Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Delicious Slice of Kashmir

-Shivani Mohan
(This feature had first appeared in Khaleej Times dated 10 Jun 2011. More pics and recipes have been added)

An interesting book on Kashmiri cuisine was launched recently at the India International Centre, New Delhi amidst the crème de la creme of Kashmiri intelligentsia and connoisseurs of good food from all walks of life.

‘Kashmiri Cuisine Through the Ages’ written by Sarla Razdan traces the history of this unique and distinct cuisine and offers some heartwarming recipes. Mrs Razdan, wife of Mr M K Razdan, CEO of PTI (also noted journalist Nidhi Razdan's mother) has enjoyed cooking sumptuous Kashmiri food all her life, picking the nuances of this gourmet cuisine from her mother and mother-in-law, and egged on by her adoring family to master the art till many leading dignitaries and guests were literally eating out of her hands. Thus the book has some firsthand inputs and magic talismans that make Indian home cooked food, especially that cooked by the lady of the house, still unbeatable in the taste and warmth departments.

It is true that no matter how many celebrity chefs float around, the best Indian cooking can still be found in homes and it is women such as Mrs Sarla Razdan who carry forward this tradition painstakingly with a lot of love and patience-a fact that makes this book one of the best you can pick if you genuinely want to venture into home style Kashmiri cooking. As noted author and journalist M J Akbar, points out in his evocatively written foreword to the book- ‘Cooking is a selfless joy….The great cooks have pride, but no ego. It is only current capitalism that has given us the phenomenon of chefs who offer signature dishes….The false ego on display in Michelin-starred restaurants is only a means of extortion; they do not give to each according to need, but they certainly take from each customer according to his ability to pay.’ 

The book was launched by the Chief Minister of J&K, Mr. Omar Abdullah. Other eminent personalities present at the occasion were Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mrs Sheila Dikshit, Anupam Kher and M J Akbar besides many celebrated personalities from the Indian media.

The book is showcased in an interesting format. It not only offers authentic Kashmiri recipes but also has some breathtaking shots of the valley, many of them absolutely stunning and captivating landscapes by Mukhtar Ahmad that are sure to transport one to this now almost mythical paradise on Earth.
Sarla Razdan’s cooking comes with some heavy weight and genuine endorsements by well known faces who have dined with the Razdans on several occasions such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar and Farooq Abdullah. Each one of them have savoured one or more of the dishes in the book, often taking away recipes from her to try themselves. The best part about the book is that it is like a mini coffee table book that can be a brilliant conversation piece but you don’t need to join a gym to lift it. It is just the right size that could be propped as comfortably on a kitchen top while you experiment with cooking as it would be slipped into a bag while going on your next holiday when you would actually have the time to read it. 

Speaking at the occasion, Sarla Razdan dedicated the book to all Kashmiris and related some endearing, light hearted episodes about food and cooking. She said, “Kashmiris love their food so much that they must be the only people with surnames taken from food items. You may have heard of someone called Mr Wangnu, named after eggplant or Mrs Kakru which, believe me is derived from chicken. This book is dedicated to all Kashmiris and is an honest effort to preserve recipes that make our food a delicacy and such a delight. Yet these recipes are updated for the generation next and for those who don’t have that much time to cook today. I have also added a low calorie section at the suggestion of my husband who invariably blames me when he puts on weight, and also keeping in mind the extremely health conscious people today who presume that Kashmiri food is heavy and not exactly what the doctor ordered. However I must admit that it is much easier to cook than to write about cooking!”

In the book she points out the difference between Kashmiri Muslim cooking that is primarily non vegetarian as opposed to the cuisine of the Kashmiri Pandits who also enjoy a vast variety of vegetarian dishes, many of which are included in the book. But there are snatches of a culture once lived and imbibed homogeneously mentioned in the book that give an insight into traditions that are lost when narrow agendas take over. She mentions- ‘We pundits grew in Muslim neighbourhoods. We shared the same language, the same music, and went to the same schools. A Muslim wedding in the neighbourhood provided a strong challenge to the taste buds- the Wazwaan with over 30 varieties of meat preparation is truly a gastronomic Olympiad. Our Muslim neighbours would always invite us to savour this delightful food and if we couldn’t make it, food would be sent home.’  
KABARGAH( A favourite of Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar)
Fried breasts of lamb
1kg  Breast of Lamb cut into square/rectangular pieces, washed
3cups  Water
3Cups  Milk
2   Bay leaves
2  Cloves
2  Cinnamon
2  Black Cardamoms
5  Green Cardamoms
1tsp  Cumin powder
½ tsp  Ginger powder
½ tsp Fennel powder
Salt to taste
½ tsp Saffron
1 Cup Ghee/Refined oil
2 portions Silver varq
1.  Take meat in a deep vessel. Add water, milk and all the ingredients except oil. Cover and cook till meat is tender.
2.  Remove the lid and check if meat is tender. Boil till the gravy is absorbed and meat is tender.
3.  Remove the meat pieces carefully with a tong so they don’t break. Separate them in a large plate.
4.  Heat oil in a pan. Fry the meat, 2-3 pieces at a time, until light brown.
5.  Serve hot as snack or with main course. 
Fish cooked with plums
1kg Fish (Singhara/ Salmon/Rohu) cleaned, trimmed, cut into 2 inch thick round pieces
500 gm raw plum, washed, pat dried, pricked with a knife
1tsp Turmeric powder
1 cup Mustard oil
Salt to taste
½ tsp Asafoetida
3 tsp Red chilli powder
2 tsp Ginger powder (saunth)
2tsp Fennel (saunf) powder 
1.  Wash the fish and drain in a holed basket. Sprinkle turmeric powder all over the fish.
2.  Heat the oil in a frying pan; add a little bit of salt and fry the fish till golden brown.
3.  Take the leftover oil in a large vessel; add asafoetida, salt, 6 cups water, red chilli powder, and rest of the spice powders; bring to the boil. Add fish and cook for 15 minutes. Add plum and cook for 5 minutes on high heat.
4.  Serve hot with steamed rice.


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