Kashmiri Spring Greens – Tchatte Haakh

So if you had to pick one dish that you would then have to eat everyday, what would it be? Yep. One dish. Every single day. I know the first thing that’ll probably come to your mind is probably something elaborate and beautiful and rich – ristas! biryani! korma! – yes? But every day? Forever? I think we forget that we love some of these dishes so much precisely because we eat them only occasionally. I mean the first wazwan of the season is *OHMYGOD YES*, but pretty soon we are all dying and cannot beat the thought of any more (yes, even tabakh maaz). No?

So, coming back to my original question – my dad says that he thinks the food of paradise will comprise of the following : white rice, tchhatte haakh, yoghurt. And I think he’s got something there. Something you’d happily eat every single day. Forever even. And that just tells you something about the joy and comfort of haakh for Kashmiris.

Tchhatte haakh is the simplest thing in the world and yet so hard to get right. Not everyone can take a bunch of spring greens and turn them in to this beautiful, bright green love fest. And the truth is no one makes better tchhatte haakh than my mum. It’s taken me years of practice, even when using her recipe, to come to a point where it actually works – it’s green, fresh, flavoured delicately and minimally with fresh green chillies and garlic. Thing of absolute beauty. Promise.

And If you are not Kashmiri, this recipe will change the way you look at your spring greens, forever. Promise.

Okay then, now that we’ve used words like forever and promise and eternal in a recipe for haakh, let’s get to it, shall we?

Ingredients:

400 gms of Spring Greens – you want baby spring greens, easier to cook –

3-4 Green chillies

2-3 fat cloves of garlic

Salt

Oil

Method:

So first of all, you need to prep your greens. Break stems off the bulb, put them in a colander and wash thoroughly. You are not going to chop the leaves, just roughly tear them up in to 2/3 bits, depending on how big the leaves are.

Next, take a big wide thick bottomed pan and fill it with water. Bring this to boil. What you are going to do is blanch your greens. So as soon as the water comes to a rolling boil add the greens pushing them in to the water. Now wait till the pan comes to a boil again. And then count to, let’s say, 11, shall we? Turn the heat off, drain the greens immediately, and run under cold water. And then drain again. This step right here will make or break your haakh. If you do this right your haakh will stay a beautiful vibrant green. If you dont, well, good luck with your khaaki haakh. Hah.

Now in another pan heat some oil up. To this add your blanched greens, little by little. Once all in, add the cloves of garlic and green chillies. The greens will be wet, so there will be a bit of water in the pan already, add a bit more, and cook on a high flame for a few minutes, then turn the flame right down, cover and cook till the greens are melt in your mouth tender – with spring greens this is usually 10 mins or so, sometimes less.

There, you are done. All you now need is a plateful of fluffy white rice, and a bowl of homemade yoghurt. Paradise. Right in front of you.

Sea bass with ginger and garlic.

So you know the way Kashmiris cook fish is pretty epic – chunks of fresh water fish, trout is a favourite,  are deep fried, then layered in a deep pan, with various seasonal vegetables, and a spice mix, and then the whole thing is cooked on slow heat for hours, sometimes even overnight – and obviously the way it tastes is even more epic – the fish is melt in your mouth tender and the vegetables have this other-worldly flavour that is impossible to describe. Sorry to lead you on a bit, but this is not a post about Kashmiri fish. What? Did you not read the title?

What I’m trying to say is that my fish-standards are pretty high. But this recipe, right here, lives up to even those. Add to this the fact that this recipe does not take hours, and is in fact one of the quickest, easiest ways to get a super delicious, healthy dinner on to the table in less than half an hour. Yep. Winner.

Prepare to be amazed.

Ingredients:

4 SeaBass fillets – you could use the whole fish cut up in to pieces, but the fillets are easier to cook, and lets face it no bones = easier to eat.

2-3 small shallots – sliced thinly

3-4 fat cloves of garlic – finely chopped

1 inch piece of fresh ginger – julliened

4-5 stems of spring onions – chopped

1 green chilli – more if you’d like it hotter of course – deseeded and chopped

Dash of soy sauce

Salt and pepper

Oil

Method:

So this is easy peasy. Take your fillets, wash and scale them (fillets are usually scaled but hello I am Kashmiri – no point cooking fish unless you scale it. Hah). Next with a small sharp knife score your fillets. Then season them generously with salt and pepper – both sides.

