Thursday, February 25, 2016

Flavours of Kashmir at Latest Recipe, Le Meridien, Gurgaon

We get very few opportunities to learn from maestros. Learning about a cuisine considered as awe inspiring as Kashmiri is an opportunity I can't miss. 

Kashmiri cuisine has been awe inspiring for me always. I love the Khatte Baingan, Haakh, Gogji Nadur, Chaman Kaliya and the likes, have been cooking these home style Kashmiri recipes for long but had never experienced a Wazawan.

Wazawan is the Kashmiri wedding feast that is supposed to be the ultimate gluttony of the highest order. The Kashmiri Waza is the professional chef who cooks for such Wazawan and he is considered an artist in his own right. The fine art of choosing the meat cuts, giving it the right treatment before cooking and shaping the perfect Moche, Rista and Goshtaba, slow cooking the Tabak maaz perfectly after poaching them in stock is the art that brings accolades to a professional Waza in Kashmir or even outside Kashmir. 

So when the much acclaimed food critique Marryam Reshii hosted us for a Kashmiri dinner at Le Meridien Gurgaon, it was a blissful experience to taste and learn from her and Waza Rashid who had been flown in from Srinagar to prepare the feast. It is worth mentioning that Marryam is married to a Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmir is her second home for the last 25 years, possibly more than that as she had been working on Kashmir issues much before that. 

This hand crafted authentic Kashmiri dinner at Latest Recipe, the all day dining restaurant at Le Meridien Gurgaon, was indeed a great learning experience when Waza Rashid cooked food and Marryam Reshii gave her inputs in every possible way. Both of them answered our queries patiently and I found myself getting educated about the finer nuances. Imagine someone who couldn’t differentiate between a Rista and Goshtaba till recently, learning about Butt Haaq and Waza Haaq at the Kashmiri cuisine showcase. Butt Haaq by the way is the Kashmiri haaq greens cooked the Hindu way and Waza Haaq is the same greens cooked the Muslim way, often with mutton liver.

The dinner started with a few exquisite chutneys. Pumpkin, Zereshk, Walnut and Radish chutneys were delicious and one could keep on licking them by spoonfuls if the starters did not arrive. The starters were served in quick succession and we found our plates loaded with Tabak Maaz, Seekh Kabab, Nadru ki Tikki, Haaq ki tikki and Waza Chicken. I liked Haaq ki Tikki more than Nadru Tikki, Waza Chicken was good too but the show stopper for me was the Tabak Maaz.

The slow cooked Tabak maaz was crisp like a cracker on the outside and glutinous soft inside, subtly flavored and perfectly meaty. Waza Rashid informed later when I asked that the Tabak Maaz is made with larger chunks of side ribs when made for traditional Tarami platters and stays moister inside.

Tarami is a huge copper platter that serves four people together during Wazawan. To make the experience more realistic we were served the Tarami platter, a ceramic platter in this case, to be shared between the two of us and how we loved it. 

The Tarami platter came with plain rice and a pulao served on two sides. The rice was topped with Rista, Gushtaba, Aab Gosht, Alubukhara Korma, Murgh Dhaniya Korma, Kishmish Korma and the Moche kabab. I shall talk about my favorites from this Tarami platter and there were too many of them.

The subtle and light Aab Gosht, that is a meat dish cooked with milk was a fine example of how a dish need not be rich to taste great. The Goshtaba which is a very smooth meatball cooked in a milky gravy was perfectly done and oh so juicy and flavourful. Aromatic Kashmiri spice mixes exude a very subtle but potent aroma of fennel, green cardamom, Cloves, Caraway and saffron in such curries. 

The Alu Bukhara korma was pleasantly tart and delicious. Kishmish Korma made me crave for it but I had to stop myself from taking second helpings else I wouldn’t have been able to taste the other delicious offerings on this menu. Moche Kabab was a fist shaped kabab sprinkled with almond flakes, very flavourful, moist and slightly spongy. 

The way the meat is pounded for these kababs and meatballs, the way the fat is added while pounding and the portions of the animal used makes a difference in taste and texture in these fine specimens of different cooking techniques. This is where a Waza proves his skills. 

The dessert was a Phirni with nuts and saffron, with generous lashings of coconut to my surprise. Nicely made and delicious but Kashmir is not known for the desserts as much I know. The Qahva arrived to sum up the wonderful meal and wrapped us with its warmth and the aroma of saffron. 

Waza Rashid kept telling us how he has introduced some vegetarian kababs and some innovative vegetarian dishes to suit the taste buds of people outside Kashmir but there used to be a fixed menu for the traditional Wazawan earlier. He told us about the different types of Dum Alu that is made during Wazawan and how interesting pickles are made with almost everything in Kashmir. 

