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A completely alarming cook February 18, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
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Urmila Z demonstrates the art of fine Kashmiri cooking without using spoons or measures

Urmila Z dipped her fist into a large plastic bag she’d brought from her home, and extracted what seemed like a fistful of freshly ground aniseed powder. I involuntarily ceased breathing.

“Kashmiri cooking,” she said, looking meaningfully at me, “is not Kashmiri cooking unless it has the tastes of saunf and soont — that is, aniseed and ginger powders.” She swung towards me, nearly making me duck, and casually flung the powder in the direction of the cooking vessel. I watched with extreme tension as the aniseed powder settled obediently over the cubed mutton that had just dried over a slow fire.

“It is very important that the meat does not brown,” she said, ignoring my turbulent condition. Her eyes still fixed on me, she groped for a plastic pouch in which she’d brought soont. Her hands found some bag — what if it had contained Drainex or perhaps talcum powder? I thought — and she pulled out another fistful, duly flung it over the meat. “In Kashmiri food, colour is very important. Many of our dishes have a rich red colour.”

It was time to speak up for human rights.

“Excuse me,” I said, my voice quivering with feeling, “do you have a thing against using spoons and measures and things like that? For example, how do you know that you’ve put in the right amount of those various powders? Or, for that matter, how can you be sure that you haven’t put in some Drainex or some talcum powder into the dodmaaz? Why don’t I just blindfold you?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Urmila Z, not sorry about anything at all. “I never use spoons and measures.”

And there you have Urmila Z in a sentence. Since I’ve known her, everything has somehow always come out right, making her the single most resplendent Kashmiri culinary artist that I know. Child of a distinctive culinary tradition handed down from India’s most exquisite state, Urmila carries with her a perfect sense of what makes Kashmiri cooking what it is. Her fingers have effortlessly dispense ethnicity, texture, colour and flavour.

Kashmiri cooking is a food-loving state’s inspired response to geography and climate. It is a cold state, with seasons of plenty but also seasons of want. Vegetables, when they are in abundance, are glorious and rich in their flavours and tastes, but because they have to last all year, Kashmiris have perfected the art of preserving by drying.

Meat, particularly mutton, is the favourite meat by far, and Kashmir can teach Hyderabad a thing or two about showing due respect to red meat.

“Even when we’re cooking vegetables, we don’t like to drown it spices,” says Urmila. “Sometimes all we do is cook it briefly in hot oil with a bit of hing, and a little salt, and leave it at that.” This method, for instance, serves to create a work of art from even the lowly spinach.

Hindu Kashmiri cuisine, distinct from the equally tantalising Muslim version, creates magic without resorting to onions or garlic. It creates redness without touching tomatoes. It gives wide berth to eggs and chicken. You’d see a dal only if you were ill and needed something nourishing in bed. In brief, Urmila’s cooking comes from a robust and yet spartan tradition that prides itself on economy and style.

The art of quick and dirty Kashmiri spicing entails using heaped teaspoonfuls of aniseed powder and dried ginger powder, along with the usual combo of turmeric, red chilly powder and coriander powder. Try it sometime. Try it on, say, karelas.

The two mutton entreés she is making in my kitchen today, dodmaaz and maathz, need, not green, but a rich, exciting red. Dodmaaz is a cubed mutton dish sweet and rich with the tastes of almonds and milk; in maathz, minced mutton acquired personality in the form of kebabs in a light aromatic gravy.

Urmila’s hands start groping for some other condiment, red chilly powder perhaps, and I start feeling faint and trembly once more. I clutch the counter for support. But in a moment, the crisis is past. The maathz is acquiring a dangerous revolutionary red.

“Oh God,” says Urmila Z fervently. “I hope everything has come out right. Maybe I should have used spoons and measures. I don’t know.”

