Kashmiri Fish with Vegetables – Gaade (with step by step pictures)

So, honestly, I have often wondered why Kashmiris don’t eat more fish. The place is full of fresh water lakes and rivers. Fresh water fish, everywhere. And given conclusive proof of what we can do with just one ingredient – umm, hello Wazwan? – I have always thought it strange that there is really only one traditional way to cook fish. Ah, but like my dad would say, why mess with perfection, why try and reinvent the wheel, etc..

Kashmiris cook lamb/ sheep pretty much everyday, yes? And in a million ways – with shallots, yoghurt, vegetables, lentils. So it’s not even a conversation. Everyday there will be *syun* with which to eat the *batte*. Batte – our word for rice, is also our word for lunch/ dinner/ a meal. And Syun – our word for what you eat the batte with – almost always some sort of lamb/ sheep dish. It is a rare day indeed when you ask someone that universal eternal question : *syun kyah chhuv ronmutt?* (which roughly translates to what have you cooked today?), and they say *gaade*! But if they do, uff, it’s your lucky day.

Kashmiri fish curry – for want of a better word – is like nothing you’ve ever eaten before. We only cook fish in the autumn/ winter/ early spring months. No one eats fish in the summers. If the name of the month doesn’t have an R in it, you don’t eat fish in it. It’s the law. What?

And Kashmiri fisherwomen really do deserve a post all to themselves. The sassiest, cheekiest, most beautiful women you’ll ever see. In their pherans, the daejj/ scarf hanging loosely on their heads, and that big basket full of fresh fish balanced expertly on a ring made of hay, (is it?), which I always thought was a crown. They do the rounds early morning, just after having caught the freshest fish from your nearest lake/ river.

*Gaade haa chho*.

And when you call them in, they’ll scale, gut and clean your fish right in front of your eyes.

But the thing is of course that I live in London. And the fish you get here in the supermarkets – well you can pick stuff that’s scaled, gutted even filleted. So easy. But where’re the fun in that, eh.

Anyway, I digress. This post is obviously about to make your day 100% better. Because this post will show you how make the most delicious fish. Ever.

Shall we?

Ingredients:

1 Kilo fish (any firm fleshed fish will do. In Kashmir it’s usually trout. I only had sea bass fillets to hand, so that’s what I used) – scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut into generous chunks

Vegetables

I have heard of this fish dish being cooked with 7 different vegetables in some parts of Kashmir. You can use one, some, or all of course. Here’s what I used:

3-4 White Radishes (mooli in Urdu/Hindi, mujje in Kashmiri) – scraped, washed and chopped in to 1/2 inch thick rounds. I used whatever leaves these had on as well.

3-4 Kohlrabis, and their greens (Kaddam in Urdu/Hindi, monjje in Kashmiri) – peeled, washed, chopped in to generous chunks

You could also use –

2-3 Lotus stems (Nadrus) – washed thoroughly, cut in to chunks

Spring greens (Haakh) – washed, roughly torn.

6-7 fat cloves of Garlic – crushed

3-4 Shallots – chopped

Whole Spices

4 Black Cardamom pods

1 inch Cassia stick

1-2 teaspoons of cumin seeds

1 teaspoons of fennel seeds

2-3 cloves

Ground Spices

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons of Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of ginger powder

Magic ingredient –

Kashmiri spice paste – this is called vaerr, and will take this, and every other dish you ever make, up several notches.

Salt

Oil

Method:

First of all what you need to do is take a thick bottomed pan – since we are essentially deep frying here, a kadhai/ wok will work best. Pour in a generous amount of oil, and make sure it is super hot, before adding your fish to the pan. Now remember we are deep frying the fish, in batches if necessary – don’t put everything is there all at once. Just don’t. Also be aware that this will splutter. A lot. So a splatter guard, or a plain old lid is critical. What you are trying to do is deep fry the fish till the pieces are a deep golden-reddish-brown, and the flesh is pretty firm. Using a slotted spoon take the fish out.

Now in to this same pan, add your sliced radish slices, and  fry them, not for too long, on both sides till they are slightly golden in colour. Again batch fry these, a few at a time, depending on how big your pan is. Use a slotted spoon to take them out and put them aside.

Now do the same with your kohlrabi chunks. Once these are sort of golden, take them out too.

Basically repeat this step with any and all of the veggies you are using. At the very end put the greens in and sizzle fry them for a few minutes.

