The paradise and its cuisine: Marzwangan korma/Lamb with Kashmiri red chillies

DSC_0147Like 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ingredients:

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

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  • 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.

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Dalcha/Curried lentils with lamb and it’s origin

I’ve only been to Hyderabad for a very short time but it still amazed me. It’s a very old city with a rich history and a mix of cultures. The city’s two major populations are very contrasting in nature, one being Telegu-speaking Hindus and the other Urdu-speaking Muslims. Although the majority of the people are Hindus, there is still a very significant Muslim population in the ‘old city’, a legacy of the long-standing Muslim dynasty that ruled over the erstwhile Hyderabad state until 1948.

DSC_0282During the medieval times, the Muslim rulers (originally from Samarkand in central Asia) were fascinated by the rich regional cuisine and couldn’t resist incorporating local dishes into their own cuisine. Being voraciously carnivorous, they modified recipes which were originally vegetarian to satiate their meat-loving taste buds. Dalcha, which falls right into this category, is a delicious concoction of meat and lentils cooked together. As the Muslims were familiar with red lentils (masoor daal) and split chickpeas (chana daal), they used these to make their dalcha, but essentially borrowed the recipe of a local delicacy called sambar (pigeon pea lentil soup with vegetables), of course adding meat which would be unthinkable in the original dish.

Another Muslim delicacy that I haven’t had the opportunity to taste is haleem, but people who’ve eaten my dalcha and also had haleem before, say that they taste similar. I am yet to try making haleem, hopefully soon I can convince myself that it’s doable and cook it. Dalcha is very rich and flavorful and eaten mostly with naan or any other Indian flat bread. I have made it both with goat meat/mutton and lamb and both tasted equally good. I have tried modifying it and instead of adding the traditional fried curry leaf tadka (seasoning), I added Bengali garam masala and ghee (Indian clarified butter) at the end. I must say the tadka makes a big difference in the taste. I liked both varities but the curry leaf tadka is the traditional one.

I am sending this recipe to My legume love affair 55 (MLLA55) from Susan’s The well seasoned-cook. I am so glad to announce that I was the proud winner of the last month’s MLLA54. I cannot express how happy I am as this the first award for my baby blog (only four months old).

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I have borrowed the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook and attaching the recipe directly from her book.

Dalcha

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I realized that it might be a little difficult for some people to read it from the scanned page. In that case please see the written recipe below. The procedure might differ a little bit but it’s almost the same. I wrote the way I made it. Both will work.

Dalcha recipe:

Ingredients:

Red lentils/masoor daal: 1 ½ cups

Turmeric powder: ½ tsp

Vegetable oil: 4 tbsp

Cinnamon: 1 ½ inces.

Cardamom: 6 whole

Onion: 1 medium, cut into thin half sized

Lamb shoulder: ½ lb

Tamarind: 2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 3 tbsp lemon juice

Ginger grated: 1tsp

Garlic crushed/finely chopped: 1 tsp

Red chili powder/cayenne pepper: ½-1 tsp

Seasoning:

Ghee (Indian clarified butter)/vegetable oil: 2 tbsp

Whole cumin seeds: ½ tsp.

Dried red chili (whole): 1-2 nos.

Fresh curry leaves: 8-10 nos.

Garlic: 2 cloves, cut into thin slices (I didn’t use it in the seasoning)

 

  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then bring to a boil with around 3 cups of water. Add turmeric powder while boiling. Boil until the lentils are tender.
  • While the lentil is boiling, cook the meat. In a separate heavy bottom pot, add the cinnamon and the cardamom. Stir for few seconds until they release a nice aroma.
  • Add the sliced onions and sauté them until light brown.
  • Add the crushed ginger-garlic and the red chili powder/cayenne pepper.
  • Cook the spice mix on medium heat until oil oozes out from the spice.
  • Add the meat and cook it for few more minutes and coat the meat with the spices really well.
  • Add around ¾ cup of luke warm water, cover the pan and let the meat cook on medium flame (slightly covered).
  • Once the lentil is cooked, add salt, tamarind pulp and ½ tsp. of chili powder. Mash the lentils with a wooden stirrer or spoon well to make it smooth.
  • When the meat is tender, add the seasoned lentil and cook for few more minutes.
  • Heat up the ghee/oil (I used ghee), when hot, add the whole cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin seeds darken a bit brown, add the dry red chilis and the curry leaves.
  • After few seconds, add the sliced garlic and let them brown a little bit.
  • Pour the seasoning over the lentil-meat mixture and cover the pan.
  • You can add the seasoning right before serving the dish.