I have never been to Kashmir. And maybe never will. Yet Kashmir is alive through imageries seen since childhood in textbooks, then in movie screens and now in news snippets. I know a couple of people from Kashmir and I know them over decades.Kolkata is second home to a large number of Kashmiri shawl traders over years.And just as one has a designated hairdresser and a dhobi, most households in the city have a Kashmiri shawl seller who visits every year be in rain or shine.Past Durga Puja and by mid November Kolkata witnesses these Kashmiris peddling cycles across the city with their warm goodies.
A shawl seller was a regular in our house when I was a kid.I used to call this middle aged man from Kashmir-Jethu and thus began a saga of a relationship continued even by his son today. The son, Ismail comes to my house every year, infact every Wednesday in the months of November through March.He has two kids now, whom he is keen to give a good education.Every time he comes back around November I feel a joy not due to the stuff I would buy, but a joy of seeing a loved one after a while. Ismail brings in saffron, walnuts in kernels and real Kashmiri chilli powder for me.He does it every year and I dont even have to remind him.He loves our Luchi and Aloor Tarkari, Payesh and Narkel Naru.He will hand out atleast two new recipes every year which he takes pain to request a school teacher there in the valley to write in English for me. His wife is brilliant in her embroidery. Every year Ismail will take back a plain silk saree from me and get it back that winter with delicate embroideries. He knows my taste…the flowers on the borders are beautiful and the colors soothing. Last November when he came and heard of my losses he was dumbstruck. He sold nothing and infact never asked me once about whether I wanted anything .He gently slipped in the saffron box and the walnuts. He continued coming every Wednesday but only to ask about my well being.Inspite of his repeated requests have not been able to visit his village a little far from Srinagar.Relationships are all that is true…hope to visit a brother’s house sometime soon in the land of Paradise.Every time I cook something from the valley I remember him and his family.
One of the earliest written history of Kashmir, Rajtarangini by Kalhana eulogised Kashmir being imbued with the beauty of Godesss Parvati.Mughal emperor Jahangir made Kashmir famous in his immortal words – “Agar firdaus bar ruhe zamin ast, Hamin asto, Hamin asto, hamin asto”. Kashmir has always been an utopia for poets, artists, dreamers and travellers. Bernier and later Francis Young Husband visited Kashmir and wrote extensively about it.Kashmir in short is panaromic, it is idyllic, it is majestic with fragrance, colors and mellow beauty.
According to legends the valley of Kashmir was once upon a time a lake with a demon living in it who was killed by Kashyap and Parvati by dropping a mountain on him.This mountain called the Takht – I- Sulaiman forms the backdrop to the city of Kashmir.Kashmir with its multi faceted cultural forms, rites and rituals, cuisine and language with roots embedded in antiquity is cohesive in what is called kashmiriyat.
Kashmiri Cuisine is one of its kind, unique and elaborate, delicate and aromatic. Influenced by the Mughal style of cooking , yet it has several other strands of synthesis. While the Muslims take pride in their Wazwan, the Hindu pandits excel in their Butta.Both share a love for lamb but the Pandits eschew onions and garlic while the Wazwan uses it liberally. Food is always encapsulated either with a legend or history…a tale is a must.It is said that when Timur invaded India he had in his retinue a few hundred woodcarvers, weavers, architects and cooks from Samarkhand who continued living in Kashmir. The descendants of these cooks were called wazas.
Wazwan…a royal feast
The word Wazwan is derived from two words – waz and waan which means shop. Wazwan thus meant a cook shop.However in everyday life Wazwan is an elaborate and sumptuous ritual – a feast served to a guest. Tables are laid for for groups of four as the guests sit on floor as they share a meal served on a large plate called trami. Each trami is heaped with rice accompanied by four Seekh Kabab, four pieces of Methi Maaz, one Tabakh Maaz, one Safed Murg, one Zafrani Murg as the first course.Of the 36 dishes served, between 15 and 30 are meat preparations cooked overnight. Tabakh Maaz, Rista, Roghanjosh, Dhaniwal Korma, Aab gosht, Marchwagan korma and Goshtaba are a must. The desert is followed by Kahwa – a green tea flavored with saffron, cardamoms and almonds.
