Amir commented, “You can never get the taste of kashmiri food in Delhi”. I was zapped and wanted to know the reason behind it. I heard the folks from the Valley reminding me again and again that Kashmiri vegetables and dishes can never be found anywhere else other than Kashmir. I always introspected on this and wanted to know more about the Kashmir food. This led me to know various things about the Kashmiri cuisine, recipes, dishes, vegetables, spices, etc.
The genuine cuisine from Kashmir is recognized through the different spices that are added to various dishes. I never knew this fact though I tasted lot of kashmiri dishes. One fine day, the lady-my guest my Kashmir-exhibited the contents of the bag. She said, “These are the spices or masalas from the land of Kashmir. They are unique in themselves-in taste and flavor. When I would be cooking in your kitchen, I want you to perceive it very carefully”. “Hmmm”, I thought.
She handed me different packets so that they might be filled in jars and stored properly. She opened the first packet and said, “This is called PUDINI”. She poured them in her palm and wanted me to smell them. It was dried mint leaves. They had very strong smell. She added, “I purchased these leaves in summer season and dry them in the sun. Once they are dried, I use them in few dishes during the winter months”. Awesome and I was curious to know the dishes in which they are added.
She picked up the next packet. It was called KOSHUR MARTSIVAGUN OR KOSHUR MARCHWAGAN. It is found in pod form. It is powdered and utilized in the kitchens. It is very important ingredient for most of the dishes wherein the chilli powder is added along with tomatoes to get glaring and nice red color. It is nothing but the red kashmiri chilli powder. It was absolutely red color. She said that this chilli powder is not very spicy, however, it adds the typical red color to the dishes.
The next spice was DALCHINI or CINNAMON. It has unique smell and is added in some dishes to get this special flavor. It is not added in all dishes of the kashmiri cuisine. Only special dishes and beverages require this spice. I came to know that it is used in different forms-
a) Big pieces of cinnamon
b) Small pieces of cinnamon
c) Powdered cinnamon
d) Cinnamon added directly into the boiling water
e) Cinnamon fried in oil or ghee(saturated butter)
f) Oil is heated and taken out of the fire and then the cinnamon piece or powder is added to the oil
g) Sprinkle the cinnamon powder over the dish and the hot oil is poured over it
I was impressed by these simple tips which really give different flavors for the same spice in various dishes.
The other spice in line was CLOVE. It is called RONG or LAUNG. One can differentiate it in its size and smell. Sometimes even the color is the main difference between KOSHUR RONG and other cloves available in India. It is also used in different ways just like the cinnamon.
Turmeric is also used widely in kashmiri dishes. It is called LAIDER. I observed the difference in the two shades of YELLOW color. The koshur laider is bit more finer yellow in color. The turmeric powder available in other states of India is deep yellow in color. The Islamic koshur cuisines do not use laider in all dishes. However, it is added to vegetables, pulses and meat products while they are being boiled in water.
Cumin seeds is called ZEER or Z’UER in Kashmiri language. There are two varieties of it available in the markets and they are
a) Brown thin and slender seeds
b) Brown and little bit thick seeds
Unlike other North Indian dishes of India, these seeds are not added in all koshur curries or biryanis. Their use is limited in usage. Apart from these seeds, one more variety is present and is used widely in Koshur Islamic food. They are deep black in color. They possess distinctive smell and taste. They are expensive also. These are called SHAHI ZEERA. In other words, they are confined to rich and special dishes.
One more spice was shown to me. It was called BAED A’EUL. It is black cardamom. It is used in most of the Koshur Islamic cuisine. Again there are different ways in which it is used. It is not used in large numbers. I have observed the kashmiri women using either one or five in number. It has definitely extraordinary taste and flavor to the dishes. I understood it as I began cooking more and more of Kashmiri dishes at home.
