Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is one of the least known cuisines in India. Most people think of ‘Wazwan’ when they think of Kashmiri cuisine, but that is primarily cuisine of Kashmiri Muslims. Pandit cuisine is quite different from Wazwan and also distinct from Dogra cuisine of Jammu which tends to be closer to Punjabi cuisine. The distinct flavor in Pandit cuisine comes from some spices that are unique to this culinary tradition. There is lot of Afghan and Mughal influence in Wazwan, but Pandits have been able to retain the authentic culinary tradition that dates back to 5000 years.
According to Chandramukhi Ganju, well known cookery writer who has written an important book on Kashmiri Pandit cuisine called ‘Koshur Saal’ (Kashmiri feast), use of distinct spices in Pandit cuisine can be traced to Pre Aryan era and the complete absence of onion and garlic to prepare curries dates back to Vedic period.
Kashmiris love their food hot and spicy so most dishes tend to be very spicy which is then offset with white steamed rice. There are many varieties of dishes that can be made primarily with the following spices: Red chili powder, turmeric powder, asafetida, ginger powder and aniseed. Yogurt is an important ingredient in cooking and many dishes are cooked with yogurt. All curries are meant to be served with steamed rice. You can take a Kashmiri anywhere in the world, feed him the best delicacies that are available, he will still come home to his plate of white steamed rice and hot spicy curry. The Kashmiri equivalent of ubiquitous dal chawal is ‘haakh batte’ or rice served with collard green curry.
Authentic Kashmiri pandit cuisine is not served in any restaurants and few those claim to do so, hardly do any justice to it. If you see onions, garlic and tomatoes in any curry being sold as Kashmiri food you can be rest assured that it is not authentic. Kashmiri cuisine offers range of non vegetarian and vegetarian dishes. Even the non vegetarian dishes are cooked without onions, garlic and tomatoes.
Kashmiri vegetarian meal is incomplete without the very popular Dum Aloo. Cooking Dum Aloo is an art. It needs to be boiled just right, fried just right, the spices must be authentic, and it needs lots of patience. I have not met one person who has not liked a well cooked Dum Aloo.
I have learnt this recipe from my aunt, Chandramukhi Ganju, who I have quoted earlier in this piece.
Steam Fried Potato/Dum Aloo
Serving Size: 3-4 people
• 10 small potatoes
• 2 tsp chilli powder
• 1 tsp ginger powder
• ½ tsp fennel powder
• 3-4 tbsp yogurt
• ½ tsp cumin seed
• 3 crushed cloves
• 2 black cardamom
• 1 stick dalchini or ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
• 2 green cardamom
• A pinch of asafoetida
• Vegetable oil
• salt to taste
• Place the potatoes in a pan and add water.
• Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes or longer till the skin can be easily peeled. Peel off the skin of potatoes.
• Prick the potatoes all over with a fork or the tip of a knife.
• Heat 1 cup of oil in a frying pan.
• Add potatoes 3-4 at a time
• Deep fry potato slowly until reddish brown and put aside.
• Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a pressure cooker or a cooking pan.
• Add chilli powder and asafoetida to oil and sauté.
• Add yogurt and stir till the yogurt dissolves in oil and forms into a thick red chilli paste.
• Add salt, ginger powder, fennel powder, cinnamon, crushed cloves and crushed black cardamom to yogurt chilli mixture in a cooking pan or a pressure cooker.
• Add the fried potatoes to the mixture, and add minimum 3 cups of water.
• Cover and pressure cook until one whistle or for about 5 minutes and then lower the heat and simmer approximately for 10-15 minutes.
• Open the cooker when the pressure drops. If too much of water is left; boil until thick gravy is formed. Turn off the burner.
• If cooking in a pan, add 3-4 cups of water cover and boil for 5 minutes on high heat. Then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until water is absorbed.
• When done sprinkle the crushed cardamom and cumin over potatoes and cover.
• Dum Aloo is ready to be served with white rice.
Food and language are two things Kashmiri Pandits guard zealously in their exile. These are their only connection to the land that has been taken away from them. This is their only succor in times when home seems far away and unattainable.
Picture Credit: Pictures have been used from the book Koshur Saal with permission from the author.