Like an emerald pendant on a pearl-studded necklace, the green valley of Kashmir is surrounded by the snow-covered mighty Himalayas. Apart from its breathtakingly pretty landscapes, Kashmir has many other remarkable attractions such as friendly people, excellent pashmina shawls, the world’s best saffron and a mouthwateringly unique cuisine. Unfortunately, except for Kashmiri dum aloo (stuffed potatoes coked in gravy) or rogan josh (meat cooked with aromatic spices), the treasures of Kashmiri cuisine are largely unknown in the rest of India – I have no clue why though.
Maybe through a combination of its topographical detachment (a valley surrounded on all sides by very high mountains) and demography (two different religions with contrasting food habits), the Valley of Kashmir developed its own and very distinctive cuisine. Hindu Kashmiris are primarily Brahmins (the priestly class, also known as Kashmiri Pandits) and do not eat onions and garlic (as these tamasic ingredients are supposed to awaken the baser emotions of lust, anger and passion). Although meat and fish is abhorred by Brahmins in most parts of India (in keeping with the age-old tradition of vegetarianism in Hinduism), Kashmiri (and Bengali Brahmins) found their way to keep meat and fish as part of their diet.
However, unlike the other chicken-loving non-vegetarians of North India, Kashmiri Pandits prefer lamb as their primary meat source (beef of course is strictly prohibited). Two distinct styles of cooking meat have evolved in Kashmir, one being a richly colored red gravy flavored with fennel and Kashmiri chilies (among other spices) while the other is yakhni, a thin, lightly spiced, whitish yogurt-based gravy. Contrary to the Muslim cooking style where onions and garlic are used in abundance, Kashmiri Pandits use hing/asafetida as a substitute for adding that extra layer of flavor to their non-vegetarian dishes that cannot come from the meat alone. Indeed, this constitutes the hallmark difference between the cuisines of Hindu and Muslim Kashmir.
Marzwangan korma is a dish which is cooked with very few ingredients, but all of them are very aromatic. My husband says it smells like a subtle perfume (in a good way, unlike some foods which smell overpoweringly of rosewater or cinnamon). The moment you start cooking this dish, the kitchen will fill with a complex and enticing mix of smells. This is one of my favorite meat recipes as it doesn’t require any long marinades or grinding of ginger and garlic. Don’t be fooled by the fiery red color, it’s not half as spicy as it looks. The beautiful color comes from the bright red Kashmiri chili powder. Like the part of our planet that it comes from, it may appear violent but it is actually quite peace-loving 😉
Recipe: (Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)
Find a similar Bengali meat curry here.
Bone in lamb/goat meat, cut into 11/2 inch cubes: 3 lbs.
Red chili/Cayenne powder: ½-1 tsp.
Kashmiri chili powder/paprika: 1-3 tbsp.
Asafetida: 1/3 tsp. (optional)
Ground fennel seeds: 1 tsp.
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp.
Tamarind: one small walnut sized ball
Ground ginger/ginger powder: ½ tsp.
Vegetable/mustard oil: 4-5 tbsp.
Cinnamon sticks (preferably the Indian variety): 11/2 inches
Cardamom pods (green): 3 whole
Cloves: 3-4 nos.
Salt to taste
- Soak the tamarind ball in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Longer won’t hurt.
- Heat up half the oil and once hot, add the cinnamons, cardamoms and the cloves.
- Once you get the nice aroma, add the meat pieces. Sauté the meat pieces well (until few brown spots appear)
- Add three cups warm water to the meat and bring it to a boil.
- Cover the pot and let the meat cook on medium heat.
- Once the meat is 2/3 cooked, strain the meat and reserve the stock.
- In a small bowl mix the red chili powder, Kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, ginger powder and fennel powder with a little bit of water to make a smooth paste.
- Heat up rest of the oil on medium heat and add the asafetida.
- Few seconds later add the spice paste to the oil as well.
- Squeeze the tamarind ball to make a paste. Discard any pulp or seed. Add the tamarind paste to the spice paste.
- Sauté the spice mix until oil starts leaving the pan.
- Add the meat and mix everything very well. .
- Cook for another five minutes or so and then add the stock to the meat.
- Bring to a boil and cook it until the meat is completely cooked and the gravy reaches its desired consistency.
- Serve with plain rice and with a simple green vegetable.