Monday, May 25, 2009

Kashmiri Food

I love food, and I love the Kashmiri part of my heritage. I had always thought I had never cooked Kashmiri food- until recently when I finally read an actual recipe book on global curries, and was surprised to learn that my style of cooking has strong Kashmiri roots, with many of the dishes I make bonafide Kashmiri.

I wish I could put in words how much this shocked me. And yet, after the shock came acceptance- genetics has a part in the choices we make, and therefore since my mom never actually learned cooking from my grandma (who was Kashmiri), she probably unconsciously replicated the flavors of her mom's cooking in her own food, and I simply must be repeating her actions. Apparently Kashmiris dote on mutton- and guess who always orders it (or goat or lamb as substitute) when it is on a menu? yup that's me. Guess who thinks a bit of beaten yogurt improves any curry? me and my Kashmiri ancestors both. These discoveries are proving very comforting, they are.

I have therefore made up my mind to cook my way through Kashmiri culture, teaching myself the aromas and flavors my great grandma must have stirred over a pot near the Jhelum. I will write about my successes and failure as I progress, and hopefully my granny in heaven will chuckle along as she watches my progress.

There are some basic ingredients essential to Kashmiri food:
  • Red dried chili pepper- appears to be the primary condiment, it can be used whole or crushed, depending upon the dish.
  • White peppercorn- prized heavily, it is a subtle version of the black peppercorn
  • Ghee
  • Mutton
  • Onions
  • Yogurt
  • Mustard oil- perhaps the most unusual of ingredients in the list, it has a strong, nutty taste and an even stronger smell. The key in using this is to heat the oil till smoking, and then to right away reduce the heat, thereby using it to season and cook the food without burning the oil (thus preventing carcinogens). The US is yet to recognize it as consumable, and therefore this is available in Indian supermarkets in North America, marked "For External Use Only." Ignore the warning, and get cooking- it is as heart healthy as extra virgin olive oil.