Kashmiri mixed vegetable Pickle/ Aanchaar (Step by step pictures)

What’s the first thing that comes in to your mind when you hear the word – pickle? Apart from the last time you found yourself in one, of course. Ahem.

So depending on where you’re from you’re either thinking of little unripe mangoes chopped up, steeped in spices and oil, and left to ferment in the sun till they are soft and tangy and so so hot, and so so sour. Ditto with lemons, and green chillies, and everything else you can think of; Or, if you were born on a different continent, you are thinking of baby cucumbers, gherkins, radishes left to steep in vinegar, sweet and sour at the same time.

And if you were born in Kashmir, then, well, you are thinking exactly what I am thinking. Aanchaar.

What can I say about Kashmiri aanchaar. Well, first of all, it is the best achaar/ pickle in the whole wide world. That’s just a fact. (What? I am entirely objective. Ask my editor. Ahem.) Then of course you must know that there’s always this one family in your extended circle that makes the best aanchaar ever, and they dutifully send jars full your way every autumn.

And how can I not mention *baazruk aanchaar* (literally – of the market). A stroll down one of the main streets in Srinagar, and your nose will lead you to the aanchaar walas, sitting in a row, their big copper pots lined up in front of them. The reddest, hottest, sourest aanchaar, yours for a few rupees. I could never resist, even as my parents would remind me of the last time I bought some and completely ruined my stomach. I mean some things are just worth it.

Anyway, the point is, we are not in Kashmir, and even if we are, we are staying in and social distancing, so the stroll down Amira Kadal will have to wait. In the meantime we can make our own. Yep.

Important to mention here that when I called my mum to ask her how she makes hers, father jumped in and insisted he was going to talk me through steps. So for a change this is my dad’s recipe you guys. And true to form, poetry.

Ingredients

Vegetables – 1 kilo.

Any, really. But traditionally Kashmiri aanchaar has all the vegetables we love – monjje (kohlrabi), haakh (spring greens), carrots, radishes, lotus stems. Fresh green chillies. Also shallots, and garlic. Wash, peel, prep your vegetables like you normally would. Just try and chop everything to roughly the same size.

Spices –

Mustard seeds : 1-2 teaspoons

Ajwain seeds : 1-2 teaspoons

Fennel seeds : 1-2 teaspoons

Fenugreek seeds : 1-2 teaspoons

Kashmiri red chili powder : 2-3 teaspoons (more or less depending on how hot you want it to be.I don’t like my aanchaar too hot, so you know.)

Salt : To taste

Oil – I’d say about 7 tablespoons, and a bit more at the end. But see how it goes, you want enough to be able to coat all of your veg.

Method

So I’m assuming you have by now prepped your vegetables, yes? Great.

Now bring a big pan full of water to boil, (how big you ask? Well, big enough to hold all of your veg. Obviously), and throw your veg in. Yep, all of it. And just a bit of salt. Bring the pan back to boil – this will take a minute or two. And once that’s happened, turn the heat off, and drain the vegetables. The best way to do this is to use a colander/ strainer. Leave your vegetables in their for the next 30 mins to an hour to let the water drain completely. Once that’s happened, grab the the biggest tray you have, cover it with a kitchen towel, and spread the vegetables out in a single layer. What you’re trying to do is dry the lot out as best as you can. Leave to dry for at least a few hours, even better overnight.

That’s your vegetables all set. To be fair, you don’t *have* to blanch your veg before pickling, but it does make it better. (What? Dad says so. So there.)

Next let’s prep the jar/s. One jar big enough to hold all your veg, if you have one, or if like me you do everything on the fly and have to improvise improvise improvise, well then, an assortment of jars big and small. You know. So take your jars, wash them with hot soapy water and dry them thoroughly. Even better if you can sun dry them for an hour or so. But in any case, now your jars are dry, yes? Great. Now take some oil and brush/smear it all over the insides on your jar/ jars. Done? Good.

Remember that big pan you used to blanch your veg? Well I’m assuming by now you’ve washed and dried it, yes? Excellent. Now take that pan and add all of your spices and salt and oil in it. Mix everything up. And then pop all your blanched, dried vegetables in. And now the funnest part : getting stuck in there with your hands and making sure every little bit of your vegetables is entirely covered in the spice mix. Take your times with this. Rub the spices into every leaf, every piece of every vegetable. Don’t rush. It’s therapeutic. You’ll see.