Next what you want to do is heat up a frying pan. Once it’s hot, add some oil, not too much, but enough to cover the pan. In to this add your fish fillets, skin side down. You might have to do this in batches, depending on how big your pan is.

This will splutter a bit, so be aware of that. This fish cooks quite quickly, but don’t be tempted to flip it to the other side too soon. Let it cook on the skin side for a good 5-7 minutes, maybe even longer depending on how hot your flame is. Once the skin is nice and crisp flip over, carefully, to the other side and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Once the fish is cooked, take the fish out – carefully because you really don’t want to break it now, do you – and transfer it to the serving dish (cover with foil to keep in warm).

Now, in to the same pan add your shallots, and fry till soft and translucent. To this add your garlic and ginger, and the green chillies – make sure the flame is high so you get a nice sizzle on. Once the garlic starts changing colour – 2-3 minutes – bring the flame right down and add the spring onions. As soon as the spring onions heat through turn the flame off and then add a dash of soy sauce to the pan. Give everything a little stir and pour all over your waiting fish.

That. Is It. Really.

You can, if you want garnish with a bit of coriander, but you really don’t need to. This is so yummy that there have been times when it has been eaten straight out of the serving dish. But if your self control is better than mine, ahem, this is beautiful served with white rice, or if you are watching those carbs even with a side of stir fried vegetables.

Tchoek vaangan/ Kashmiri khattey baingan/ Baby aubergines in a tamarind sauce

So usually one vegetable will have one name in one language, yes? In English a tomato, for example, is a tomato, a carrot is called a carrot, and an onion an onion.

Oh and then there are some that are called by two different names, in the same language, depending on where you are. When I first came to this country, for example, no one knew what I was talking about when I asked for capsicum, because here they call them peppers – green, red, yellow, orange. Coriander is apparently called cilantro in America etc.

And then there are aubergines. Or eggplants. Or brinjals. *eye roll*. For the longest time I thought these were all different varieties. And in as much as there are white/ yellow eggplants etc, maybe that’s true. In any case I’ve made my peace with all these names, though I have to say I prefer the Kashmiri “vaangan”.

And that brings me, quite neatly, to Kashmiri tchoek vaangan. These are baby aubergines cooked in a spicy tamarind sauce. No onions. No tomatoes. And in the Kashmiri Pandit version, no garlic.

Fun fact – most Kashmiri recipes don’t use tomatoes, because tomatoes came to the region after these brilliant recipes had already been perfected. Ahem.

Anyway.

This is one of those quintessential Kashmiri recipes – up there with RoghanJosh and Yakhni. There aren’t many purely vegetarian dishes that get Kashmiris going, but this is definitely one.

Mum’s recipe again, this. What I love about calling her up for recipes is how she assumes a certain level of knowledge. For this recipe, for example, I asked her at the very end, “so no garlic? Or ginger powder?” And she goes, “tch of course you put garlic with the haldi/ mirch. And ginger powder at the end.” 🙄😊

She’s the best ❤.

Should we get to it then?

Ingredients –

1 kilo of baby aubergines. Washed. The idea is to leave the stems on, and cut them lengthwise twice, so you have four long slices, still attached at the stem. Easier than it sounds. Believe me.

2-3 fat cloves of garlic. Crushed.

About 1-2 teaspoons of tamarind. You can use fresh whole tamarind, dried, paste, all work. You can substitute this with lemon/ lime juice, even vinegar. This is where the tartness comes from.

Whole spices –
2-3 pods of black cardamoms
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

Ground spices –
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1-2 teaspoons of kashmiri red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger powder
1 teaspoon of ground fennel powder

Salt

Oil

Method:

So first of all you take a pan full of boiling water and drop your washed, slices aubergines in, just long enough for everything to come back to the boil. Then using a sieve, or a colander, drain all the water out and let the aubergines dry a bit.

In another pan put your tamarind in with some water and bring to boil. Then simmer and cook till the pulp separates from the stones and you have a fairly homogeneous tamarind-water. Sieve to get rid of the stones and skins, and set aside.

Next heat a generous amount of oil in a thick bottomed wide pan. In to this add your blanched, drained aubergines, in a single layer. You’re basically trying to deep fry them, on all sides, without actually deep frying them, and making sure they don’t break in the process, so go easy with the stirring. Once you’re happy with your aubergines take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Now in the same pan add your cumin, Kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric, and garlic. In the Kashmiri Pandit version of this garlic is substituted with asafoetida. Fry everything together till fragrant – 2-3 minutes, then add a little of the tamarind water and cook it down, then do this again, and one more time, till you’ve used up all your tamarind water.

