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Different Kashmiri Spices And Their Uses In Their Cuisine
“You will never get a taste of Kashmiri food in Delhi,” commented Amir. I was shocked and wanted to know the reason behind it. I heard the people of the valley reminding me again and again that Kashmiri vegetables and foods are not available anywhere else but Kashmir. I have always introspected on this and wanted to know more about the food of Kashmir. This made me know various things about Kashmiri cuisine, recipes, ingredients, vegetables, spices etc.
Authentic Kashmiri cuisine is characterized by the variety of spices added to various dishes. Although I have tasted a lot of Kashmiri food, I never knew this fact. One day, the lady-my guest displayed the contents of my Kashmir-bag. She said, “These are masalas or masalas from the land of Kashmir. They are different in flavor and taste. When I am cooking in your kitchen, I want you to understand them very carefully”. “Hmm”, I thought.
She gave me different packets so that they can be packed in jars and stored properly. She opened the first packet and said, “It’s called Pudini”. She poured it on her palm and I wanted to smell them. It was dried mint leaves. They had a very strong smell. She added, “I buy these leaves in the summer and dry them in the sun. Once they are dry, I use them in some dishes in the winter”. Amazing and I was curious to know what ingredients they are paired with.
She picked up the next packet. It is called koshur martsivagan or koshur marchvagan. It is found in pod form. It is powdered and used in kitchen. It is a very important ingredient in many dishes where chili powder is added along with tomatoes to give it a glossy and nice red color. It is nothing but red kashmiri chili powder. It was completely red. She said that this chili powder is not very spicy, however, it adds a certain red color to the dish.
The next spice was cinnamon or cinnamon. It has a unique smell and is added to some foods to get this special taste. It is not added to all dishes of Kashmiri cuisine. Only special foods and drinks are required for this masala. I learned that it is used in different forms-
A) Large pieces of cinnamon
B) Small pieces of cinnamon
c) Cinnamon powder
d) Add cinnamon directly to boiling water
e) Cinnamon fried in oil or ghee (saturated butter)
f) The oil is heated and removed from the fire and then cinnamon stick or powder is mixed in the oil.
g) Sprinkle cinnamon powder on a plate and pour hot oil over it
I was impressed with these simple tips that give really different flavors to the same spice in different dishes.
The second spice in the line is LOVE. It is called RONG or LAUNG. It can vary in shape and smell. Sometimes the color is the main difference between koshur rong and other cloves available in India. It is also used in different ways like cinnamon.
Turmeric is also widely used in Kashmiri dishes. It is called LAIDER. I saw the difference between the two shades of yellow. Koshur Leder is a slightly more subtle yellow in color. Turmeric powder available in other states of India is deep yellow in color. Islamic kosher recipes do not use ladder in all dishes. However, it is added to vegetables, pulses and meat products when boiled in water.
Cumin is called ZEER or Z’UER in Kashmiri language. Its two types are available in the market and are
A) Brown thin and thin seeds
b) Brown and slightly thick seed
Unlike other North Indian dishes in India, these seeds are not added to all kosher curries or biryani. Their use is limited. Apart from these seeds, there is another type and is widely used in kosher Islamic foods. They are deep black in color. They have a specific smell and taste. They are also expensive. They are called Shahi Zeera. In other words, they are limited to rich and special foods.
Another spice was shown to me. It is called BAED A’EUL. It is black cardamom. It is used in kosher Islamic cuisine. Again there are different ways to use it. It is not widely used. I have observed Kashmiri women using numbers one or five. These foods definitely have an amazing flavor and taste. I realized that when I started making more and more Kashmiri dishes at home.
Kashmir and other North Indian states have another spice. Yes, it is Kasuri Methi. It is nothing but dried fenugreek leaves. I was surprised to see their use in kosher Islamic dishes. Again these leaves are limited to certain foods only. They add a really great aroma to the dish and the moment it is added, the entire house can smell its distinctive aroma. I can smell it right away. One tip I learned about using this spice is to crush the dried leaves between your two palms and sprinkle them evenly over curries and immediately cover the pot or casserole. This gives the dish a special smell.
The lady picked up a packet and told me that this masala is very special. In fact, it is especially grown in Kashmir. It is called SAFFRON or Kong or ZAFRAN. This is the soul of kosher cuisine. It is also added to various foods and drinks. It has a special yellow color. In fact, I came to know its authenticity from Rajoun (a Kashmiri friend of mine). He took some strips of kunkva and put it in his mouth. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and asked me if I could see any color. If the color is present on the tip of the tongue, then saffron is true in nature. Not otherwise.
Another wallet was filled with dried flowers. It is called Mawal in Kashmiri language. These are dried chickpea flowers. I used to prepare chicken curry. However, I did not like the color of the plate. The lady at my place informed me that maal should be added to the non-vegetarian dish to give the dish a certain red color. This is the secret behind the red color in some chicken or mutton dishes.
The moment I saw the contents of the packet, I screamed at the top of my voice and recognized it as coriander. They are called Dhaniwal. My visitor told me that Dhaniwal is used in the following ways-
a) Fresh coriander leaves
b) Dried coriander seeds
c) Dried Coriander
d) Coriander powder
The above mentioned varieties are used to prepare various dishes in Kashmir. Fresh leaves have an extraordinary smell. I observed that these leaves are not finely chopped or cut with a knife or chopper. They are simply broken into three parts and added to the dish (obviously after washing the sprouts under running water).
The contents of the packet below was a light brown powder. I was told it was called SONTH or SHOUNT. It is nothing but dried ginger powder. This spice is widely used in the Kashmir Valley. Again its presence is easily recognized and only added to special foods. It is a unique spice found and used in Kashmiri cuisine. It is used by both Kashmiri Islamic and Hindu people.
Another spice widely used in authentic Kashmiri cuisine is BAEDYN. It is a fennel seed powder. Kashmiri Hindus use both solid and powdered forms of fennel seeds. However, Kashmiri Islamic people use it only in powdered form. This definitely enhances the taste and smell of the dish.
Green cardamom kashmiri is always stored in the kitchen. Widely used in many foods and beverages. It is called A’EUL. I haven’t seen the powdered form that people use. It is crushed and the seeds are simply added to curries or rice dishes. Koshur isles are slightly longer and narrower in shape.
To my surprise, I found the use of tamarind in Kashmiri dishes. It is called TAEMBER. It is tangy and gives dishes an extra kick. It is seen in kitchen cupboards. It is usually added to gravy and tamarind pulp is extracted.
Pran is another special spice in Kashmiri Islamic cuisine. They are a completely different type of onion that is only available in Kashmir. I came to know that they are very expensive and not easily available even in the valley. It has a very specific smell. It is specially used in wazwan. It is also called shallots.
ZERESHK is another spice of Kashmir. They are currant berries and are used in some special dishes. I’m sure these seeds are used extensively in Persian dishes. Thus, I understand that it is specifically used by Islamic people in Kashmir rather than Hindus. Its use is limited to certain foods.
Apart from these spices of Kashmir, other lesser known spices are listed below-
c) Pomegranate seeds
d) Dried red pomegranate peel
These are not widely used in the kitchen. However, they are linked to certain foods and only a few women know about them.
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