Okay so now that that bit is done, all that is left is for us to fill the jars we’ve already prepped with our spiced vegetables. Ah, but it isn’t as simple as that now, is it. The path of true love never did run smooth, you know. Ahem. 

Basically what we are trying to do now is pack the vegetables in as tightly as we can, so that almost no air is left trapped in the jar. So let’s fill, say one third of the jar up, and then push everything down as much as we can. (At home where you are making enormous amounts of aanchaar and the jars are huge this is usually done with those magical wooden utensils called tchhotte – ah.) Then repeat this till your jar is filled pretty much all the way to the top. Again push everything down, one final time – and, importantly, take your time with this whole process, because if the vegetables are not packed in nice and tight you run the risk of fungus developing and ruining your entire project, okay?

And just to be sure we are completely on top of this, pour some oil over the vegetables. This will seep into whatever little gaps there might still be, and then pool in a thin layer on top. This is what you want. 

At this stage put the lid on. And that’s basically it. Now all you need to do is let it ferment, in a warm place – ideally a couple of hours in the sun every day – for about a week or so (depending on how hot or cold it is where you are). But listen, remember to put your jar/ jars on a plate/ tray while you leave it/them to ferment, because a few days into the process the oil will rise up and leak from the top. Do not panic when that happens. This is actually good, and tells you that you’re well on your way to amazing aanchaar. Okay?

Good. 

So like I said, a week, maybe ten days, and that’s it – lovely beautiful aanchar, which you can eat with, well, anything really – or if you are like me, then on it’s own even. Ahem. What. Hah.

Carrots. Springs greens. Radishes. Shallots. Garlic. Chillies.
Blanch.
Dry.
Spices. Oil. Salt.
Mix it all up.
Pack the vegetables in as tightly as you can. The word in Kashmiri is *tchyel*. Ahem.
Make sure you pop your jar(s) on a plate/ tray, and leave in a warm place for a week-ten days.

Radish and Walnut Chutney – Dooe’n tchyettin.

So tell me how do you like your walnuts? On their own? Candied? In a walnut and date cake? In a tart maybe? Or crushed and sprinkled over a soup? Sure, sure. Pretty versatile little nuts, they do lend themselves to a variety of different uses. I have to say when I was growing up we only ever ate walnuts (- unless they were tender and still green, in which case slicing through the still green shell, and getting the still white, tender, sweet flesh out would be a treat in itself -) with apples. Yep, you slice an apple, you crack open a few walnuts and then you eat them together. You know those annoying little spots that sometimes break out on your tongue as you are eating walnuts? Never happen if you eat them with apples. What? Try.

Anyway, I digress. Since cracking open walnuts and slicing apples doesn’t really require a recipe, let me come to the other time honoured way walnuts are used in Kashmiri cuisine. In chutneys. Walnuts, crushed with green chillies and shallots, finished off with yoghurt – that’s a classic. And then there’s this version, where you crush walnuts with white radish and green chillies (shallots too, if you want). This is so quick and easy, so good. Amazing effort to glory ratio you guys. Perfect side for any meal, but I’ll be honest, I’m that person who guiltily sneaks spoonfuls while no one is looking. Also works, excellently, as a dip on a cheese and cracker board. What? Try.

Shall we?

Ingredients

1-2 handfuls of shelled walnuts

1/2 white radish – this is mooli in Urdu/Hindi, safed muejj in Kashmiri – washed/ scraped/ peeled and chopped in to chunks. To be fair you could use small red radishes as well. Work just as well, and your chutney will be pale pink. What’s not to like.

3-4 green chillies. Less or more depending on how hot you want this to be. You know.

Salt.

1/2 cup of Yoghurt – optional.

Method

So the thing is you could do this in a mixer grinder – easier, but where’s the fun in that. What you really want is a good old fashioned pestle and mortar, neyaem in Kashmiri. Take your chopped up radish, put it in the neyaem and go to town – it’ll be quite wet at this stage. Now add your walnuts, a few at a time. As you keep adding walnuts the consistency of the mixture will change. Once you’re done with the walnuts, chopped up chillies go in. Be careful when you’re pounding these, a stray drop of juice flying in to your eye is no fun. You know.

You don’t want this is to be super fine, you want a bit of a bite. Which is why I don’t like doing this in a mixer/ grinder.

Anyway once everything is nicely mixed up, add salt, mix it up a bit more, have a taste, see if you’re happy with the salt/ chillies.

You could at this stage add a couple of teaspoons of yoghurt, but equally you could leave that out. Just see how you feel, okay?