I reserved my stupid questions about the Ver masala, sun dried vegetables and how they are cooked for Marryam as she is a patient listener and a sweet soul who never gets tired of talking about food, that too her favorite cuisine that is cooked everyday at her home. I told you I came back with some value addition to my food knowledge.

This special hand crafted authentic Kashmiri cuisine prepared by Waza Rashid is available at latest Recipe, the all day dining restaurant at Le Meridien Gurgaon till February 29th. Please go if you want great tasting food and some enlightenment on Kashmiri cuisine.

Please forgive me for the lack of pictures, the ones shared here are the cellphone pictures I clicked that day. There are a few technical issues with my desktop and I can’t edit and upload pictures for a while. I will rectify it as soon as possible and will update this post with all the pictures I have clicked with my camera. Stay tuned. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kali gajar ka halwa | black carrot halwa

kali gajar ka halwa recipe

There are very few places in Uttar Pradesh where you still get kali gajar ka halwa. One of those places is the Moti Mahal (restaurant and chaat place) in Hazrat Ganj Lucknow where you get kali gajar ka halwa during winters along with decent malaiyyo, kesar pista doodh and an assortment of other halwas. You can get about a dozen variants of halwa at Moti Mahal, made of lentils, nuts, seeds and carrots of different types. Unfortunately I haven't come across kali gajar ka halwa in Banaras yet.

But I will tell you about Ghazipur, a small town some 75 Km from Banaras which is my maternal grandparents home town. It has been about 2 decades since I went there but we used to go to Ghazipur every summer vacation for at least 2 weeks (back in late 70s and 80s) and I have some great food memories from those days. We visited Ghazipur a few times in winters too when my maternal grandfather was terminally ill and that is the time my memory of kali gajar ka halwa dates back to.

There was this halwai family who used to make all types of murabbas and halwas apart from the regular dry mithais which used to be sent to other parts of the state as much I remember. This was a wealthy halwai family who was in this trade for a few generations, we knew in detail because one of the daughters was my mother's classmate.

So someone was sent to buy kali gajar ka halwa to their workshop and the person came back empty handed saying they haven't made kali gajar ka halwa this season. Everyone in the family was crestfallen and unanimously blamed the family for this act of 'cheating' their customers. The disappointment was grave.

The imminent expectation of the kali gajar ka halwa treat and then the disappointment somehow got imprinted in my mind and every time I would taste a well made kali gajar ka halwa later this incident will replay in my head.

Note that black carrots are quite distinct in their flavour and the halwa recipe needs a little fine tuning if you have been making red carrot halwa all your life.

kali gajar ka halwa recipe

I tried making it myself a few times, failed a few times and finally learnt how to keep this halwa sweet and pleasant, not causing the milk to get the flavour of the black carrots that makes the halwa weird tasting in my opinion.

While I like the milk to be cooked slowly along with grated red carrots to make my kind of great gajar ka halwa, where the milk gets all the colour and flavours of the red carrots making it sweeter and pleasant. Red carrots are sweet in taste while black carrots, owing to the rich flavonoids and dark coloured pigments, are a little astringent in taste.

So when grated black carrot is cooked with milk slowly for long duration it (the pigments) masks the sweetness of reduced milk and also make it a wee bit astringent which is not a pleasant attribute of a halwa.

So what to do when making kali gajar ka halwa?

kali gajar ka halwa recipe

Not to worry much, the recipe is still simple you just change the timings of the addition of different ingredients. Also, note that keeping the kali gajar ka halwa a bit rich on ghee helps in absorption of all the pigment goodness (read fat soluble vitamins) so go make this halwa rich and delicious.


1 kilo cleaned peeled and grated black carrots
1 Liter whole milk reduced to make about 200 gm thick evaporated milk (almost like thick rabdi)
300 gm sugar (I use 200 gm)
50-60 gm (2 tbsp) ghee or a little more
chopped nuts for garnish as per choice

almond meal about 100 gm per kilo carrots if you want to make it a tonic breakfast dish


Take a thick base kadhai or pan wide enough to accommodate all the grated carrots and still be convenient enough to stir easily. Heat it over gas stove and smear it generously with the ghee.

Now add all the grated black carrots, keeping the heat high and stir vigorousely for 5 minutes or till the grated carrots wilt a little. Now switch the heat to be medium low and start stirring it every couple of minutes. This will enable the carrots to get a little seared and that somehow locks the flavours in.

