Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Being Kashmiri And Dum Monj!


Recent shift in events have made a chef of sorts out of me. So while earlier my time was spent in reading gossip stories or series binge watching, it’s now replaced by recipes and subscription of various cooking channels. I have always enjoyed cooking, but only when it’s done leisurely. Cooking under pressure gives me jitters. When the time available is less, cooking seems like a chore rather than an unwinding exercise! Chopping and cutting drains out every ounce of energy you possess. When I found myself in this situation, I quickly switched on my Kashmiri brain and subscribed to Chandra aunty. Chandra Aunty has a Kashmiri pandit cuisine cooking channel on youtube and it has now become my favorite pastime!

Traditional Kashmiri recipes involve no onions or garlic (in some cases no tomatoes even!). You can pretty much do the math on how much time can be saved by Kashmiri style of cooking. Just put in the right proportion of spices, few saut├ęs, some close lid cooking and you are done! The dishes can be made spicy or non-spicy based on your preference. Red base dishes can be made with fiery Kashmiri chilies, yellow gravies are made with turmeric and given a distinctive taste by the use of schonth (Ginger powder) and baidhyan (fennel powder) plus there is a myriad of yakhni’s which are cooked in yoghurt based sauce.



Schonth and Baidhayan
Now everyone knows the irrevocable love Kashmiri’s have for mutton. The traditional spread of mutton dishes (which form an intrinsic part of the wazwan) is quite well known and easily available almost everywhere. The taste may not be up to the mark but at least names like roganjosh, kaliya, yakhni ring a bell. A Kashmiri bell! What most people don’t know is the fascination Kashmiri’s have with some special vegetables. They have their zu (which roughly translates to jaan in hindi) in monj (Knolkhol/Kohlrabi), hakh (collard greens) and nadur (lotus stem). It’s not that these are the only vegetables we like, hell we like vegetables so much that we even cook fruits like ‘em. So don’t be surprised to see apples cooked with bringals on our tables. Quinces or bum chooth as we call it is again a very special apple dish. Then we also cook up plums with potatoes or ghaad (fish) or spinach. Aah the sweet sour taste of cooked plums! And don’t get me started on our lure with dried up stuffs, drying vegetables was a necessity in the valley because of harsh and extreme winters. As the valley was cut-off, there was a dearth of fresh vegetables, hence all the drying up veggies started from September. Even though Kashmiri pandits do not live in Kashmir anymore, the love for hoek suen (dry veggies) remains. So you just name it and we will dry it! – Bringals (wagan hacch), bottle gourd (aal hacch), turnips (gogji hacch), tomatoes (tamatar hacch), morels (kangucch), fish (hogaard), water lily/lotus stems (Bum) and the list goes on.

In this picture we can see tomatoes, bringals & turnips
 Coming back to monj, hakh and nadur. The immense popularity of these vegetables can be attributed to the fact that they are a part of quintessential Kashmiri comfort food. Sadly they are not so readily available outside of Jammu and Kashmir. And if by some good deed done in your previous birth you do manage to find them your Kashmiri soul will dance away in hallelujah. I recently had this stroke of luck while grocery shopping, I could not believe what I saw and shouted at the top of my voice whilst turning around to hubby – Moonnnjjjj. Only hubby was nowhere nearby and I literally scared the living hell out of the person behind me with all my shouting! Now to give you an idea moonj usually looks something like this (picture added below). However the ones we got at the store were devoid of leaves. So we decided to make dum monj out of them which does not necessitate the need for leaves. Contrary to usual monj preparation which does not use many spices, dum monj is an elaborate dish usually prepared on special occasions like marriage, hawan or any other time you feel like drowning yourself in oil and spices.

Monj with sabaz sabaz hakh!
There are many online websites, blogs and even you tube channels through which one can easily get access to popular Kashmiri recipes. But it is difficult to find recipes for some typical dishes which are not made often. I could only find a handful of recipes for dum monj, so that’s the reason I decided to document the recipe on my blog. Maybe it will help me build up dwindling traffic of my sad little blog!

So, here goes.

1. First of all wash and cut the monjh. Traditionally it’s made into thick circular slices, but I choose to cut them into cubes because well no reason, just like that. The upper part of monj known as monj gab has a very respectable position, it is like the chicken leg piece of monjh.

2. Next step is to fry the pieces. Since this recipe involves thick pieces, deep frying is recommended. I just shallow fried as my pieces were small.



3. Once all the pieces are fried up, take about two tablespoons of oil on medium heat and add 3,4 cloves, a small piece of cinnamon and asafoetida or hing. Now reduce the heat and add two table spoons of Kashmiri red chilli powder and about one spoon of ginger powder. Make sure to add masala’s on low heat or else you will end up burning the spices and also have a sneezing fit. This is a very critical step because how your dish turns out will depend on this step. Raang kadun as it is known is Kashmiri, it should look fiery red. I did not have Kashmiri chilli powder so my dish did not quite make it to the mark in looks department.

When your oil is at right temperature, the masala's will bubble away beautifully
4. Now that the the masala’s have been added let them be for a few seconds and then add two cups of water. Now increase the heat and let the mixture come to a boil.

5. Add fried monj now and cover the lid. Let it cook for around 5 to 10 minutes until the gravy thickens and monj softens. Check the monj at regular intervals using a spatula, just like you would check a potato. Do not overcook.



6. Serve with plain white rice and sabut moong ki daal for a wholesome kashmiri meal.

I have not used any baidhayn (fennel powder) or garam masala in this recipe because I did not have any. Not sure if it is used in the recipe per se but mine turned out just fine without them too. Also would suggest to make it atleast 2-3 hours before eating as all the spices really infuse together and the gravy thickens naturally by then.
Adding a picture of aal yakhni (Bottle gourd) which I made, because I am just obscenely proud of it. Recipe for this can easily be found online.


Love
Sepo


6 comments:

  1. Very nicely written. In fact my kashmiri taste buds have been activated after reading this. Dish looks yum and iI am sure it would have tasted yummier.
    BTW you can get all kashmir spices ordered online, try that.
    Keep writing and keep trying new stuff!
    Nidhi n Ujwal

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  2. Amazing narrative! My olfactory sensors and taste buds pushed the ecstacy of gulping down morsels with yogurt and batta (rice). Believe me it wasn't just vicarious, it was such a fulfilling experience. Stay blessed!

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  3. Sounds like yummy, Sneha. I should try it once and hope you doing well. I am yet to try dishes from Kashmir:)

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  4. Khana banana aa Gaya hehe
    Best of luck

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  5. This post is really nice and pretty well maintained, thanks for it and keep updating.

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