Three easy recipes from the Kashmir Valley

When I was a child in India, growing up in West Bengal, we were the first family on our street to get a television. Occasionally, we would invite neighbours and friends round to watch Bollywood movies. These were mostly filmed in Kashmir, the valley that was once the summer capital of the Mughals. 

With its stunningly beautiful lakes, snow-capped mountains and rolling meadows, it looked like paradise. It was partly these movies that were responsible for my fascination with this remote state, which straddles the Himalayas: one of the many, varied parts – each with their own distinct culture – that define the ‘real India’. Growing up, Kashmir felt like a foreign country, and I longed to visit. 

Now, as a professional chef, Kashmir intrigues me for even more reasons. With so much political uncertainty in the region, its cuisine and culture is increasingly difficult to access – but I strongly believe that it’s a cuisine and culture that the world deserves to know more about. 

Kashmir, the northernmost region of India, is bordered by Pakistan to the north and west and China to the east. Unlike other places in India, Kashmir is largely untouched by foreign and domestic tourists, primarily because of its political situation. 

Kashmiri cuisine draws its heritage from two different groups of people: the Pandits and Muslims. While there are differences between the two groups, there are also many similarities – most importantly, the fact that they both offer such a rich fusion of styles and flavours in their food. 

Both cuisines draw heavily on Central Asian, Afghan, Persian and Mughal styles of cooking. Each group brings its own style of richness to the table, with a deliciously aromatic blend of spices, including cloves, cinnamon, green and black cardamom, and ground fennel and ginger. 

Few foreign tourists visit Kashmir and get the chance to try these native dishes for themselves, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out. I hope you discover some new favourites from this little-known part of India – and that, perhaps, you will be encouraged to visit this beautiful region one day. 


Chaman kaliya (paneer in yellow gravy)

When I was travelling in Kashmir, many restaurants, hotels and home cooks were using paneer and cooking it in ways I wasn’t used to. This particular recipe was inspired by my friends Amit and Prateek’s parents, whom I met when they were visiting Kashmir. I had never eaten paneer this way before. This beautiful, tasty bowl of yellow sunshine is so good that you will be going back for seconds. A simple yet delectable dish.




Credit: Matt Russell

Timings 

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 

Four 

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp mustard oil
  • 500g paneer, cubed
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp brown cumin seeds
  • 2–3 dried bay leaves
  • ½ tsp asafoetida powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp ground fennel
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 whole green chillies, halved lengthways
  • 300ml hot water
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
  • steamed rice, to serve

Method 

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the paneer and fry until light brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add all the whole spices and bay leaves to the pan and cook for 1 minute, then add the asafoetida, turmeric, ginger, fennel, salt and halved chillies. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then pour in the hot water. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Now reduce the heat back to
  3. medium, add the fried paneer and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Pour in the milk and cook for a further 5-6 minutes until the gravy thickens. Mix through the dried fenugreek leaves and remove from the heat. Serve with rice.

Kong kokur (saffron chicken) 

While visiting Kashmir, I learnt so much about the food, people and the landscape. Although I had chicken on my travels, it wasn’t widely served, and people likely cook chicken at home with the same ingredients used in lamb or vegetarian dishes. Using this as my inspiration, when I returned to the UK, I made a whole roasted chicken recipe using the Kashmiri spices for my family and friends to enjoy.




Credit: Matt Russell

Timings 

Prep time: 20 minutes plus soaking and marinating

Cooking time:1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 

Four to five 

Ingredients

  • 8 tsps sunflower oil or ghee
  • 100g shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 cloves
  • 8cm cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
  • 2 tsp ground fennel
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp saffron strands, soaked in 3 tbsp lukewarm water
  • 1kg chicken, skin removed
  • Chutneys, relishes, rice or vegetarian side dish, to serve (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Heat 5 teaspoons of the oil or ghee in a large pan, add the shallots and fry until golden brown, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, blitz to a paste in a food processor.
  2. Place all the whole and ground spices, along with the salt, in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, and grind to a fine powder.
  3. In a bowl, combine the spice powder with the shallot paste and saffron water, along with the remaining 3 teaspoons of oil or ghee. Mix together with a fork. Apply the spice paste to the whole chicken, ensuring it is thoroughly covered, then leave to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Place the marinated chicken in a roasting tray and roast in the hot oven for 1 hour 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the chicken to rest in the oven while you preheat the grill (broiler) to high. Place the chicken under the grill and cook for 15 minutes until browned on top. Serve with chutneys or relishes of your choice, rice and any vegetarian side dish.

Kashmiri kulcha (sweet spicy bread rolls)

There are different kinds of kulchas. I had a particularly delicious kulcha on my way to Pahalgam when we stopped in Anantnag, where they are famous for kulchas. This kulcha is small, hard, crumbly and round in shape. I use egg to glaze these, even though they usually use milk, as it gives a much nicer finish when baking at home.




Credit: Matt Russell

Timings 

Prep time: 15 minutes plus proving time

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Makes

Eight 

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, plus a beaten egg yolk for glazing
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g ghee, melted
  • 250g plain flour
  • Seeds of 5 green cardamom pods, crushed to a powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
  • 3 tsp white poppy seeds or sesame seeds

Method

  1. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, whisk and set aside. In another bowl, combine the sugar and melted ghee then add the egg mixture, whisk together and set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cardamom, salt, baking powder and yeast. Add the
  3. sugar mixture and whisk in slowly, then knead to create dough. This takes around 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and leave to rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220C/200Cfan/ gas mark 7. Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized balls. Flatten the balls and place on a baking sheet, then brush with the whisked egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 12–15 minutes, until lovely and golden on the top.

On the Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories from Kashmir to Ladakh by Romy Gill (£27, Hardie Grant) is out now. Order your copy from the Telegraph Bookshop 

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