“Kitchen is considered the heart of a home.” If this statement is in any case not of a significance in the “fast-food” era prevailing over the world, the Koshur kitchen proves to be true to the quote.
Kitchen is truly the heart of a Kashmiri home and how can it not be? It has food (the ultimate love of a Kashmiri), warmth, family and the pleasing aroma of the delicious food cooked in them. This bonding of ours with the kitchen of our home, exponentially increases as the temperature dips.
Along with its love for food, Kashmir is also very well-known for its harsh winters. Back to the time when the NH1A did not possibly exist and the zig-zag roads curving along the mountains were hard to travel by and were covered under feets of snow, Kashmiris had to suffer as the availability of vegetables was scanty. This led to the development of sun-drying vegetables and other winter foods. Sun-drying vegetables or hokh syun proved to be a boon from the ancient times to the present.
As we’re well aware of the fact that most of the Kashmiris possess a luxury at their homes – “The Kitchen Garden”. The produce of these home gardens are carefully dried . The drying technique depends on the vegetable. Even fish are dried and that has its very own method,too!
The process of drying isn’t as simple as it sounds. As mentioned that different vegetables require different techniques to be dried and preserved properly, it also has to be taken care of that the vegetables don’t rot, get attacked by pests or get spoiled by fungi/mould.
A varied variety of hokh-syun & winter foods are available and made in Kashmir and some of them are described below:
Wangan hachi is actually dried brinjals/aubergines. The brinjals are split into 4, though the 4 sections are not seperated and are held together by the green calyx at the top.
The sectioned brinjals are hanged on a rope which is set up just like a clothsline and dried in the sun.
Wangan-hachi is mostly cooked with Moong Dal or Green Gram. Choki Wangan Hachi (Tamarind flavored dried brinjals) is also a favourite dish of ours.
Al Hachi are dried long and slightly thick strands of bottle gourd whose drying method is similar as that of Wangan Hachi. The bottle gourds are peeled, sliced and then dried in the sun.
Al Hachi is mostly cooked with light spices or with mutton.
Ruwangan Hachi are dried tomatoes. They are pretty much a part of most of the parts of the world. A wide variety of tomatoes are dried in their distinct way all through the world- some are seasoned with salt, some with herbs and some without anything.
Kashmiri Ruwangan Hachi have a distinct chewy and sour taste. Whenever, they are cooked in a house ,it’s filled with their tangy fragrance.
Ruwangan Hachi can also be powdered to be used in curries or other dishes.
Hokhegad (Dry Fish)
Hokhegad is dried fish which is sun-dried in the open air. The fish include Bolinao and other locally available varieties of fish. Just like other dried foods, Hokhegad has a shelf life of several years . This method is cheap and effective. These dried fishes can be found in market during winter and stays till the month of March-April.
It is a source of protein and acts as a source of medicine for patients suffering from asthma. 100gms of dried fish contains about 80% protein with 300 calories
Handh or Dandelion greens (Asteraceae) is wild leafy green that is dried in the sun so that this leafy vegetable can be cooked in winters as well. These are cooked with chicken, famously in the house of a new mother, because it is believed to cause heat in the body and thus benefit both mother and newborn. The feast is called handhbaata.
Handh is also known to possess medicinal values such as treating back-pain, common-cold and chest infections. It’s also known to build the immunity of a person.
Gogji Aar or dried turnips are another part of our Winter Menu.
Though dried turnips are eaten in other parts of Asia such as China, in Kashmir they are dried in a very particular way.
The turnips are peeled, washed and thickly sliced. Then a little hole is carved out from a pointed knife in the middle of the slice and then all the slices are added to a string which is then tied and sun-dried.
The Gogji Aar are cooked with cottage cheese (paneer), mutton etc.
Farrigad or smoked fish
These fishes are put on grass before smoking them, then the grass is torched to smoke fishes on it and smoke keeps billowing until fishes roast. The fishes are not cleaned or gutted prior to smoking.
The mentioning of this Kashmiri delicacy makes a person nostalgic about the past good times.
In literal terms , Shab means Night and Deg means a heavy bottomed vessel. The cooking of Shabdeg is a long lost tradition.
Turnips, balls of grounded meat, pieces of mutton and a blend of spices including saffron and almonds are slow-cooked and simmered over the night to make a creamy and flavorsome stew of mutton and turnip. The Deg or cooking pot is covered by a lid and then sealed with dough to prevent the escape of vapors. This technique intensifies the flavor making the Shabdeg an extremely rich and flavorful delicacy to savor.
The crackling sound of hot oil, simmering over the punctiliously prepared Harissa topped with a tender Kebab and served with a hot Kander Czoth (traditional Tandoori bread) is something which is enough to tempt a person to devour this exquisite delicacy called Harissa.
Harissa is one of the most prominent delicacies of the vale, relished by the local folk during the bitterly cold months of winter. Eating harissa in its way, is an experience itself. The smoothness of the mutton complements the aroma and the delectable taste of fennel,cardamom and other spices which are cooked in huge ovens and kept overnight, before consumption to let the flavors develop.
Traditionally, Harissa shops were mostly nestled in the Downtown or Shahr-e-Khas . But with the growth in its demand, these shops came up in the uptown and the suburbs as well.
Right from the selection of the best quality of mutton, to the meticulous addition of spices, continuous stirring and patience- the making of the perfect Harissa is a feat to achieve.
Article by Nabeena Nabi.
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