dry fruits that include cardamom, almonds, saffron, walnuts etc. The tea is enjoyed with the Kashmiri kulcha or any assortment of biscuits on a winter evening. After a good wazwan or lunch, this is the best way to relax.