You can reduce the milk on the other side simultaneously.

Once the grated black carrot reduces in volume and becomes soft enough to get mashed easily it is time to add the sugar. You can mash the carrots if you want a smooth halwa before adding the sugar or keep the shreds undisturbed like I do. The mixture gets a little watery after adding sugar so cook some more while stirring almost continuously till it becomes glazed and shiny.

Now add the reduced milk, mix well and cook some more to let everything mix together. The reduced milk will get the colour of the cooked black carrots but wont become astringent.

If you intend to add almond meal you can add it along with the reduced milk and cook for 5 more minutes.

kali gajar ka halwa recipe

All well cooked gajar ka halwa variants stay well for 3-4 days at room temperature (in winter months, north India) and the halwa was always spread in a parat or large thali in my home, nuts were sprinkled over it and the thali was covered and kept either on the dining table or on kitchen platform or in the milk cupboard. Well, it was hidden from our sight most of the times.  No one can resist stealing some halwa if it is kept in a visible place.

Now I refrigerate. Now we have lost that habit of stealing such foods and I miss that.

Kali gajar ka halwa is definitely tastier than red carrot halwa if made well. And now you know how to make the kali gajar ka halwa in the right way. It is indeed a tonic food and can be supplemented with a little warming spices if one wants some warmth in harsh winter months.

Kali gajar ka halwa was considered an aphrodisiac too but I am sure the recipe would include some cardamom and nutmeg too for that effect.

Now I know the reason my family felt cheated when kali gajar ka halwa was denied to them one season about 4 decades ago. Food memories are best preserved in our minds I feel, the reason being that food is perceived by our senses so well. More reasons to make the food better for all of us, enjoy food with loved ones and create memories of togetherness.

Friday, February 5, 2016

saag paneer | laal chaulai paneer ki bhurji | red amaranth and paneer stir fry

saag paneer with red amaranth

Paneer, eggs and boiled chickpeas in the fridge are the best ingredients to make a nourishing meal in a jiffy. Of course I stock my greens in many ways too so I can cook our meals quickly. Having someone to chop and clean is a great help but then one can always plan a weekend time when all the vegetables can be stocked for the week's use.

I stock my leafy green vegetables in many ways. Some are kept unwashed wrapped in brown paper or cloth bags and they last pretty much the whole week this way. I rinse the greens stored this way and chop before cooking but it does take some time. When I plan ahead and involve my house help I get the greens cleaned, well rinsed and chopped and freeze them in ziplock bags or steam and keep them in airtight containers for a week or so.

Luckily Amaranth leaves of both types, red and greens ones are quite dry in nature and last really well in the fridge even after chopping. I make optimal use of this property of amaranth greens whenever I get a huge bunch from our weekly market.

This time I found a ziplock bag of red amaranth in the freezer that I had froze 3 months ago when I had bought a huge bunch of them.

Now to tell you the truth, amaranth greens were never cooked with paneer in my home but this became a short cut way to make one subzi that includes greens and proteins and cooks in just about 10 minutes. In the mornings when I have to cook lunch box this way of cooking just one subzi suits well. I just pack some rotis and dahi with it and the lunch box meal is complete.

(2-3 servings)

400 gm chopped red amaranth leaves (or green if you don't get the red ones)
100 gm red onions sliced thinly
2-3 broken dry red chillies
1 tbsp mustard oil
salt to taste
120 gm paneer cubed

Heat mustard oil and tip in the broken red chillies. Let the chillies get aromatic, you can let them burn lightly if you want a smoky flavour. I do the smoking of the chillies for this recipe.

Now add the sliced onions. Fry them till they turn translucent.

Add salt and the chopped amaranth greens. Mix well, cover and cook till the leaves get wilted.

Stir fry for a few minutes, add the cubed paneer and cook covered for a couple of minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature with roti, paratha or millet rotis.

This paneer saag works really well as a sandwich stuffing too.

You can cook this recipe of saag paneer with spinach too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Earthen pots in my kitchen | how to use earthen pots and recipe of handi wala khatta saag from Rajasthan

Earthen pots

The potter’s wheel has always brought a sense of mystic bewilderment. The way those deft hands shape delicate smooth wet earth over the spinning wheel and then how the dried earthen pots are fired at high temperature to become tough to handle whatever comes their way. Some of those pots end up storing water and some overflow with billowing froth of lentils being cooked over wood fired chulhas. Some of the decorative pots are used to set yogurt and some others are filled with syrupy rasgullas to be taken as gifts to friends and relatives. 

making of Earthen pots

I was talking to a potter from Azamgarh who had come to showcase his wares at Constitution Hall in Delhi, and realized that the potters also have ‘seasons’ for the kind of pots they make. During  the wedding season in India they are busy making Kalash and various shapes of Handis and Sakoras (shallow bowls) being used for wedding rituals, the Matkas for holding water, pots for growing plants, Chai Kulhads and Dahi Handis are made all thorough the year at a slow rate as these have a lukewarm but assured market demand.  The urban markets have now started demanding for teacups, kettles, Kadhais and casserole dishes and the potters have started experimenting with new finish, smooth glaze and decorative patterns. I am glad the earthen pots are coming back to our kitchens with a new fervor.

