Kashmiri Cuisine

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Last Updated on May 20, 2015 by Chef Mireille

I came across a very interesting paper I had written when I was in culinary school on Kashmiri culture and cuisine. Here are some excerpts from it to give you some insight into this distinct, regional cuisine of India, as well as cultural eating traditions. Don’t forget to check out my delicious recipe for Rogan Josh, the state dish of Kashmir!!

Indian food is very popular. Anywhere you go in America now, even small towns, Indian restaurants are found. While this is true, most of the food presented in these generic Indian restaurants, is Punjabi food, from the Indian state of Punjab. However, Indian food is very regional from the hot curries of Goa to the sweet curries of Gujerat. Only restaurants that advertise regional Indian cuisine, can dishes like Kashmiri Rogan Josh and Dum Aloo be found on the menu, usually in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Kashmir is unique because they eat rice with their meals, eventhough most North Indians eat bread. Most Indians eat meat as a side dish, not the main course. Not more than 2-3 ounces of meat are usually eaten at a meal. This is not the case for Kashmiris. Kashmiris eat a lot of meat. Most people who belong to the (very small population in recent years due to struggles with the Islamic mujahideen) Pandit class of Hindus are vegetarians. Kashmiris are not. Their meat of preference is lamb. Their meals consist of a meat course, rice, dahl and a vegetable course. Also, chutneys and pickles are used as condiments, as well as raita (yogurt, sometimes made with cucumber or herbs). These pickles are pickled fruits and vegetables that are made at home. They are generally pickled with mustard seeds, mustard oil, Kashmiri chilies, coriander, mint and other spices. European style breads or bagels are eaten for breakfast with these pickles.

One of the unique aspects of Kashmiri cuisine are the breads they eat. While the rest of India eats mostly flatbreads cooked on stovetop griddles at home, Kashmiris eat yeast risen breads cooked in the oven and are store bought. Even if they do not use yeast, some kind of leavening agent is always used. They even eat bagels. Nan, the Indian bread famous in New York restaurants, is eaten often in Kashmir. The making of this bread requires an expensive Tandoor oven, which most people cannot afford. Bread making is considered an art and those who make bread, prosper in Kashmir. Nan, as well as other breads, are store bought.
India is divided into tea and coffee states. Kashmir is a tea state, as are most North Indian states and Kashmir is famous for its tea. The tea that they drink is called kahwah and it is a spiced tea made with green tea, saffron, cardamom and almonds. The people of Kashmir use a samovar to brew their tea, although their samovars are more ornate in design than the Russians. The design is more Chinese. The Kashmiri samovars are a fusion of these two cultures that left its mark in Kashmir, Russian and Chinese.
The thickening agents used in Kashmiri cuisine are coconut milk, ground nuts (especially almonds, which grow in abundance in Kashmir) and yogurt, which comes from Turkish cuisine. The fats used in Kashmiri cuisine are ghee, a type of clarified butter, and mustard oil. In previous times, ghee was the only cooking fat that was used. Due to medical advances and the knowledge of the high cholesterol content in ghee, oil is used more often in modern times.
Washing of hands before meals is very important in both Hindu and Muslim homes. People generally eat, sitting on the floor. Meals are eaten in relative silence. Each person eats from their own plate. People do not share food, once it has been in someone’s plate. People eat from a thali, a large round plate, traditionally made of brass or bronze. In modern times, it is made of stainless steel. This plate has high sides to accommodate much sauce in the curries. A curry is a blend of spices, which is included in all Kashmiri food. People drink water with their meals.
Traditionally, cooking was done on a dan, an oblong clay oven about a foot and a half tall, fueled by firewood. Gas stoves are more often used today. Food is most often cooked in clay pots, by Hindus. Muslims prefer tinned brass pots to cook all of their meals. Pots are round bottomed, to make stirring often easy, which is required in stewing.
The Hindu cuisine is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine, ancient texts on maintaining health, dating back to 1000 BC. These texts dictate how to eat and live to maintain physical and mental health. The human body consists of three biological humors – Vata (wind – breathing and the heart beat), Pitta (fire – digestion and the ability to comprehend) and Kapha (phlegm – holds things together). Ayurvedic medicine believes that the right balance of these humors is necessary to prevent disease. There should be a balance of sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent in all foods. The primary cooking method of most Indian food in general, is stewing. This lends itself to incorporating all these flavors. All the different spices and additives can be added to the sauce the meat or vegetable is stewing in and they blend together to create unique flavors, with nothing overpowering.
The Wazwan is Kashmir’s formal banquet meal. This is an elaborate dinner, prepared for special occasions like weddings. This is a Muslim tradition with recipes passed down from generation to generation. Even today, these meals are still prepared in open air kitchens, on traditional dan’s. The chef is known as the waza. People are seated in groups of four, on the floor. The meal begins with the ritual of washing hands with warm water poured from a samovar. Up to 35 dishes may be served, with only 2 of them being vegetarian. If any more vegetarian dishes were served, the hosts would be considered cheap. The dishes will vary but some are a must – Rogan Josh (lamb stew), Dum Aloo (potato curry), Rista (lamb meatball) and the last dish will always be Gushtaba (a light meatball cooked in a yogurt based sauce) which is considered a delicacy and is never refused.

No dish more represents Kashmir with its abundance of readily available spices than it’s state dish:

Rogan Josh (Kashmiri Lamb Curry)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
4 cloves
4 peppercorns
1 inch cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, seeds only
1 tablespoon coconut, grated
1 tablespoon almonds, ground
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon onion seeds (aka Nigella)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
3 bay leaves
4 1/2 cups lamb, boned, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
salt, to taste
1 cup tomatoes, canned
2/3 cup plain, natural yogurt (Greek yogurt is the best to use in these recipes)
1 green bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garam masala, garnish
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped, garnish
1 small green chile, chopped, garnish
1 – Heat a frying pan on medium heat and roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and cardamom seeds until golden brown. Leave to cool and then grind to a powder.
2 – Heat a frying pan on medium heat and roast the coconut, almonds, mace and nutmeg until light brown.
3 – Heat the ghee or oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat. Fry the onion seeds for 30 seconds. Put in the onion, garlic, ginger and the bay leaves and fry until golden brown. Mix in the meat pieces and fry for 5 minutes.
4 – Stir in the red chili, turmeric, salt and the roasted ingredients, then the tomatoes and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the ghee appears on the surface of the mixture. Add the yogurt and cook again until all the liquid has reduced.
5 – Add the water and green pepper and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
6 – Add lemon juice and sugar and cook for 1 minute.
7 – Sprinkle over the garnish before serving.

Chef Mireille

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