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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Alle Yakhyin – Bottle Gourd in Yoghurt.

So if you are not from Kashmir, and if you have been following my blog, then you know by now, hopefully,  that when I say Yakhni, (or Yakhyin in Kashmiri) I do not mean what most people in North India/ Pakistan mean when they use that word. The north Indian Yakhni is basically a broth. The Kashmiri Yakhni is a mild, creamy, yoghurt-y base, used mostly to make the always amazing lamb yakhni, but – and here’s where it’s beauty lies – you can make a Yakhni with pretty much anything. Alle, or doodhi, or bottle gourd is a Kashmiri favourite to do the Yakhni magic on. Aubergines too. But let’s stick with Alle for the time.

I must confess, this was the first time in many many years that I bought alle, because, well, at first sight it isn’t the kind of vegetable that screams out to your imagination, is it? Oh and I have lived through enough excruciating North Indian summers (first in Ludhiana, then Delhi) to develop a sort of an exasperation, for lack of a better word, for any of the lauki/tinde/doodhi family of vegetables. (For those of you who don’t know, the summers are so so hot that nothing grows, and the only fresh vegetables you get for what seems like months and months are these – so by the time monsoon brings its rainbow coloured bounty, everyone is thoroughly sick of tinde ki sabzi. Fact.)

But if I go a little further back than my time in the north Indian plains, back to my childhood in Srinagar, alle – on their own, as a yakhni, with lamb – were much loved in my mum’s kitchen, and so good too.

So anyway, the point is I’m going to hopefully start doing more with these beauties.

Should we begin with the Yakhni? Good.

Ingredients:

For the Yakhni:

500 gms of Natural Greek Yoghurt

For the Alle (Bottle Gourd)

2-3 medium sized bottle gourds – scrape the skin off, split them lengthwise, get rid of the fluffy seedy bit inside, and then cut in to chunks.

3 small shallots, finely sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Oil

Whole Spices:

1 teaspoon of cumin

1/2 inch of cassia stick

1-2 black cardamoms

2-3 green cardamoms

Ground Spices:

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional -I don’t use any turmeric in any Yakhni, but you could if you want to)

1/2 teaspoon of fennel powder (optional)

Method:

So you know how to get the yoghurt cooked down for our Yakhni, dont you? (You dont! You havent read my original Yakhni post? For shame! Click. Now.) So let’s assume our yoghurt is all cooked down, and ready.

What you need to do next, is fairly simple. Take a wide, thick bottomed pan, and put it on a high flame. When the pan is hot add a good glug of oil. And when that is hot, add your bottle gourd chunks. Fry them for a few minutes on the same high flame, stirring gently. Then sprinkle a bit of salt all over them, cover and bring the heat down to medium. What this will do is make the bottle gourd chunks sweat. Let them cook in their own juices till everything is almost dry. Do check from time to time to make sure your alle are not getting scorched – you might have to adjust the heat accordingly. Now once the vegetables are all dry and you can see oil in the pan again, what you do is let them fry for a couple of minutes – it’ll all be fairly soft by now, so be careful not to turn it in to a blooming mash!

Next take the bottle gourd chunks out of the pan, in to a bowl. In to the same pan, add 2 of your sliced shallots, and fry them, on a medium flame,  till they are translucent and soft. Then add the crushed garlic, and fry it all together for a minute or so. Next put all your whole spices in, and fry them for a minute or two. Once the spices are nice and fragrant add your turmeric and fennel powders, if using them. Stir everything together. Now return the fried bottle gourd chunks to the pan, and stir carefully making surely all your chunks are coated with all those lovely spices. Fry everything together for a minute or two. To this then add, say about a cup of water, maybe a bit more depending. Mix everything up and bring it to boil on a high flame.

At this stage all you need to do is add your prepared Yakhni yoghurt reduction, and stir everything together. Check for salt.

This last step here is optional but will take this up a significant notch. Or ten. In a small frying pan heat up a tablespoon of oil. Add your one remaining sliced shallot, and fry on a high flame till the shallots are completely caramelised and almost black. Take your pan off the heat, and pour this tempering all over your Yakhni.

Uff. The Beauty.

Garnish with dried or fresh mint.

That’s right, you are now officially in love with doodhi. I know.

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!

Mum’s Daanival Korme/ Coriander Lamb Korma

Okay, so this one is extra special. It’s a simple enough lamb curry, cooked with yoghurt and lots of coriander – umm, hello, the clue’s in the name – and very popular everywhere is Kashmir. I grew up eating what I thought was DaanivalKorme, and loving it. It was my most favourite – melt in your mouth lamb in a yoghurt based gravy, red with Kashmiri chilies, and lots and lots of coriander! I would always request my mum to make it when we went on those much anticipated school picnics where every child would bring one dish and then all of us would sit down, usually under the shade of a majestic Chinar, and dig in to each others’ food. In fact her DaanivalKorme was such a hit that after the first couple of times all my friends, and some teachers even, started say things like, “Oh and Aliya can get her DaanivalKorma!”