The conversation with this potter from Azamgargh started when I voiced my doubt about the shiny black colour his terra cotta teacups. I asked what glaze or paint he uses for ‘coloring’ the teacups black and whether the color is safe for kitchen utensils. That is when he introduced me with the technique he uses. After the terracotta teacups are fired till they become fully baked and strong, the potters smoke the furnace by adding dried leaves, the smoke and soot coats the pots and gets baked once again, making the pots look sooty black. Mustrad oil is smeared on the pots after firing and smoking,  a second round of firing fixes the black colour and become shiny. Nevertheless, the potter charmed me with his beautifully made black teacups. He assured me that every cup of tea will taste like you are having kulhad wali chai and you can keep washing the cup like any other ceramic or glass cups. 

Later I got to know that Azamgarh black pottery is little known but a technique to preserve and to be encouraged. They make beautiful decorative vases and filigree like patterns on pots.
It feels good to see the potters innovating with the type of utensils they make. The tea sets, decorative platters, bowls and dishes have now become style statements and the potters are catching up the trend slowly as they get demand of such stylish utensils even from some fancy restaurants. 

We are privileged to see the potters still around, spinning life into wet clay. But some of the potters I meet thanks to my passion to collect terra cotta pots, are really poor and are looking for other options to earn their livelihood. I met another potter in Tijara (Alwar, Rajasthan) who embroiders dresses along with making pots to meet ends, he kept requesting me to find a job in Delhi all the while, pottery on its own is insufficient to meet ends for him. Tejaswini Foundation helps these potters from Tijara by taking their utensils to urban markets and getting them some profit but more such efforts are required.

Earthen pots
Thankfully there are some potters who are making enough money to keep going. The Longpi pottery from Manipur is beautiful. This black pottery is known to be made with a mix of a black stone powder and clay, the pots are shaped and fired the same way as terra cotta pots and is breakable too. It doesn’t mean these utensils are delicate. One can use them over gas stoves, microwaves and conventional ovens just like Borosilicate and Corning glass utensils, taking same precautions to protect them. Longpi pottery is interesting in the way the potters from Manipur have devised new shapes and sizes from this pottery.

sweet potato hash browns for breakfast
                                              Sweet potato hash browns in Manipu Longpi pan

They make baking trays, beautiful kettles, tea cups and beer mugs, bowls and plates, salad bowls and serving platters apart from their traditional pots and even decorate the edges or handles using cane weaving. Such beautiful and cook, bake and serve type of utensils are becoming more and more popular with urban consumers and finding a place of pride on the dining table. 

Amaranth trial mix

                                      Amaranth trail mix in  a Manipur Longpi bowl

The educated potters of Manipur have already made a place in the trendy kitchenware section and Longpi pottery is available even on some e-commerce websites. I am hopeful for the potters from other parts of the country as well, they have at least not discontinued making earthen pots.

Another interesting place to find exquisite pottery is Gundiyali, a potters’ village in Kutch region of Gujrat. The potters of this village have been making the same designs of pottery since 5000 years apparently as the same designs of pots were excavated from Hadappa and Mohenjodaro too. Interestingly the potters not only use the spinning wheel to make perfectly shaped pots, but they also use a technique called Ghadayi where they gently beat the half made Matka (Ghada or round pot for water storage) from outside using a flat wooden disc with a handle. 

making of Earthen pots

The potters are so adept that they make perfect round Matka using this Ghadayi technique with their hands.

making of Earthen pots

I have witnessed this Ghadayi technique in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujrat to make large Matkas, while the smaller utensils are made on the potters’ wheel completely. 

The potters from some more areas of Kutch have found a way to make pots and pans suited for modern kitchens too and they are marketing their wares almost all over India.  Mitticool website is from Kutch potters and sells various types of kitchen and dining utensils made of Terra cotta. Some unorganized potters from Kutch region make beautiful water bottles with lid, water jugs, insulated casseroles and dinner sets too. Even a Tawa (griddle) with handle and a metal base has started making waves among those who love using Terra cotta pots. Kutch potters are also known for the beautiful intricate painting they do on the pots, much like the Kutchi embroidery.