At this stage you now have a variety of fried goodies looking lovingly at you. Sigh.

Next, you need to make the spice tempering. For this, look at the remaining oil in the pan – get rid of the excess, leaving just enough behind to make your masala tempering (you want the equivalent of about 5-7 tablespoons of oil).

In to this add your shallots. Fry till they’re soft and translucent. Add all your whole spices and fry for another couple of minutes till everything is nice and fragrant. Then add your crushed garlic, and fry for another minute or 3. Finally add all your ground spices and fry those for a bit. Turn the heat off.

If you have managed to find some vaerr and are feeling particularly brave then break a chunk off, put it in a bowl and pour a little boiling water on it. Use a spoon/ fork to sort of dissolve the vaerr in to a thin paste.

Now comes the funest part! Take a deep thick bottomed pan. And start of by arranging your fried radish slices all over the bottom. Top this off with a layer of fried fish. Then spoon some of the masala tempering all over. Then next layer – of the kohlrabi. Then the fish again. Then the spices. And so on and so forth till you’ve used all your goodies up. Except for the greens. The greens go right on top. Then pour the last of your masala. And then pour your vaerr paste all over.

Now all you need to do is add a bit of water. Say a cup or so, and put your pan on a high flame to bring everything to a boil. Oh and add salt to taste. At this stage cover and simmer, on as low a flame as you can, and let it cook for at least an hour. Huge deghs of fish would apparently be cooked overnight. But we’ll settle for an hour, eh.

That’s it you’re done. Serve with plenty of fluffy white rice. But remember, ideally you’ve got to let it cool down to room temperature before eating it. Oh and it ALWAYS tastes better the next day.

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Gogjje ti Maaz (Turnips with Lamb)

So you know I’m from Kashmir. Which means I know a lot of, you know, Kashmiris. Ahem. All sorts, really. Village folk. From the north. The south. City people.  Downtown-ians. Civil liners. Every single shade of the political spectrum. Ahem. They don’t always agree on things. They will sometimes slag each other off. In ways that are sometimes subtle, sometimes not. You know.

But what if I tell you there is one thing that is true of every single Kashmiri I know. Like, you know, all of them. What is it, you ask? Would you like to take a guess? No, we are not talking about politics. Ahem. (Yes, you’re probably right. Ahem.) They all *love* turnips. It’s true. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Even my 7 year old who’s more London-ian than Kashmiri. It’s in our DNA, obviously. What other explanation can there be. Ahem.

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Okay, so the point of all that was this : Turnips – On their own. Fresh. Dried. Amazing.

But Turnips with lamb – next level. Thing of beauty. And joy. Obviously.

Shall we?

Ingredients:

500 grams of lamb – this works with pretty much any cut. I used boneless chunks of leg because that’s what I had. A bit of bone will add lots to the flavour though.

7-8 medium turnips – pick the smaller ones out at the grocer’s, they’re sweeter and cook quicker.

2-3 small shallots, sliced

3-4 fat cloves of garlic (2 minced, 2 whole)

Whole spices:

2 black cardamom pods

5 green cardamom pods

1 inch piece of cinnamon/ cassia

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

Ground spices:

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of Kashmiri chili powder

Salt

Oil

Method:

Okay, so first things first – wash your meat and put it in a big enough thick bottomed pan. Add all your whole spices, 2 whole cloves of garlic, fennel powder, and salt. Pour enough water to cover everything, in to the pan. Bring to boil on a high heat, cover, and simmer. And do what we do with pretty much every single lamb recipe : forget about it for the next 1.5 to 2 hours, till the meat is super soft and tender.

Now while your lamb is going about its ah, tender business, here’s what you need to sort out : your turnips! Wash, peel and chop them in to chunks. Take another pan, heat it up and then add a good glug or two of oil. Once the oil is hot and shimmering add your turnips. Fry for a couple of minutes on high heat. Sprinkle of salt all over, cover, and bring the heat down to medium/low. What this will do is make the turnips sweat, and cook in their own juices. Once all the water has evaporated, turn the heat up and fry them for a couple of minutes. By this point your turnips should be changing colour. Beauties! Push them to one side of the pan – add shallots, fry them for a bit and then mix everything up. Next, do the same with your minced garlic. Fry everything together for a couple of minutes, and then add your turmeric and chili powders. Good old stir again. (You could take the turnips out of course, and then add the shallots/ garlic/ turmeric/ chili powder, and then return the turnips to the pan, but hey ho. Hah.)