Fast forward to years later when I was visiting one of my aunts and she insisted I tell her what to cook for dinner – she wanted to make something I really liked. So obviously I said DaanivalKorme. Imagine my surprise when she brought this pale yellow, nearly white, coriander curry on to the table that night. I thought it looked like Yakhni, with coriander. And that’s when I realised that the DaanivalKorme my mum makes is her very own take on the classic recipe, which indeed is pale white and has no chilies in it at all. Ah. The classic is lovely of course, but I have to say I much prefer my mum’s version.

So basically, this is your lucky day. Ahem.

Ingredients:

500 gms of lamb – any cut really, but you know how I feel about a bit of fat, a bit of bone, eh.

400 gms of yoghurt – natural full fat yoghurt. Though I have to say Greek yoghurt is a dream to cook with. You want your yoghurt to be smooth and lump-free, so stirring it well is a good idea.

2-3 small shallots, sliced

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

Big bunch of fresh coriander – get the leaves off, wash, drain.

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 (If you prefer the traditional DaanivalKorme then all you need to do is not add these. That’s it. Really.)

Salt

Oil

Method:

There are two ways of doing this. If you have the time, inclination and an abundance of pans that you can use without worrying about washing up then here’s what you can do:

Wash you meat and put it in a thick bottomed pan with all the whole spices, whole garlic cloves, and fennel powder. Pour in enough water to cover the meat, and then some. Add salt. Bring everything to a rigorous boil. Cover. Simmer. And forget about it for about one and a half/ two hours, till the meat is terribly tender and falling off the bone.

In another pan, heat up a generous glug of oil, and to this add you shallots. Fry on a medium flame till the shallots are soft and translucent. Add your minced garlic, and fry for a couple of minutes till fragrant. Now turn the heat right down and add turmeric and chili powders (- you really do need Kashmiri chili powder for the colour here, others will give you the heat, of course, but not the prettiness). Fry for a minute or so. At this point what you need to do is put your yoghurt in, a little at a time, (this step is quite similar to how we cook yoghurt down for the RoghanJosh, by the way) cooking it down till you can see oil in the pan, before adding more. Add a big handful of coriander leaves along with the last of your yoghurt, and then cook it down as before. Smells so good, doesn’t it?

Now what you want to do is add your meat, along with the broth its been cooking in to your yoghurt/ coriander base. Give everything a mighty old stir, check for salt, bring to boil, add the rest of the coriander – just save some for garnish, if you’re in to that kind of stuff – cover and simmer for another 10 or so minutes.

On the other hand if you are, like me, always strapped for time and LOVE one pan recipes, here :

Take a big thick bottomed pan and heat a generous amount of oil in it. Add your shallots to the pan and fry till soft and translucent. Next add the meat and fry it lightly on both sides. Next add all your whole spices and fry them for a couple of minutes, and then add the garlic (all minced). To this add your powdered spices and fry for a minute or two. Then all you need to do is add the yoghurt to the pan, a little at a time, cooking it down till you can see oil in the pan, before adding more. Add a big handful of coriander leaves along with the last of your yoghurt, and then cook it down as before. Then add enough water to cover everything, bring to boil, cover, simmer till the meat is tender – 1-1/12 to 2 hours. Keep checking to make sure there’s enough water in the pan though – no one will thank you for scorched DaanivalKorme. Ahem.


 

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.)

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.

Ruvaangan Kuffte (Lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce)

Every family kitchen has at least one staple dish – you know the one that will be cooked every week, irrespective of whatever else is going on. In my mum’s kitchen it was, well, basically this or that variation on what was essentially a lamb curry : syun. We always had syun with rice, and anything else was sort of, extra. Well in my kitchen, (and this is thanks entirely to the seven year old who has taken over my life and owns me heart and soul), its meatballs. Koftas in Urdu, Kuffte moenjje in Kashmiri. These are delicately flavoured lamb meatballs, cooked in a tangy tomato sauce. (There is of course a meatballs-with-spinach variant that goes down a treat as well – but that’s another post.)

Like I said, I make these pretty much every week. And I promise this is an easy recipe – kitchen to table in about an hour.

Also, I must say, that I use a couple of spices in this recipe that are not traditionally used in Kashmiri cooking. Coriander seeds, for example. I feel that these and black peppercorns add a lovely depth to the flavours here, though. But please do feel free to leave these out if you prefer a more traditional flavour.

Let’s get to it then –

Ingredients:

For the Koftas –

1 kilo of good quality lamb mince – find a butcher who sells organic. So worth it.

3-4 fat cloves of garlic.

1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger

Handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 small shallot – Finely chopped

Whole Spices:

2-3 pods of black cardamoms

1-2 teaspoons of cumin

1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds

2-3 whole pepper corns

Ground spices:

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1/2 teaspoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Pinch or two of cinnamon powder


For the Tomato Sauce:

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes – roughy chopped, if you’re crazy like me and like to de-seed your tomatoes, well don’t let me stop you (You can substitute fresh tomatoes with good quality organic Passata, with fabulous results – also cuts down on cooking down when you’re up against it).

