India is more than just a heritage experience, it is a melting pot of cultures, languages, practices, religion, breathtaking landscapes and of course cuisine. The vast land with its varied cuisine guarantees that you will never have a single boring day food-wise even if stay for a year!
It is said that when the Mughal Emperor Jahangir was in his death bed he was asked what would be his last wish. To that he replied, “Kashmir, as the rest is meaningless.” Indeed the land had captured the imagination of the emperor. But why only the emperor? Generations of residents of this land, as well as those who have visited this place, all acknowledge that if there is a paradise on earth it has to be here. Thus Kashmir’s cuisine can also be referred to as cuisine of paradise.
Kashmir’s cuisine is as distinct as its unique blend of people and culture. It has been influenced by the cultural practices of several generations of Kashmiri Brahmins who have lived here since thousands of years. It has also been influenced by the unique style of cooking later on brought by the Muslim settlers from Persia and Afghanistan.
Kashmiri cuisine uses liberal quantities of dried fruits. Turmeric is something that is used throughout the sub-continent and is also used here. Yoghurt is, yet again, something that you are likely to find in use through the country. It is a staple food item and is also used liberally in Kashmiri cuisine. Garlic and onion is however used with discretion in this cooking style.
Here are some typical Kashmiri dishes and an in depth study of their cooking process.
Kashmiri Rogan Josh (Non-veg)
What better way to start the main course with a delectable choice straight out of a traditional Kashmiri kitchen. The ingredients used are all procured locally, right down to the essential spices and that gives the dish its unique Kashmiri flavor.
What You Need:
About a kilo of meat (lamb)
About 250 grams of praan (this is a locally available onion, if you cannot source this switch to normal onion)
Ginger and garlic made into a paste – about 75 grams (you can prefer to go easy on the garlic as the praan itself gives a garlic type flavor to the dish.
A pack of red Kashmiri chili (there are several brands available in the market. Ensure that you confirm the source on the packet to know its authentic)
Bay leaf about 5 grams
100 grams of yoghurt
About 75 grams of fennel seed
25 grams of ginger powder (dried)
20 grams of turmeric
About 10 grams of cardamom
About 100 grams of ghee (clarified butter)
Green cardamom dried and powdered – about 50 grams
The final ingredient is Mawal flower. It is a locally available flower that is used in Kashmiri cuisine to bring a very hot taste to the dishes. It is unlikely that you will get this sourced. Alternatively, you can experiment with Tabasco sauce.
Start the process of cooking just like any ordinary north Indian dish involving meat. Clean and chop the praan into fine pieces and sauté on cooking oil for a few minutes. Once they change color take the pan off fire and allow it to cool down. Use a mashing tool to grind the praan into a thick paste.
Now take the meat and pour it into a pot of boiling water along with the essential masala – turmeric, cardamom, bay leaf and the ginger garlic paste. Once the cooking is complete remove the meat from the froth. Store the froth in a separate pan for later use in the cooking.
Take the yogurt. Use an egg-beater or spoon or even a hand blender to whip it. Pour it into a bowl ready to use.
Next is the turn of the mawal flowers. These are essentially used for the purpose of adding the hot taste to the dish. Put them in water and allow them to soak for a few minutes.
While the mawal flowers are soaking in water, heat some ghee in a cooking pot. Add the fine praan paste, which was made earlier, into the ghee. Ghee is something again quite frequently used in Kashmiri cuisine. With people becoming more and more health conscious, ghee, is being replaced by other forms of cooking oil in the rest of the country.
Now, pour the broth into the praan paste from which the meat had been separated. Pour the rest of the ingredients into it. Leave the meat and the mawal flowers for the last. Once the froth and the ingredients have boiled for about 15 minutes pour the meat and the mawal flower into it. Once it has cooked for about another 4-5 minutes turn the fire off and pour out the pot it in a serving bowl. Kashmiri Rogan Josh is a meaty spicy curry that in one word ‘captures’ the essence of Kashmiri cuisine. It can be had with nun or simple hand-made roti (both are forms of bread made with flour).
Dum Aloo Kashmiri Style (Veg)
Don’t worry veggies there is something really fiery for you too. The ubiquitous dum aloo which you will see popping up at every restaurants and eateries across the sub-continent has a history of being tweaked and modified to suit the needs and availability of ingredients in different areas. However, the Kashmiri avatar is undeniably hard to beat. It is a spicy delight that can be a little too much for someone who is counting the calories though. This vegetarian dish requires the following ingredients –
Small potatoes (these are also called dum aloo potatoes in local jargon because they are small and roundish and thus are perfect for the purpose) – about a half a kilo
The essential turmeric powder so often used in Kashmiri cuisine – about half a teaspoon
Half a teaspoon of chili powder (Kashmiri chili powder would do as it is perfect for the color and the flavor)
Little quantities of asafetida (it is a kind of dried latex obtained from the roots of Ferula)
A few bay leaves for taste
Caraway seeds – about a pinch
About 6-8 black peppers
Some ghee for cooking. You can also use other forms of oil if you are counting your calories
Grated onion about half a cup
Yogurt – 2 cups
Cinnamon – one small stick
Ginger and garlic turned into a paste – about half a teaspoon
Milk – about half a cup
Coriander seeds about 1 teaspoon
Salt for taste
The cooking process
The first step is to make the masala mix for the main cooking process. Put all the masala into the blender (this will be the cardamoms, coriander seeds, black peppers, cloves, cinnamon and caraway seeds) and make a fine dust. Now this can be kept in a small cup away for use later in the cooking process.
Ready the potatoes. Wash and peel them properly but keep them whole. Now pour some ghee onto a frying pan and let it simmer over medium heat. Pour the potatoes into the frying pan. Stir fry them for a few minutes until the color changes from white to about golden brown. Pour the potatoes and keep them in a large bowl for the later stages of cooking. Do not drain the remaining ghee from the pan.
Now pour the grated onions (for more information on how to chop and grate onions and impress your date check this course out), bay leaves, asafetida, ginger garlic paste into the pan and stir fry the mixture until you start seeing a change in color. Once the color becomes about deep brown pour the dry masala, which was blended and kept away, into it. Stir it for about 2-4 minutes until the masala is completely uniform and mixed with the onions, bay leaves, asafetida and the ginger garlic paste. Now add the turmeric powder, chili powder and some salt per taste. Let it simmer for a few more minutes.
The smell at this point will be indescribable. However if you are skeptical at this point as to the counter effects of all that spices here is something that will make you feel a lot easier.
The milk and the yoghurt now goes in. This ingredients, especially the yogurt, works like a counter balance for the heat and the spices that were poured earlier into the cooking process. It will also add the much needed water to the whole package at this time. A few more minutes and the gravy of the dum aloo starts to take color. If you want it to be too thick then add only a little water or else add some more after this step.
You must be wondering whatever happened to the aloo of the dum aloo? Well that comes now. After this cover the pan with the lid and let it cook under pressure for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove the lid after that and dig a potato with a spoon or fork to check if it is cooked properly and is soft. You are almost done. The finally touch is to garnish the dish with freshly chopped coriander leaves and then serve hot with tandoori roti or nun (both forms of bread).
Although traditionally taken with bread of different sub-continental types, this dish is also popular with the rice eating communities of the country. If you prefer you can switch an ingredient and or combine flavors by replacing something that is locally available to you. Switch up the flavor to your liking and you will find that you are still able to deliver a gourmet meal. If you enjoyed reading the process to prepare the above Indian dishes, we recommend that you continue to practice and learn, and of course, receive feedback from family, friends and dates.