____________________________

Dodmaaz

Ingredients
1 kg leg or shoulder of mutton, cubed
3 cups/Half litre full cream milk
30 almonds, blanched, skinned and then ground to paste in a cup of the water used for blanching
2 tsp aniseed (saunf) powdered
2 tsp ginger powder (soont)
Few strands of saffron
Half tsp shahi jeera
Salt to taste
Oil
A pinch of asafeotida (Hing)

Coarsely grind:
Half tsp pepper
4 green cardamoms
4 cloves
1 stick cardamom

Method
1. Heat 4 tbsp of oil, and add a pinch of asafoetida (hing) to it. Then add, the meat cubes, salt and shahi jeera. Cook on a medium flame till the meat is completely dry but not yet begun to brown. Add the powdered aniseed (saunf), ginger (soont) and a half cup of water. Keep stirring the meat so that it doesn’t stick or start browning.
To the milk, add the strands of saffron, and after a few minutes, add to the meat. Add the coarsely ground spices. If necessary, add water to prevent drying out, and cook until the meat is tender. If using a pressure cooker, use your judgment, depending on your pressure cooker, but typically, you should let two whistles blow and then cook for 15 to 20 minutes on a slow fire.
Serve with plain rice.

_________________________________________

Mathz

Ingredients
Half kg mutton minced fine
4 tbsp curds
4 heaped tbsp aniseed (saunf) powder
4 heaped tbsp ginger powder (soont)
Salt to taste
5 masala elaichi (large cardamoms), ground coarsely
Half tsp asafoetida (hing)
3 tsp Kashmiri red chilly powder
Oil

Method
To the mince, add salt, ground cardamom, 2 tbsp curds, 1 tbsp oil, and 2 tsp each of aniseed and ginger powder, and 1 tsp of red chilly powder. Mix thoroughly. Now grease your palms and, taking a fistful of mince, gently roll it into long, smooth kebabs.
In a pressure cooker, heat some oil and add the asafoetida (hing). On a slow flame, add two heaped tbsp of curds and 2 tsp of red chilly powder. Stirring continuously so that the chilly doesn’t turn brown but instead remains red, add water a teaspoonful at a time. Keep stirring till the oil and the spices separate.

Add the remaining spices, continue storring for a minute or so, and then add a glass of lukewarm water. Bring to a boil. Add the kebabs to the gravy, and cook till the meat is done. If using a pressure cooker, you should normally allow two whistles, and then cook on a slow fire for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with hot parathas or steamed rice.

Comments»

1. Anita - February 18, 2007

I cannot believe how perfectly you have captured the essence of Kashmiri cooking! The quick and dirty bit is so apt – that’s how I describe my mother’s cooking many times – and every times it comes out perfect! The mutsch, on the other hand, seems simple, but because there are ‘no spoons or measures’, is quite a dish to perfect. I am still working on mine!

2. Minnie - February 25, 2007

At last the perfect description of what Kashmiri cooking is about. Its different and awesome. This will help me educate my progeny on what food their mother grew up on and why I miss home so much.

Measures were definitely not for my mom and mostly I don’t use them too much either.

this is great!!

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Minnie —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

3. Nalini Savara. - December 19, 2008

It’s in the middle of the night,and accidently,I was on your page.I could’nt resist taking down the recipe,on paper,cause I was afraid I’d lose it.You see,I am not too computer saavy.I could almost smell the recipe off the screen.It is so well written..I intend to try the recipe tomorrow.I am very fond of cooking,and am considered,by my husband and friends to be a good cook.I also have a question for you.Do you know the recipe for vari masala?I would sure appreciate,if you could email it to me.I remember from 40 years ago,my Kashmiri neighbour in Bombay,India,telling me,it is a must,in their style of cooking.Thanks,for the culinary advice,thus far.I would think,you could write a good cookbook.You write with much flair.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Nalini —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

4. Jim - January 8, 2010
C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2010 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

5. Anonymous - June 26, 2013

Hi everyone, it’s my first go to see at this web site, and article is genuinely fruitful designed for me, keep up posting these posts.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I have shifting everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi


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