NunChai – Kashmiri Green Tea

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So you know if you are a non-Kashmiri,  in Kashmir, and you say, ah I’d love a cup of tea – chances are you’ll end up with this beautiful pinky-mauve brew. Take a sip, and if you have never had it before, you’ll probably be taken aback when you realise that this beautiful pink tea has salt, not sugar in it. And then the confusion on your face will give you away, and your Kashmiri host will tut tut and say, you should’ve said you want Lipton tea! *Oh but I don’t mind what brand it is, as long as it’s, you know, TEA*, you might want to say, but don’t. Seriously.

Quick tea-history lesson. Turns out chai was not a very popular beverage in the Indian subcontinent right up till the early twentieth century. People were more in to their lassi (yoghurt, water, salt or sugar, all churned together) and chhaach (butter milk), and doodh (milk). Place is so hot, makes sense for people to have preferred cold hydrating drinks to hot caffeinated stuff. Turns out it was the British who popularised tea drinking in India.

The himalayan mountain settlements were always another story though. Wherever you go along the Northern Himalayas you will find people have been drinking one or another version of this salt tea for ages.

In Kashmir, chai is essentially this beautiful salty pink tea. Anything else is called *Lipton chai* because Lipton was the first brand of tea that came along selling their chai to our towns and villages. Classic first mover advantage.

So anyway – I have over the years received so many messages asking for a foolproof nun-chai recipe that I recently did a poll on my Instagram account on whether I should or shouldn’t. And 5% of you, who voted *NO*, go away, this is not for you. Hah.

It’s a bit of an art, making the perfect cup of nunchai – the colour, the consistency, the flavour. And to be honest I have only figured it out quite recently. As in I could always make nunchai, but it was a bit hit and miss – great some days, not so much on others. But I think I’ve finally cracked it. *Kottar rathh hish* – every single time (for those of you who don’t understand Kashmiri, we use some interesting metaphors – always remind me of the metaphysical poets – this here means *just like pigeon-blood*. Don’t ask me how we know what that’s even supposed to look like, but hey John Donne would’ve been proud.)

This recipe will make around 3-4 mugs full.

Shall we?

Ingredients:

4-5 heaped teaspoons of Kashmiri chai – this is essentially a green tea.

4-5 pinches of soda bicarbonate – this is your magic ingredient here. Too little and your tea will be a pale pasty failure. Too much and it’ll be too bitter. So you have to get this just right. (Say hello to Goldilocks, will you.)

Salt – to taste, obviously.

1-2 cups milk – I always use full fat organic. The creamier the milk the richer, lovelier your nunchai will be. In Kashmir we often add a spoonful of malai (which is essentially the layer of fat that settles on top when you boil and then cool milk) to our steaming mugs of nunchai. Pure bliss. Sigh.

Water

Method:

There are two ways we can do this –

Traditionally this tea is brewed for a very very long time, to get the colour, flavour, etc just right – so what you do is you put your tea leaves and soda bicarb into a saucepan, then add a whole lot of water to begin with and bring it to boil on a high heat, and reduce the heat a bit, and then – let it boil, let it boil, let it boil (what? It *is* nearly Christmas!) till the water’s all but gone, and then you add another lot of water, and so and so forth till you get the brew you’re looking for. This method is fab, but does take forever.

The second method is quicker, but we start in exactly the same way – take your tea leaves and soda bicarb, and put them into a saucepan. But instead of adding a whole lot of water, pour just enough water to cover all the tea leaves, and then just a bit more, but not too much. Bring to boil on a high heat. And keep boiling it till the water’s all but gone. The add another little bit of water, boil it all down. After about 15-20 mins of doing this, you should be able to see a deep purple colour in your pan. You are basically done with the *tyotth* – which is what we call the base to which we then add water, milk and salt to turn it into nunchai. But the longer you boil it for, after this point, adding more water, as and when required, the deeper, more intense your nunchai flavour will be. So if you have time I would strongly recommend not rushing this step too much.

Once you are happy with the colour, consistency of your brew, boil it down, till very little water is left. To this then add about 2-3 cups of water, 1-2 cups of milk, and salt. Have a little taste to see if it needs more milk, more salt – and that is it, basically. Bring it all back to boil. Let it boil for a minute or two to make sure the salt is all mixed up, and you’re good to go.

Some will say, ah be sure to strain the tea leaves out when your pour your nunchai into your dainty little cups. I say, hah.

And if you are somewhere were they sell Kashmiri breads, I do not like you, don’t tell me. If like me you are far far away from a kandur – well then, homemade puffs are you best friend!

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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.

Best Spiced (Christmas) Porridge Ever

Oh my god this is seriously the best porridge I’ve ever made, or eaten. And given my forever, unending love for porridge, and the sheer amount of the stuff I eat, that is saying something. In fact that is saying A LOT. Slightly seasonal this, with cinnamon, nutmeg and/ or mixed spice. I added extra dates for garnish but you could make it even more christmassy with dried cranberries, if you like those.

Okay, so, without further ado, let’s do do do. (Or Ho Ho Ho. Ahem. Merry christmas y’all :).)

Ingredients:

(Serves one by the way. Me. Obviously.)

1/2 cup of rolled oats. I use organic jumbo oats – lots more texture, flavour etc, but any kind of rolled oats work. (I have to admit I do not like the ready-in-two-minutes- quick-oats though *oats-snob-alert* HoHoHo.)

Half an apple. Cored. Grated. Or could chop it up quite fine and that would work also.

Half a carrot. Grated.

3 dates. Pitted.

1 teaspoon of almond butter.

1 teaspoon of coconut oil.

1 cup of water.

1/2 cup of almond milk.

Spices:

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg powder. (Of course freshly grated nutmeg is what you really want, but I didn’t have any at hand, and the powder worked pretty well.)

Pinch or two of mixed spice (optional).

 

Method:

So basically all you do is put your oats, water, almond milk, carrot, apple and 2 of the 3 dates into a saucepan, give it a good mix and cook it on a low to medium flame for about 8-10 minutes till its all lovely and gooey and porridge-y. Remember the more you stir, the creamier your porridge will be, so don’t be shy.

Once your porridge is ready. Take it off the heat and add your almond butter and coconut oil to the saucepan and give it a good stir till everything is nicely mixed together. The almond butter and coconut oil take this porridge to another level altogether. The creaminess is plain ridiculous. Anyway, time to put your spices in, and stir some more. By this point your kitchen actually smells like “’tis the season to be jolly!” Truly.

Now, pour your porridge into your serving bowl. And go crazy with the toppings! I used sliced apples, dates, almonds and toasted coconut flakes. But hey, whatever you fancy!

Christmas for breakfast. In a bowl. And so good for you, its not even funny. SoMuchWin.