Now return your aubergines to the pan, making sure to coat them in the sauce. Add some water, not too much, because the idea is to cook it all down without turning the aubergines in to a pulp. To this then add the black cardamoms, cassia/ cinnamon, fennel and ginger powders. Salt to taste. Stir everything in. Bring it all to boil. Cover. Simmer, till the water is all gone and your aubergines and soft and cooked through. A bit of coriander to garnish, if you like, and you’re done.

This is served with, yep, lots of white fluffy rice. Usually alongside at least one meat dish. But it’s okay, you focus on the aubergines. Ahem.

 

Green Beet Smoothie

So you know I’m a bit smoothie obsessed these days. And really if it isn’t green it isn’t super. You do the usual spinach, kale, Spring greens thing. And then you get a bit bored of the lovely, but same-old smoothies. So, in honour of Saturday I decided to shake things up a bit.

What are your thoughts on black cabbage? I confess I’d never even heard of it till yesterday. Turns out its Kale’s Italian cousin. All the goodness of Kale, slightly bitter and peppery. What’s not to love! (Having said that if you’re not of the *the-bitterer-the-better* school of thought, maybe just substitute black cabbage with regular kale. Yes? Good.)

Oh and beetroot, which is what gives this smoothie it’s lovely purple colour. Anyway let’s get to it then.

Ingredients:

1-2 leaves of black cabbage.

3-4 leaves of heart of lettuce.

Handful of coriander.

1 clementine.

Half a beetroot.

1/4 of a cucumber.

1 red raddish.

1 banana.

About an inch of ginger.

Half an inch of fresh turmeric.

2 Mejdool dates.

1/2 a cup of fresh/frozen strawberries.

3 walnuts.

4 cashews.

Method:

So basically all you do is prepare your ingredients – wash everything, peel, remove shells, stones – put everything in your blender, top up with water, and blend. And voilà, one super-green-purple-smoothie!

 

 

Best Ever Granola

So here’s the thing about breakfast cereals: I do not like them. At all. Not one little bit. Why? Well. They taste awful. Very little nutrition. And really not all that good for you either. In fact with most breakfast cereals all you can really taste is the sugar. (And cardboard?) In my mind, the worst, unhealthiest breakfast you can think of is still better than most ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But – and if you are a time-strapped-working-parent this is a very very significant but – oh but the convenience of it! You open a box, pour a portion out into a bowl, add milk/ yoghurt, and within 30 seconds you’ve got breakfast on the table. But – yup another but – my point is this need not be and either/or proposition. In one word – GRANOLA. Yup. Make it at home and you get to control exactly what goes in, so you can make it as healthy or as naughty as you want knowing that even the naughtiest granola you make at home is going to be only a gazillion times better than your boxed cereals. Win-win, I say.

(I like my granola crunchy and not too sweet, but you can up the sweetness by adding an extra dash of honey if thats what rocks your boat.)

So, here we go.

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil.

3-4 tablespoons of agave nectar.

2-3 tablespoons of honey.

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

300g rolled oats.

125g of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed).

100g of nuts (I used pecans this time, but you could used chopped almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew – or even a mixture of some or all of these).

50g of desiccated coconut.

100g of dried fruit (I don’t really like dried fruit in this, but it can be done and works quite well. You could use dried berries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, whatever tickles your fancy.)

 

Method:

This is the easiest thing to make. In the Universe. Really. All you need to do is pre-heat your oven to 150C, which is 130C with fan, prepare two baking sheets/trays, and find yourself a big mixing bowl. Into the bowl add the oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla, and mix. Tip in all the other ingredients, except the coconut. Give everything a good strong stir or five.

Now pour the granola mix onto the two trays and spread it out into an even layer. Into the oven for about 20-25 minutes. At this point get your trays out, mix in the coconut and dried fruit, and put them back in for another 15-20 minutes. Get out of the oven and let it cool before having a taste. Oh well, at least try.

Once completely cooled, you can store this is an airtight container for up to a month. (Though I admit I’ll be shocked if it lasts that long in your kitchen. In mine its all gone in a week, at the most :).) Absolutely fantastic with cold milk, over yoghurt, or on its own. Breakfast on the table in 30 seconds. And with good carbs, good fats and protein, fabulously good for you. Yay.

So. What have we learnt today? The best breakfast cereal is the one you make at home. Yes? Good.