Kashmiri Cuisine uses a variety of spices and condiments. Use of dry mint leaves, cloves, black cardamom, saffron, coriander, fennel powder, cinammon, cumin seeds, dry Fenugreek leaves, dry cockscomb flower, dry ginger powder and red chilli powder are common. Kashmiri cuisine uses cooking techniques which are unique. It uses a lot of cooked yoghurt, garlic water, ver paste and ghustaba. Cooked yoghurt is nothing but whisked yoghurt and water cooked on high heat till it comes to a boil and then it is reduced to half and becomes off white in color over low heat. Garlic water is minced garlic and water mixed together and then strained over muslin cloth. Ver paste is quite interesting whereby garlic and shallots are ground to a coarse paste with which Kashmiri red chilli powder, black cardamoms, black cumin seeds, green Coriander seeds, cinammon powder and dry ginger powder are mixed. These are made into cakes, dried, strung together and kept for use in harsh winters.The weight of each goshtoba and rista too is specified.
I have cooked a lot of Kashmiri food both vegetarian and non vegetarian.Kashmiri Dum Aloo and Roghanjosh are quite common in restaurant menus as well as in marriage receptions and other feasts. Sadly what is passed off as Kashmiri Aloor Dum and Roghanjosh in the rest of the country is far from authentic. Kashmiri Chilli powder and saffron are one of the most costly spices and the ones we get packed are far from original. Over years as I cooked Kashmiri cuisine I remembered the techniques and tips given by my Kashmiri brother Ismail.
Lockdown days reinforced my love for cooking Kashmiri cuisine. Getting hold of good quality mutton was a challenge and often impossible.On such days I used chicken with the same recipes.These days I cooked Dhaniwal Korma, Kishmish Korma,Aab Gosht and Kashmiri Dum Aloo.
Dhaniwal Korma is a yoghurt based gravy garnished with green coriander leaves.The things which went inside cooking the korma are – 500 gms of mutton, half cup of desi ghee, two onions pureed, four garlic cloves ground, two cloves, four green cardamom,one cup cooked yoghurt, one tsp of turmeric powder,one tsp of coriander powder, pinch of black pepper powder and fresh coriander leaves.Salt and water as required.
To make the Korma I put the mutton in boiling water and blanch it for 5 min.I drained the water and cooled the meat washing it under running water.I then put the blanched meat in a pan, pure ghee, onion puree, garlic cloves, green cardamom,salt, saffron,cooked yoghurt,turmeric, coriander powder.Mixed everything well and cooked it until the ghee separated. I added enough water to cook the meat til tender.The meat was cooked covered over low heat.Once done added black pepper powder and fresh coriander leaves.
Kishmish Korma ( Raisins Korma)
Another very interesting and different dish is the Kishmish Korma – meat cooked with raisins and saffron.For this one needs 500 gms of bite sized boneless mutton pieces, 10 green cardamom,6 cinammon sticks of 1inch,3 cloves, 3 tbsp garlic water, 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsp tamarind extract, pinch of saffron, 1 cup kishmish.
I love making this dish and sometimes I use mutton keema too for this. I blanch the meat and keep the water aside.In a pan with the meat I add cardamom, cinammon, cloves and pure ghee.After frying for a while add water and salt till it is boiling. then I put in the garlic water, sugar and tamarind paste.Once the meat is cooked covered over low flame I add in the saffron and the ghee fried raisins.I serve it with a pulao and sometimes with a naan.
One of my favourites is the Aab Gosht. This comes out real good with chicken too. This is a meat cooked in a thick milk gravy. For this we need 1l of milk reduced to 250 ml, 500 gms of mutton, one tsp garlic paste, one tsp of saunf or fennel seed powder, four tbsp pure ghee, six each of cloves and green cardamom, one tsp of fried onion paste.
To begin with we need to reduce the milk to 1/4 of the original.In boiling water I put the meat, remove the scum , add garlic, fennel powder and salt.The meat has to cooked till half done.The stock jas to strained and reserved. In hot ghee in a pan I add the cloves, saute for a while till they crackle, put 1tbsp of water and cover the pan with a lid.The ghee will be infused with the aroma of the clove.In a cooking pot I add the half cooked meat, the stock, the clove flavored ghee and the onion paste. I cook it covered till done. Then I add in the reduced milk and mix well.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo
Now for my all time favourite Kashmiri Dum Aloo known as Dum Olav. For this we boil baby potatoes, peel them and pierce through them with a toothpick.We have to fry the potatoes very well and evenly over hot mustard oil.I make a paste of cooked yoghurt, cloves, cardamom, cinammon sticks, dry ginger powder, bay leaves and salt. Over oil I add this paste, water, the potatoes and bring to a boil. Then I reduce the heat to a low and cook it covered till the sauce thickens.
Visiting Kashmir remains a distant dream.Every three months Ismail gives me a call to know if all is well.I too wish him and his fabulous valley all well, peace and prosperity. Till the day I see the lake and the snow….Kashmir remain happy and look ahead.I in the meantime cook some of the dishes the way they do and often take a look at my black saree with dainty pink embroidery done to perfection by my brother’s wife…my sister from paradise on earth.