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A Kashmiri Tale – “Cook Me A Tale”

Bindiya Singh
Written by Bindiya Singh

This post is for my parents – my dad who was almost a Kashmiri himself, been born and brought up in Srinagar, (may his soul rest in peace), and for my mother, because of whom I am what I am today.

Most of my ancestors had lived for some time or the other in the Kashmir Valley, and as long as I can remember- despite being a typically Punjabi family, Kashmiri cuisine had firmly interwoven itself in the weft and warp of our lives. I made Kashmiri Dhaniwal Korma for the first time when I was 11yrs old! 

As a child I remember, there used to be lavish parties thrown by my mother, who is an extremely gifted cook herself, and for some very special guests “WAZWAN” was prepared. Let me give you a little introduction about Wazwan, it is a unique concept and means “WAZ” – the chef person with the rare culinary skills passed on through generations, an artist who is obsessively and passionately involved with his art and who is one of the privileged few flag bearers of this great Kashmiri tradition. “WAN” is the shop with the abundant supplies of meats and delicacies

My mother learnt much of Kashmiri Cuisine from the “VASTA WAZA” (head-chef) who is assisted by a court of waza’s, the title conferred on a chosen few after years of apprenticeship.

The traditional Wazwan consists of 36 courses, each dish has its own tradition and brings to mind- memories of momentous events and of special occasions.

Thus the Wazwan is not a simple meal but a ceremony, first the “TASHT-NARI” is passed around so that you can wash your hands, and it would be sacrilege to use anything but your fingers to eat this meal.

Samovar Kashmir

A Samovar

People sit in fours to eat this meal, which is considered auspicious, I remember being a part of this meal a number of times. A large plate called “TARAMI” is used (my mom has a collection of these as well as of samovar’s), which is heaped with rice and the first few courses, each successive course follows separately to allow you to savour the distinct flavors.

The cuisine of Kashmir has evolved over hundreds of years, the major influence was of Kashmiri pandits -who use a lot of yogurt and turmeric and no onions or garlic, food is mainly cooked in mustard oil. The typical Kashmiri dishes are-

  • Chaman qaliya(cottage-cheese squares in gravy)
  • Dum Oluv(potatoes cooked in yogurt gravy)
  • Nadir Yakhn(lotus stem in a delicate yogurt sauce)
  • Hak (with nadir/vangan)(a local variety of greens)
  • Nadir Palak(lotus stem with spinach)
  • Mujh Chetin(a sharp radish and walnut chutney)
  • Rista(meatballs in a fiery red gravy)
  • Rogan Josh(tender lamb cooked with kashmiri spices) and so on.

Phirni is the dessert served at the end of the meal, a delicious preparation of rice flour and milk, the entire meal is washed down with “KEHVA” served in the “SAMOVAR” – green tea flavored with spices and served with slivered almonds in it, truly warming!

To date, all of the above dishes are prepared in my mom’s and uncle’s home

Here I am sharing with you all the recipe of my favourite DHANIWAL KORMA which I learnt to cook at such a tender age!

Kashmiri Dhaniwal Korma

Ingredients-

  • Leg of lamb- 1/2 kg (washed and cut into pieces)
  • Pure desighee- 1/2 cup
  • Yogurt- 1 cup
  • Turmeric- 1/2 teaspoon
  • Coriander powder-1 tsp.
  • Black pepper powder- 1/2 tsp.
  • Cloves- 3-4
  • Green cardamoms- 3-4
  • Saffron (zafran)- 1/4 tsp.
  • Onion- 1/2 cup (pureed)
  • Garlic- 1 tsp (ground)
  • Salt to taste
  • Cayenne pepper (deggi mirch)-1/2 tsp
  • Fresh coriander leaves- a handful

Method-

Heat ghee in a heavy bottom pan and add the onion and  the garlic and fry till onion turns golden brown , at this stage add the yogurt and all the spices (masalas) and fry very well till ghee separates, now add the lamb pieces and cook on a slow flame stirring frequently. The authentic recipe now calls for the mutton to be cooked, by adding hot water as required till it is tender (will take at least an hour or more), for all of us hard pressed for time, can make use of the pressure cooker, simply add 3/4 cup HOT water to the cooker, tip in the lamb which has been previously cooking in the yogurt mixture and give 5-6 whistles, let pressure drop by itself, garnish with coriander leaves, serve hot with fragrant basmati rice or chapattis/ Naans.

About the author

Bindiya Singh

Bindiya Singh

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