As someone who comes from the very warm and humid southern part of India, the northern parts of India closer to the Himalayas and the North Eastern states of India always seemed like a whole different world when I was a child.
If you are Indian, or have ever been to India, you would know that every state of India is almost like a country in itself with its own language (and script sometimes), distinctive food and other traditions. Think of an Indian Union, along the lines of the European Union, and you have an idea of what I’m talking about!
As far back as I can remember, Kashmir was my ultimate dream destination. Having lived in tropical countries throughout my life, the cool temperate climate of Kashmir seemed (and still does) exotic to say the least.
Who could resist the magic of all those pictures in magazines which showed you long stretches of snow-capped mountains, lush green pine trees and the golden yellow-reddish chinar trees in auutumn, gorgeous houseboats on a mirror-like Dal Lake, lovely contented and welcoming faces, exotic fruit like apples and apricots (remember we didn’t get these in the south in those days!), beautiful purple saffron fields, and more? So, if there was one place I wanted to visit, it was Kashmir. Now I am older, I have more places on my “dream destination list”, and Kashmir is still very much there.
Unfortunately for its people, as everyone knows, the situation in Kashmir is not exactly described by “happy” anymore. Hopefully, all concerned powers that be shall put aside personal criteria and work towards a solution that ensures peace in the Kashmir Valley. Easier said than done, but Kashmir is still a dream destination for me until fate intervenes and makes it a reality.
Kashmiri cuisine is mostly meat based, though you can find vegetarian food too though perhaps not in such great variety as in other parts of India. Traditionally, their vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) food includes locally grown vegetables and fruit like spinach or greens (haak), turnips, lotus stem (nadir), aubergine/ eggplant, plums, apricots, green apples, etc.
Kashmiri cuisine is different from that of its neighbouring north Indian states not only because of its geography, but also by Persian, Afghani and Central Asian influences. It can be broadly divided into the Hindu Kashmiri Pandit style of cooking and the Muslim style of cooking. The famed Kashmiri Wazwan is supposed to be a gourmet experience.
The Wazwan is a multi-course ritualistic meal, mostly meat based, cooked by specially trained “wazas (cooks/ chefs) for festive and celebratory occasions. Kashmiri Muslim cooking is essentially non vegetarian whereas Hindu cooking includes quite a bit of vegetarian food.
Kashmiri cooking uses a wide range of Indian spices including cinnamon, saffron, cloves and cardamom. Unlike other Indian cuisines which tend to be largely rice-centric or wheat-centric, both rice and wheat are important in Kashmiri cuisine.
A vegetarian reviewing a cookbook that is about 2/3rds non-vegetarian is perhaps not a very complete exercise, but I believe each chapter of a book is representative of the whole book.
Sarla Razdan**’s book is a collection of over 150 traditional Kashmiri recipes aimed, most of which are easy enough to cook. She starts the book by taking us through memories of her childhood of growing up in Kashmir and explaining what Kashmiri cuisine is all about.
Presented in a very visually attractive manner, the book has plenty of colourful photographs throughout giving the reader a sense of the beauty and essence of Kashmir from the past through the present. If you enjoy photography you will especially appreciate not just the colourful photographs, but also the black and white ones that give us glimpses of a by-gone era.
The book starts with a chapter titled “Basic Preparations” which includes how to make the masalas used in Kashmiri cooking. The recipes in the book are grouped under chapters on Snacks, Lamb, Chicken Fish, Vegetarian, Rice Bread, Chutneys Pickles, Desserts and Low Calorie Recipes. The recipes are presented in clear and concise manner and are simple enough to follow. Ingredients measurements are given in cups, weight and volume, so there’s no need to worry about converting from one to the other.
The vegetarian recipes in the book seem to mostly feature aubergine, turnips and lotus stems which seems typical of Kashmiri cuisine. This book has some unusual pickles and chutneys like Apricot Pickle, Dried Red Chilli Pickle and chutneys made from walnuts, pomegranate and fried radish!
The chapter on Desserts is quite minimal but I understand that Kashmiri cuisine is not big on desserts per se though Kashmiris do like sweets. The chapter does include the famed Kashmiri Kehwa (green tea) and Sheer Chai (a salty pink tea also called Nun Chai)
I was a bit disappointed in the chapter on Rice Breads. The author has only one recipe for bread, Roth (a sort of dry fruit bread/ cake) listed in this chapter. I was expecting to see flatbreads like the Kashmiri roti (a flatbread flavoured with cumin, fennel, black pepper, asafoetida, etc.), Khameeri Roti (a sweet yeasted flatbread), Tsot (a breakfast bread), Kulchas, Girda (a Naan-like bread), Lavasa (raisin and nut bread), Sheermal (a saffron flavoured Naan-like bread)
Sarla Razdan, a cooking enthusiast, was born in Srinagar (Kashmir). Following her journalist husband as far as New York and London, she has also had the opportunity to entertain at her table celebrities like the former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, singer Lata Mangeshkar, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actor Sunil Dutt, to mention a few.
(Band Gupi T’ Tamatar)
I chose to try out her low calorie recipes for the popular Chaman Kaliya ((Paneer/ Indian Milk Cheese In Yellow
Gravy) and the Band Gupi T’ Tamatar (Cabbage Cooked With Tomatoes) which I served for lunch with home-made naan.
Its not very easy to go wrong with paneer and the Chaman Kaliya is no exception. I’m sure the richer version tastes even better, though I found the Cabbage-Tomato preparation not quite to my taste, though I could possibly get used to it with time. I’m willing to concede that this is probably because I found the spice combination (Kashmiri Ver Masala With Asafetida) a little unusual.
If you would like the traditional and richer version of Chaman Kaliya, you can find it on page 91 of her book. Here I’m reproducing her low calorie version of this recipe.