So by this point if your lamb is all done all you need to do is add it to the turnips, bring everything back to boil, check for salt, cover, and cook on a medium/ low flame for another 10 minutes. If your lamb is still cooking, take the turnips off the heat and wait till your lamb is done before you do the whole mixing bit.

And that’s it. Every Kashmiri’s comfort/ soul/ love food. Promise.

(What will you serve this with? Let’s see. Hmmm. Ummm. I wonder. Hah.)

Hareesa/ Harrise (with step by step pictures)

What’s your winter morning nostalgia made of? Mine is very simple – a thick blanket of soft snow, a kanger tucked under a pheran, and a steaming hot plate of hareesa, with lavase and nunchai.

What is hareesa, you ask? Well, first of all it is *not* harissa – the lovely North African hot chilli pepper paste, which I’ve come to love, in spite of my epic disappointment when years ago someone mentioned harissa and brought this tiny little pot out, but that’s another story.

It is also *not* Haleem – the spicy stew made with meat, lentils and grains that’s popular in the Indian subcontinent.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what Hareesa (harisse in Kashmiri) is : a slow cooked dish of lean meat (lamb, mostly) mixed with either rice, or the thin Kashmiri flat bread lavasaa, and delicately flavoured with just a few spices. It is what winter morning dreams are made of. The kind of breakfast that sets you up for a freezing snowy day. It may not look like much but it really is a thing of pure joy.

This is my mum’s recipe, but it’s fairly universal.

Ingredients

1 kilo lamb – any lean cut will do, usually the leg, with a bit of bone works well. (Traditionally a whole leg of lamb will be chopped up in to a few big chunks for this recipe. I used a kilo of boneless leg because, well, that’s what I had, and it turned out super anyway.)

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed.

3-4 shallots, sliced thinly.

2 small (Lebanese) khobez breads. These are very similar to the Kashmiri lavase flatbreads, so work quite  well. You can use one cup of cooked rice instead of khobez, and that’ll make this recipe gluten free. I’ve even used a couple of slices of bread in a pinch. Not ideal, but not end of the world either.

Oil.

Salt.

Whole spices –

1 inch piece of cinnamon

4-5 pods of green cardamom

2 pods of black cardamom

2 cloves

2 teaspoons of fennel seeds

Method

This is a fairly easy and straightforward recipe. It does call for patience, and some good old fashioned stirring muscles though.

First of all wash the meat, and put it in a (preferably deep, thick bottomed) pan. Add enough water to cover the meat, and a bit more, and the garlic and bring to boil. Cover, simmer and cook for the next one/ one and a half hours till the meat falls off the bones.

At this stage you want to separate the bones and the meat. I like to take the meat out, and then strain the stock to make sure I don’t miss any bones. Then return the meat to the pan with the stock.

Now add all your whole spices, and keep cooking on a medium-low flame. Add the bread, and bring it all back to the boil.  Some folks like to soak the bread in a bit of water before adding it to the pan. Either way what you’re trying to do is make sure the bread sort of dissolves in to the meat/stock. Check for salt, and add some according to taste.

Now basically all you need to do is keep stirring, and grinding, and stirring till the hareesa gets to the right consistency. *Gass dyun* in Kashmiri. This is where you’ll benefit from the wonder that is the * choncha* – Kashmiri wooden cooking spoon – next level, folks!

Depending on your meat you might be stirring – not continuously, thank heavens – for the next hour or two. My dad has this fail proof test for whether the hareesa is done or not. So you try and pick a spoonful up and if you are able to do that without any strands of meat dangling off of your spoonful, then you’re done.

Once you’re done, all that’s left is the tempering. For this heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots till they are almost black. Using a slotted spoon, take them out of the pan and keep aside.

In the same frying pan heat up a generous amount of oil till its almost boiling. Pour this oil, very carefully, all over the hareesa.

Poems have been written on the lovely crackling sound the oil makes as it hits the meat, or at least poems should be written on that utterly beautiful *tchhirr*. Ahem. Anyway, I digress.

Give everything a good stir, making sure the oil is all mixed up with the hareesa. Fry for a few minutes. Take off the flame, and scatter fried shallots on top.

Traditionally hareesa is served topped with fried seekh kebabs, along with Kashmiri bread and nun chai.

You’re allowed to skip the kebab. Ahem.

You’re welcome.