I’ve been fascinated with Kashmiri food ever since i went to Srinagar earlier this year. After three days of elaborate wedding food, cooked by aged experienced traditional cooks, however, i was convinced it would be next to impossible to replicate. Till i was given Koshur Saal to review. Not only was it a fascinating book, but it actually made me feel like i may be able to recreate some of the food i got addicted to in Srinagar.
First on the list, is creamy Mutton yakhni made with curd and intricately laced with spices in that signature Kashmiri way.
Kashmiri food is alluringly unfamiliar. Kashmiri food is comfortingly familiar. This contradiction is Koshur Saal’s greatest advantage.
Written by Chandramukhi Ganju – yet another Non Resident Indian cookbook author – Koshur Saal’s a resolute, practical and authoritative attempt to record the culinary culture of her community.
Perhaps the reason so many NRIs write recipe books is because distance brings the necessary perspective to really understand nuances and record processes. After all, the food your mother and grandmother cook might seem ordinary, even boring, as long as you are at home eating it every day. It’s only when you try recreating it in a completely different set-up that you appreciate the techniques, skills and measures necessary for every recipe.
The advantage of having someone like Ganju – who now lives in California – hand-hold you through this book is that she’s familiar with the challenges of creating a reasonably authentic meal in a situation that’s a world away from the recipes’ origins. More importantly, thanks to her popular Koshur Saal website, which draws Kashmiris hankering for a taste of home from across the world, Ganju’s used to explaining processes to amateur as well as seasoned cooks. The book’s precise instructions, therefore, are accompanied by all kinds of tables, photographs and charts, listing everything from the customary glossary of translations (with meanings in Kashmiri, Hindi and English) as well as step-by-step picture guides to help deal with vegetables like the unusual Kohlrabi (vaguely similar to a turnip). You can choose how much, or how little, information you want to use.
For the many Kashmiris who live all over the world, and dream incessantly of creamy Yakhean mutton curry, or pulav interspersed with juicy morel mushrooms, or simple rice bread paired with Kahwa tea fragrant with cinnamon, this a realistic guide, empowering them to make these meals almost anywhere. Ranging from basic omelettes (with chilli, ginger powder and fresh cilantro) to the ever-popular chicken Rogan josh, with its intricate web of aromatic spice, the recipes are fairly simple.
There are alternatives suggested for ingredients that are rare or unique to Kashmir. Such as leafy mallow which can be substituted with spinach. Since this book is geared chiefly towards American NRIs it suggests ingredients easily found in their supermarkets or Korean/Chinese/Indian food stores, which aren’t always available to all Indian readers, which can be annoying. Take lotus root, shiitake mushrooms or Granny Smith apples. Or the directive to replace pacchin, a Kashmiri flying bird, with ‘Cornish hen’. Its high time NRI writers take into account the Indian situation, when they write on Indian food. After all, this is a huge and profitable market.
You really don’t need to be Kashmiri to use and enjoy this book. Its most charming feature is how unwittingly exotic it’s turned out to be. Unlike the many authors who take advantage of ‘exotic India’s’ marketability, Ganju’s relatively naïve approach is refreshingly unstudied.
Of course this has its disadvantages. For instance, she’s helpfully added an entire section on other Indian food, which dilutes the book’s novelty. Pictures are amateur, often unimaginative and sometimes downright unappealing.
Yet, these pictures are functional. Often they’re also endearingly helpful, pointing out what each vegetable looks like and even how some of them should be cleaned.
Clearly, Koshur Saal simply wants to share information, which is why it’s direct, unfussy and unpretentious. No glossy pages, chic layouts or fancy prose. Yet, it’s a compelling read because it’s so unique.
Though this cuisine is known world-over, thanks to the Kashmiri Diaspora, very few people actually know its specifics. There are surprisingly few books available, especially when compared to other popular Indian cuisines. Amazon, for instance has more than a 100 book on Punjabi food, but only lists a handful on this cooking.
The food uses a host of colourful ingredients available in Kashmir. Like green almonds, used to make fish. Also mallow, green cardamom and leafy wupal haak from the forests. Ganju also has recipes using dried vegetables, like brinjal and green squash, which were made in Kashmiri households to tide them through winter.
These ingredients might be next-to-impossible to source, but the recipes certainly make for an interesting read – especially when they’re accompanied by her explanations on their cultural significance.
After all, who can resist vicariously enjoying the image of Pumpkin flower fritters, made with cheery orange petals covered in a crisp golden batter?