Baingan bharta and roti

                             Baingan ka bharta and bajre ki roti with kanji pickle

Kerala is also known for the earthenware Chattis (pans) they use for cooking everyday fish and prawn curries. Kerala remains one of those places where common people did not stop cooking in earthenware pots although it became less frequent in the modern kitchens. 

Thanks to our festivals and religious rituals that have helped survive the profession of a potter in the country. Potters all over the country make diyas for Diwali every year and bring them to markets to sell. I remember the Kuldevta pooja in our ancestral home where there was a mandatory practice to cook the Prasad in earthen pots over wood fired chulhas. The village kumhar would be summoned to make specific sizes and shapes of the pots to fill water, milk and ghee and one kadhai in which the Prasad was deep fried in cow ghee. 

I am sure other families and communities had similar pooja rituals and the Kumhar’s art survived due to this constant demand of earthen pots throughout the year apart from the surge in the demand during wedding season of the calendar. Of course there was Durga pooja, Ganesh puja and several other festivals when the Kumhars would make idols of Gods and Goddesses for worship. Interestingly these idols would be immersed in the nearest water bodies after the festival is over. Imagine the fine sedimentary soil is collected from dried up ponds to make such idols which are immersed into another water body after the worship rituals are over. We have a theory of being born of panchtatva and getting merged with panchtatva after death in this country and these earthen idols follow the same path. A potter’s work is enchanting indeed.

chooda matar and chai

                        Banarasi chooda matar served with chai : earthen pots make a difference 
The new age terra cotta pottery could help revive the potters better and bring better profits to them. The terracotta teapots and cups that we use for our everyday chai are a lot better than bone china and ceramic or even glass tumblers. The sedimentary soil that is used for making terra cotta pots is a renewable resource and making of the pots doesn’t burden the environment with toxic chemicals and pollutants and if one is concerned about the cost of terra cotta utensils and their longevity, they are mostly similarly priced as mid level ceramic or glass tableware. Life span of a terra cotta tea cup or a handi can be as good as a glass utensil, the breakage and chipping as easy as any other breakable tableware. Just take care to buy well fired earthenware.

Terra cotta pots are great for dum cooking technique. One can bake everything In terra cotta trays and even curries can be cooked well. Once heated the terra cotta pots need lesser flame heat to keep cooking. In Kerala people line the chatty with banana leaf to slow cook food in minimal oil, in urban kitchens the terra cotta pans can be lined with aluminum foil if required. In earlier days each pot was filled with water for a few days so the pores are filled with some minerals found in drinking water, then the pot is used for cooking. This way the pots do not absorb the aroma of foods being cooked in it. Indian Daal, Kheer, Saag etc cook really well in Handis and people use to look forward to food cooked in them during picnics in earlier days.

To clean the earthen pots after cooking or serving food, just rinse them with water first and then use a hard sponge with diluted liquid detergent or soap nut powder before rinsing them thoroughly with running water. Let them dry completely in sun before storing them away for next use. No need to sun the pots if they are being used every day. In modern kitchens one can heat the cleaned pots in the oven till the water dries up. 

So when you plan to make some rustic Daal or Saag next time try and get a Handi and spend a couple of hours cooking for the family. The Mitti ka Tawa makes the best tasting millet Rotis you have tasted and that too in the comfort of your own modern kitchen.

Rajasthani khatta saag and bajre ki roti

Recipe of Rajasthani khatta saag cooked in earthen Matka
(recipe by Sneh Yadav)

1 kilo mixed greens of Spinach, Mustard, Bathua (Chenopodium) and some Beet leaves etc
60 gm green garlic leaves or chives (or use chopped garlic)
100 gm sour curds
Salt to taste
Finely chopped ginger and green chillies to taste 

Wash, clean and drain all the leafy greens and chop them roughly.
Chop the garlic greens finely.
Add all the greens to the cooking Matka along with 500 ml water and cook covered for 10 minutes on high flame. Then lower the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes. 
Whisk the yogurt and add to the cooking saag. Now mash the cooking saag using a wooden mathani (churner). Cook more till the saag becomes mushy but not too smooth.
Add the minced ginger and green chillies. Mix well and cover. Switch the gas stove off and let the pot sit for another 10 minutes before serving.
Serve hot with miller rotis, some raw onions and some fresh white butter over the saag.

 A truncated version of this article was published in Down to Earth magazine.