1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

2-3 fat cloves of garlic – crushed

3-4 shallots – sliced

Oil – I’m an olive oil kind of girl – but you know that

Method:

For the Koftas:

So first of all what you need to do is find yourself a big old pan and dry roast the following : cumin, coriander seeds, seeds from the black cardamom pods, black peppercorns – till everything is lovely and fragrant, about 3-4 mins. Now transfer all these lovely roasted spices in to a pestle and mortar and grind everything up into a smooth powder. To this add your garlic, ginger, chopped shallot, and grind everything up into a smooth paste. Next put your ground spices, and salt in, and mix everything together. Thats your spice paste ready.

What you need to do now is put your lamb mince in a big enough bowl, add your home-made-extra-delicious-spice-paste and some of that chopped coriander. Now comes the fun part: you basically need to make sure that all the spices are evenly distributed throughout the mince, and you could use a big spoon, some people use forks etc but seriously the best way to do this is to get stuck in there with your hands. Go on. You know you want to.

So once everything is all mixed up, (and take your time. In many ways this is the most critical step. We don’t want lumpy masala in your koftas now, do we?) wash your hands and pour 2-3 fingers worth of water in your pan and put it on a medium flame. What you are going to do next is use your hands to shape your mince into oblong “balls”, and drop them in to the water. Once all the koftas are in, and the pan comes to a boil, cover, simmer and let it be. For now.

For the Tomato sauce:

While the koftas are doing their thing, take another pan, and add a good glug of oil to it. Then add your sliced shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent – about 4-5 minutes. To this add your crushed garlic, and fry for a minute or two till fragrant. in goes the cinnamon/ cassia stick. (You could add a bit of turmeric at this point, but I don’t because I like my tomato sauce to be really really red! Also you could put some chilli powder in, if you fancy a hotter sauce.) Next add your tomatoes and fry some more. Sprinkle of salt, cover, turn the heat to med-low and let the tomatoes sweat. You basically want to fry them down to the point where all the water’s gone and you can see oil in the pan.

And Finally:

So when you get there and your tomatoes are nicely fried all you need to do is pour them all over the nicely simmering koftas. Give everything a good old stir, bring the pan back to boil, cover and simmer for another 10 mins or so.

And there you are. Perfect Koftas. Lovely Sauce.

Please tell me you remembered to put the rice on? Yes? Good.

 

 

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.

 

Sundried Turnips with Lamb (with step by step pictures)

Apart from being stunningly beautiful, and green, and lush, and surrounded by towering mountains, with lakes and rivers and springs everywhere, Kashmir is also a place where  winters can be pretty harsh. Lots of snow, freezing cold – so basically nothing grows for about 3-4 months. Which sort of explains our fixation with meat – mostly lamb. But it also explains the fabulous variety of sun-dried vegetables that are staples during the winter months. Tomatoes, marrow, aubergines, turnips – we basically sun dry everything that grows during the summer for the long, cold winters. And then we cook them, mostly with lamb, all through those dreary freezing months, in beautiful warming stews. This one I’m sharing now is one of my all time favourites, with *cold-winter-evening* written all over it. Sun-dried turnips with lamb. Now, by now you know that the Kashmiri love for turnips is pretty legendary – on their own, with lamb, with red kidney beans, with red kidney beans *and* lamb – oh yeah. Well our love for Gogjje-aare, or sun-dried turnips, is just as special. And this curry/ stew is a thing of pure joy and beauty. Trust me.

Ingredients:

400gms of sun-dried turnips (these are basically turnips that have been washed, peeled, cut into thin circles, then strung up together and left to dry).

2-3 small shallots – thinly sliced.

3-4 cloves of garlic – finely chopped, or crushed.

500gms of lamb – I used chops, but then I *always* use chops. Feel free to use whatever cut you prefer.

Salt to taste.

Oil for cooking.

Whole Spices:

11 green cardamoms.

3 black cardamoms.

1 teaspoon of cumin.

1 cinnamon stick.

Ground Spices:

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric.

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder.

1 teaspoon (or more if you like your curry hotter) of Kashmiri red chilli powder.

Method:

Alright so the first thing you want to do is get your dried turnips off of the string, and wash them really well in plenty of running cold water. Then put them in a pan, cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. Let the pan boil for a good 5-7 mins. Then take off the heat, drain and put aside.

Next, take a wide bottomed pan and heat up a good glug of oil. Add the shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent. To this add the meat and fry on both sides till golden brown.

Now add the garlic, whole spices as well as the ground spices to the pan and mix everything really well to ensure that the meat is evenly coated. Fry everything together for 1-2 mins, till you can smell all the lovely spices.

At this stage add the turnips to your pan, give everything a good old stir. Fry for another couple of minutes till the turnips are all nicely coated with the spices. Then add just enough water to cover the meat/ turnips. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for about one and a half hours till the meat is terribly tender and the the turnips almost melting into the curry.

Garnish, if you want with fresh coriander, and serve with lots of fluffy white rice. Perfection.

 

 

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!