There is one more spice common to Kashmir and other North Indian states. Yes, it is KASOORI METHI. It is nothing but the dried fenugreek leaves. I was amazed to see their usage in the koshur islamic dishes. Again these leaves are confined to few dishes only. They really add the EXCELLENT AROMA to the dish and the moment it is added, one can smell its typical fragrance in the entire house. I recognize its smell immediately. One tip that I learnt about the use of this spice is that the dried leaves should be crushed and crumbled between our two palms and sprinkled evenly over the curries and cover the utensil or the casserole instantly. This adds a special smell to the dish.
The lady picked a packet and told me that the spice is very special one. In fact, it is grown specially in Kashmir. It is called SAFFRON or KONG or ZAFRAAN. It is SOUL of the koshur cuisine. It is added in different food dishes and beverages also. It has the special yellow color. In fact, I came to know to identify its authenticity from Rajoun(one of my Kashmiri friends). He took few strands of saffron and placed them in his mouth. After few seconds, he opened his mouth and asked me if I could see some color or not. If there is the color present on the tip of the tongue, then the saffron is authentic by nature. Otherwise it is not.
The other packet was full of stack of dried flowers. It is called MAWAL in kashmiri language. These are dried cock’s comb flowers. I used to prepare the chicken curry. However, I was not convinced by the color of the dish. The lady at my place informed me that one should add mawal to the non-vegetarian dishes to get the typical red color in the dish. That’s the secret behind the red color present in some chicken or mutton dishes.
The moment I saw the contents of the packet, I shouted at the top of my voice and recognized them to be coriander seeds. These are called DHANIWAL. My guest told me that dhaniwal is used in the following ways-
a) Fresh coriander leaves
b) Dried Coriander seeds
c) Dried coriander leaves
d) Coriander powder
The above mentioned varieties are used to prepare different dishes in Kashmir. The fresh leaves possess extra-ordinary smell. I observed that these leaves are not chopped or cut into fine pieces with knife or chopper. They are simply broken into three parts and added to the dishes(obviously after washing the sprigs under the running water).
The contents of the following packet were light brownish powder. I was told that this is called SONTH or SHOUNT. It is nothing but dried ginger powder. It is commonly used spice in Kashmir Valley. Again its presence is easily identified and added to special dishes only. This is unique spice found and used in Kashmiri cuisines. It is used by both Kashmiri Islamic and Hindu folks.
Other spice which is used extensively in genuine kashmiri food is BAEDYN. It is powder of fennel seeds. Kashmiri Hindus use both solid and powdered form of fennel seeds. However, Kashmiri Islamic folks use it only in powdered form. This definitely enhances the taste and smell to the dish.
Green cardamoms are always stored and present in the kashmiri kitchens. The are widely used in many food dishes and beverages. It is called A’EUL. I have not observed the powdered form of it being used by folks. It is crushed and seeds are simply added to the curries or rice items. Koshur a’eul are slightly long and slender in shape.
To my surprise, I found tamarind used in kashmiri dishes. It is called TAEMBER. It is tangy and gives that extra notch to the dishes. It is seen in the kitchen shelves. It is usually added in gravies and pulp is extracted from the tamarind.
Praan is other special spice of Kashmiri Islamic kitchens. They are entirely different kind of onions available exclusively in Kashmir. I came to know that they are very expensive and not easily available in the Valley also. It has a very distinctive smell. It is specially used in WAZWAAN. It is also called shallots.
ZERESHK is another spice of Kashmir. They are the Currant Berries and used in few special dishes. I know for certain that these seeds are used extensively in persian dishes. Thus, I understood that these are especially used by Islamic folks of Kashmir rather than the Hindus. Its usage is confined to certain dishes only.
Apart from these spices of Kashmir, other less known spices are listed below-
a) Sesame seeds
b) Poppy seeds
c) Pomegranate seeds
d) Dried red colored pomegranate peel
These are not widely used in kitchens. However, their additions to specific dishes are present and known to only few women only.