But essentially that’s it. You are never going to look at walnuts in quite the same way are you? Or even radishes. Yep. You’re welcome.

Monjje ti Maaz or Lamb with Kohlrabi and Greens

Monjje in Kashmiri, Kadam in Urdu,  Kohlrabi in english. This root vegetable, with greens on top, is a firm favourite, part of Kashmiri DNA really, much like our deep and abiding love for gogjje, or turnips. Which is almost as deep and abiding as our love for lamb. Monjje, and monjje haakh –  on their own, with lamb (obviously), in achaar (Kashmiri achaar is the best achaar in the world and thats just a fact. Yep) – glorious.

I’ve recently been talking this dear friend of mine through various recipes. They love lamb (Kashmiri so, obviously), but aren’t too keen on vegetables (like I said, Kashmiri, so obviously). So I find myself suggesting lamb + veg curries a lot. Monjje ti maaz, or a Lamb Kohlrabi curry is a classic. Simple, wholesome, earthy flavours. Home.

Shall we?

Ingredients:

1/2 kilo of lamb – what cut you say? Pick your favourite. This will work regardless.

2-3 medium shallots – peeled, washed, sliced.

4-5 whole cloves of garlic – peeled, washed. Leave 2 whole. Mince 2.

3-4 medium sized monjje – pick the smaller, greener ones at the grocers. Do. Wash, peel, and quarter them. If you are lucky enough to find some with haakh, then yay! Snip off each haakh leaf, wash then tear roughly in to two or three.

Salt.

Oil.

Spices – 

Whole spices

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2/3 green cardamoms

2/3 black cardamoms

1/2 inch piece of cassia

1 clove

Ground spices

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1-2 teaspoons of Kashmiri chilli powder

Method

So the first thing you want to do is to get the lamb going. In Kashmiri we call this *paakh dyun*. As easy as bishte bishte byaryo. Really. Grab yourself a thick bottomed pan, big enough to hold all your meat. Put the lamb, 2-3 cloves of garlic, all of your whole spices, 1 teaspoon of fennel powder and a little salt in to the pan. Cover with just enough water. Bring to boil, then simmer and cover. You could skim off the surface of the water after the first 10 or so minutes if you want. But in any case, leave this to simmer for the next hour, hour and a half, till the meat is tender and cooked through. Keep checking to see pan has enough water though. If you, unlike me, are of the pressure cooker school of cooking, then by all means pressure cook away.

So while your lamb is doing the *paakh* thing, let’s get started on the monjje.

In another pan, big enough to hold all your monjje, (if you dont have a big enough pan then that’s okay too, just do this step in batches, but at no point do you want to cook these in an overcrowded pan, trust me) – by now you know I love the thick bottomed, non-teflon stuff, yes? Right – so in another pan pour a good glug of oil and when that’s nice and hot add your monjje, in a single layer, stir them around a bit to get the oil on all sides, sprinkle a bit of salt, then turn the heat down and cover the pan. This will make the kohlrabi sweat. What you want is for it to cook in its own juices, till all the water in the pan evaporates. At this point increase the heat a bit and fry them till they’re slightly golden green (what, do it, you’ll see) in colour. Take them out of the pan and keep them aside. Then just quickly fry the haakh, if you have any, in the same oil – 3-4 mins on a medium flame.

Once all your monjje are done, take a look at your pan and see if it needs more oil, it probably won’t, but check. To this add the shallots. Fry till soft and fragrant, 3-4 minutes, then add the remaining garlic, minced, and fry for another minute or two. To this then add your ground spices, fry for a minute or two. Then return the monjje/ haakh to the pan and carefully stir everything together so the masalas cover all of the monjje – do this for another minute or two.

Then there’s two ways you can proceed, depending on the size of the pans you’ve used. If the one with the monjje is big enough to hold everything then great, add the pieces of meat from the *paakh* pan to the monjje paan first. Stir everything together. Then add enough stock from the *paakh* pan so that it sort of covers everything. Bring to boil. Check for salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Garnish with coriander, if that’s your thing. And you are done.

But if your monjje pan isn’t big enough, then simply add the monjje to the lamb. You just need to make sure you’re happy with the amount of stock in there (- no one wants rasse koelle, literally streams of gravy, ahem -) then bring everything to boil, cover and simmer for 10 mins. And you’re done.

What would you eat this with, you ask? Take a wild wild guess. Do.

 

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.

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.

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.

