The Romance of Kashmir
We begin our culinary journey to India in the northernmost state of India: Jammu and Kashmir. The state broadly consists of three regions, Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladak.
The Kashmir Valley is known as, “Paradise on Earth”. It is famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape, stunning flower canopied landscapes, and lovely rivulets and lakes. The lakes are dotted with boats that are also known as houseboats, which serve as floating residences for some people in the region. A lot of the produce used for cooking in this region are grown in the floating gardens on the Dal Lake. This explains the use of certain local items such as the lotus stems being used in the cooking of this region.
The mountainous outlet Ladakh, also known as "Little Tibet", is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and influences of Buddhist Culture. There are several Buddhist centers of learning in this part of the state and is visited by various scholars and other members of the Buddhist community for its cultural and religious importance. The cuisine of Ladakh, fuses some influences from neighboring China and also bears some similarities to the food covered later, where we discuss the food of Northeastern India.
The cultural activities of the region center around folk dances and people wear ornately embroidered robes and beautiful and ornate jewelry. There are plenty of houseboats that serve both as tourist attractions and residences for people.
The cuisine of this region has evolved over hundreds of years. Today the cuisine consists of two major influences: the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims. The Kashmiri Muslim cuisine were began with the invasion of Timur, who originated from what is today know as Uzbekistan. Subsequently layers of influences from the cuisines of Central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan were incorporated to create the lush beautiful food of today’s Kashmir.
Some of the spices that make the Kashmiri table distinct from other parts of India, are the use of star anise, fennel and ginger (especially in the powdered form). The cooking medium of choice is the mustard oil, which has been presented in several of the recipes. Chilies and stronger seasonings are used more sparingly in the cuisine of Kashmir and Hariyana. Nuts and dried fruits are readily used to complete the food selections. Vegetables that are relished and unique to this region of India are winter greens such as kale and collards. Vegetables such as the kohlrabi are considered a delicacy, especially when savored with their delicate greens. I find the traditional items used in the cooking of Kashmir and the mountains similar to what we find in the winter farmers markets here in New York, so I tend to cook these meals using Kohlrabi, collards and Kale in the winter months celebrating the culinary heritage Indian Highlands.