WeekDay Daanival Korme Pulao

Okay, so this one’s been a long time coming, and isn’t so much a recipe as it is a weekday dinner improvisation. So what happened was that it was a Monday night, we had just come back from our weekend away in Paris, I had a box or two of DaanivalKorme in the freezer, and suddenly felt like the Universe was whispering in to my ear that magical word Kashmiris hear only once in a while — Pulao.  If you know anything about Kashmiris by now it is that we are big rice eaters. And that when we say rice, we mean rice – plain, cooked, white rice. No fancy shmancy pulaos and biryanis for us. Except on that rare occasion when the Universe whispers certain words in to our ears, you know.

Just to give you an idea of how down on our list of *things to do with rice* Pulao is – you know Wazwan, the definitive Kashmiri feast, a proper-sit-down-at-least 7 course meal, each course more refined, more spectacular than the one before – all of it served with plain white rice – in that feast of indulgence and excess Pulao is served as an accompaniment alongside an assortment of chutneys – and for a traami of 4 people there is just enough for each person to get one mouthful. Basically. And that’s it.

And Biryani, you say? I say, what?

Anyway, you get the point. It was a very unusual Monday night. I had no fresh meat to hand. But I had DaanivalKorme in the freezer. And I had rice, soaking, as usual. So here’s what I did.

(This makes 2-3 generous servings.)

Ingredients:

Around 250 gms of lamb, cooked – That’s your DaanivalKorma (Click for link to recipe, please!)

3-4 finely sliced shallots

1/2 cup of peas (Optional. Frozen or fresh. I used frozen)

2 cups of basmati (Rinsed thoroughly at least thrice. Then soaked for at least an hour. Make sure you get rid of the soaking water before cooking.)

Oil – I always use olive oil, but you could ghee, butter. (Remember vegetable oils are not as healthy as you might have thought. You are better off with butter than sunflower oil. Here.)

Spices:

Well, since your DaanivalKorme already has all the spices, all you need is:

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

2 green cardamoms

2-3 black pepper corns

1 clove

Method:

So take a deep, thick bottomed pan, and pour in a glug of oil – remember though, your Korma already has oil in it, so don’t over do it. Once the oil is hot add the cumin seeds, cardamoms, clove, and pepper corns. After about a minute or so add your sliced shallots. These you want to fry till they are completely caramelised and almost black. You’ll have to work quickly when you come to this stage because there’s a very fine line between perfectly done shallots and burnt shallots – I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there, but anyway.

Add your peas, and fry for a minute or two. In goes your frozen Korma. Add a bit of water, bring it to boil on a high flame, and then basically let it simmer till the korma has thawed and heated through. This will take about 10-15 mins.

What you do next is pour all of your korma out in to a bowl. Drain and rinse your rice, and put it in the same pan. To this add the pieces of meat – use a slotted spoon so that you don’t get any of the gravy in at this stage. Then measure the gravy out using the same cup that you used to measure the rice. I got about 2 cups of gravy. So I added those, and then 2 cups of water. You’re looking for a 1:2 ratio between rice and water here.

Mix everything up, gently – your rice has been soaking, if you aren’t gentle it will break and you wont get that lovely long grain effect. Check for salt. Then bring everything to boil on a high flame. Cook uncovered for about a minute. Then cover, simmer and cook till the liquid is all gone and the rice is tender – about 15-20 mins, but it pays to check.

That’s it, really. You’re done. You could add other vegetables – sliced carrots, beans, whatever you want – to the fried shallots, and turn this in to a real one-pot dinner, but hey rice, meat, maybe peas – the Kashmiri in me didn’t want to mess with that kind of perfection. Plus shallots ARE vegetables, aren’t they. Ahem.

And if you are really lucky, if you have been really good, then maybe you will get a bit of the *phoherr* too. What is that you ask? You really should learn Kashmiri, you guys. But anyway, phoherr is the layer of rice at the bottom of the pan, that basically gets overcooked, and in a *pulao situation*, ahem, fried to a lovely, crunchy crisp. You never serve that to your guests of course. Because, you know, it doesn’t look great, the perfectly cooked pulao, or indeed rice should have no phoherr, and because YOU WANT TO KEEP IT ALL FOR YOURSELF. Hah.

And you can see I ate mine with, ahem, tomato koftas (recipe here – what can I say, it’s your lucky day. Ahem). Because tomatoes are vegetables, or fruits, or whatever – and there is no such thing as too much meat. Clearly.  Oh and I also dotted mine with salted butter just before I served it. Because you know, ButterMakesBetter. Fact.

You’re welcome.

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 in 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.)